Using concept sketches for field trip wrap-up

Barbara Tewksbury
Hamilton College
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This is a post-field trip assignment in a structural geology course. Students create a set of concept sketches, with a short introduction, to illustrate the structural features and geologic history of the area, with an emphasis on deformation mechanisms and causes of deformation.

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Undergraduate required course in Structural Geology for geology majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Because students take notes in the field as concept sketches, they must know in advance how to make a concept sketch - it wastes valuable field time to have to teach this to students in the field. You can download a description of concept sketches and how to make them from the "Download teaching materials and tips" at the bottom of this web page.

How the activity is situated in the course

As a wrap-up for a field trip that takes place at the end of the semester.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

There are no specific new content goals for this assignment. Students apply what they have learned over the course of the semester.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Analysis of structures in the field and thin sections in the lab.
  • Communication of thin section and field observations/data using both clear, succinct text and sketches/graphics/photos to convey their interpretations of the nature of structures and deformation mechanisms in outcrops studied on the field trip.
  • Analysis of field observations/data in the context of a published geologic map.
  • Interpretation of the 3D geometry of rock bodies and structures and communication of their interpretations in a cross section annotated with evidence.
  • Synthesis of field observations and cross section with a regional tectonic model.

Other skills goals for this activity

Creating figures as concept sketches that communicate clearly and effectively.

Description of the activity/assignment

Prior to tackling this assignment, students have been out in the field at a series of outcrops in eastern New York and western Vermont, where they have made observations, collected data, and taken notes as concept sketches. A concept sketch has a central graphic (in this case, a field sketch done by the students) surrounded by concept captions that convey the observations made, plus data collected, and the interpretations of those observations. Because many of my students still struggle to separate observations and interpretations, I commonly have them underline their observations in one color and their interpretations in another. Concept sketches are an outstanding way to have students take notes in the field because they have to decide what to illustrate in order to convey the points that they want to make. In the downloads under "Teaching materials and tips" below, you can download more information about concept sketches.

After returning from the field, students put together a set of concept sketches that convey not only their field observations and interpretations but that also integrate thin sections and a regional tectonic model. Students have the option of using field photos in their concept sketches, and I also provide photomicrographs and plate tectonic block models for them to incorporate. Students also make a concept sketch from their cross sections, with concept captions that provide evidence for their subsurface interpretations. Each student also writes a brief introduction providing the context for their set of concept sketches.

In the past, I have had students write illustrated field reports or field guides based on their field work, but I have found that I learn much more about what students have learned and their abilities to explain it by reading through their concept sketches. These concept sketch collections are also MUCH faster to grade than pages of text with the occasional figure!

I have also been struck by the fact that my students' concept sketches convey the sense that they are really anxious to show me what they learned in the field. In the download at the bottom of this web page, I have included scans of some of their concept sketches at the end of the actual assignment. Please note that most of them were originally done on 11x17 size paper.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are graded individually on their set of concept sketches with accompanying introduction

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Johnson, J. K., & Reynolds, S. J. (2005), Concept sketches–using student-and instructor-generated, annotated sketches for learning, teaching, and assessment in geology courses: Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 53, no. 1, p. 85-95.