Teach the Earth > Undergraduate Research > 2014 Workshop > Activities > Stratigraphic Architecture of Table Rock, Boise, Idaho

Stratigraphic Architecture of Table Rock, Boise, Idaho

Sam Matson, Boise State University
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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Aug 8, 2014


In the GEOS 315 – Sedimentology and Stratigraphy course at Boise State University, students conduct field research over a period of 4-5 weeks at Table Rock, a prominent sandstone plateau and popular hiking destination above Boise, ID. Table Rock is composed primarily of nearshore lacustrine sediments deposited along the margins of Mio-Pliocene Lake Idaho. In addition to measuring and correlating stratigraphic sections to describe the facies architecture, students are required to formulate and test an original hypothesis. The primary assessment criteria are field notes, a 4-page research proposal, and a poster presentation summarizing their research results.



GEOS 315 is an required undergraduate course in the core curriculum of the Geosciences department at Boise State. This course is frequently taken by traditional geology majors, as well as students focusing on geophysics, hydrology, and geoscience education.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Before beginning this activity, students need to have mastered detailed field note-taking and measurement of stratigraphic section. They practice these skills in other GEOS 315 projects preceding the Table Rock project.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is the "capstone" project for the course, but is part of a sequence of smaller (1-2 week) field projects leading up to it.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary content goals include: 1) interpretation of lacustrine siliciclastic depositional systems and 2) reconstruction of base level changes from sedimentary sequences.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals include: 1) hypothesis formulation and description, and 2) analysis of stratigraphic data.

Other skills goals for this activity

The primary content goals for this activity include: 1) use of appropriate observations and terminology to describe sedimentary rocks and structures in the field, 2) delineation and description of stratigraphic units in the field, and 3) communication of scientific data, observations and interpretations through written and graphical representation.

Description and Teaching Materials

Syllabus for GEOS 315 - Sedimentation and Stratigraphy (Acrobat (PDF) 301kB Jul12 14)
Student handout for Table Rock project (Acrobat (PDF) 129MB Jul12 14)

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity benefits from the proximity of Table Rock to campus. Students work with course instructors during Friday afternoon lab periods, but can also easily collect data outside of designated class time. A common stumbling block revolves around project scale: Instructors must work carefully with students to ensure that their chosen hypothesis can be tested with data collected over a period of only a few weeks.


Three deliverables are assessed for this project: 1) field notebook including measured stratigraphic section and stratigraphic unit descriptions, 2) a 4-page research proposal outlining the specific hypothesis the student plans to test, how they plan to test it, and the broader impact of their results, and 3) a poster presentation describing the students' specific research results, and how those results tie into the general stratigraphic architecture at Table Rock. The specific criteria for each deliverable are described in the attached rubric. On the last day of class, we hold a semi-formal poster session in which students orally explain and defend their results to their classmates.

References and Resources

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Teaching in the Field resources from across Teach the Earth »

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Sedimentary Geology resources from across Teach the Earth »

Sedimentary Geology resources from Teach the Earth include:

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