Mark Schmitz
Department of Geosciences, Boise State University
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This is an example of an activity used in a Quaternary Geochronology course, in which a small group of students (3-4) is tasked with transforming a set of activity measurements into radiocarbon ages and calibrated calendar ages, and providing an interpretation of these data within the context of the scientific literature on the topic, as an in-class poster presentation.

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This activity is part of an upper division undergraduate course, Quaternary Geochronology, which draws students from both geology and geoarchaeology majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Before beginning the activity, students must have mastered the basic theory of the production and decay of radiocarbon in the atmosphere, its incorporation into both organic and inorganic reservoirs. They must also have assimilated the basic tenets of geochronology, namely the assumptions regarding closed system behavior, initial parent and daughter activities, decay constants and uncertainties, and measurement accuracy.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is one of four similarly structured three-week modules, each comprising lectures, reading of scientific literature, manipulation and analysis of scientific data bearing upon a research problem, and group poster presentations of research results.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

radioactive decay laws and mathematics; timescales of application of radiocarbon dating; distinction between radiocarbon model ages and calendar ages

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

transformation of data; propagation of errors and assessment of probability; synthesis of data into an interpretive framework; comparison of results to similar work in the scientific literature; critical evaluation of explanatory models

Other skills goals for this activity

use of spreadsheets; manipulation of data for use in software; data visualization; poster presentation; working in groups; literature search

Description of the activity/assignment

Groups of 3-4 students work in parallel on different radiocarbon data sets in this project assignment; the content described here would comprise one group data set including a brief descriptive statement and bibliographic reference, raw data including errors, background lecture notes, and an example final poster presentation.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student groups present their data and interpretations, as well as the research background, context and implications of their derived ages as an in-class poster presentation. Peer and instructor feedback is used to improve the final presentation for posting in the department.

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