Workshop Overview: Undergraduate Research in Earth Science Classes- Engaging Students in the First Two Years

Advocate and provide support for replacing standard laboratory courses with discovery-based research courses. Traditional introductory laboratory courses generally do not capture the creativity of STEM disciplines...engag[e] students in experiments with the possibility of true discovery...explore the unknown...Expand the use of scientific research and engineering design courses in the first two years (PCAST, 2012) .

Jump down to: Application & Selection | Workshop Goals | Examples | Dates | Expectations | Venue | Costs | Optional Field Trips | Contacts

Workshop Rationale

Many faculty teaching at the introductory level have used authentic research experiences to get their students excited about the geosciences. Access to Earth data, information technology, lab and field-based instrumentation, and field experiences provide unprecedented opportunities for students to engage in authentic research at early stages in their careers. Early exposure to research experiences has shown to be effective in the recruitment of students, improved retention and persistence in degree programs, motivation for students to learn and increase self-efficacy, improved attitudes and values about science, and overall increased student success.

This workshop will bring together educators from a wide variety of institutional settings and backgrounds with the common goal of sharing ideas about providing authentic research experiences for students in introductory Earth Science courses.

Workshop Application And Selection

Applicants for this workshop must hold a faculty position at a two- or four-year college or university and have experience in conducting research projects in the context of regularly scheduled classes. The workshop is limited to 35 participants, and the final list of participants will be established with the goal of assembling a group of experienced faculty, representing a wide range of experiences, educational environments, and specialties.

The application deadline has passed. Notification of acceptance to the workshop will be made within two weeks of the deadline, and participants will then confirm their acceptance via an online Registration Form.

Workshop Goals

As a part of this workshop, participants will:

  • Consider the range of opportunities and share strategies and methods to provide research experiences for students in lower division Earth Science courses. We will identify innovative teaching methods, approaches, and activities that can provide research experiences for students in a wide range of instructional settings: e.g., large courses, field-based courses, analog and digital modeling, and much more.
  • Examine ways to promote "Earth Science habits of the mind" through students' participation in authentic research activities.
  • Consider the ways that student research projects can be designed to contribute to public science literacy, with applications to a range of issues facing humanity regarding responsible and sustainable stewardship of the planet.
  • Develop strategies to "scale up" research activities to involve large numbers of lower division students and to make recommendations for data, software, material supplies, equipment, field support, and other logistical needs to allow all students the opportunity to engage in Earth Science research.
  • Contribute to a) the development of a collection of resources (journal articles, websites, reports, books) that inform "best practices" in the design, development, and implementation of research experiences for students in the first two years of the undergraduate curriculum; b) collections of case studies, models, and examples of research experiences that have been implemented in lower division courses in the Earth Sciences in a number of different instructional settings, and c) the review of these newly created research teaching activities according to the On the Cutting Edge review criteria.

Some Examples:

To start the discussion, here are a number of strategies that may be further developed to support undergraduate research in lower division courses in the Earth Sciences:

  • GoogleEarth module created by Glenn Richard-- students can explore Earth features on many scales and report findings.
  • Teaching with New Geoscience Tools: Visualizations, Models, and Online Data--outcomes from the 2008 On the Cutting Edge workshop
  • Using Data in the Classroom -- a portal to over 700 Earth data sets and tools that can be used to explore planet Earth.
  • GeoMapApp -- an interactive dataserver that allows students to access a large number of geoscience data sets to ask questions about relationships among Earth System components.
  • Students can collect their own data. For example, institutions can set up long-term monitoring sites and build their own data sets for any number of natural phenomena (stream gauging, soil profiles, weather data...).
  • Students can use departmental equipment to conduct surveys; e.g., ICP analysis for water quality.
  • Geographic Information Science--GIS can be used almost universally to represent spatial data in the Earth Sciences, and many applications can be developed for uses that are appropriate to lower division classes.
  • Service-Learning--students collect data and present results to address a problem of societal interest.

Measuring water displacement

Dates: August 10-13, 2013

Participants should plan to arrive in Bozeman in time for the first workshop event at 5 pm on Sunday, August 10. (Arrive earlier if you plan to attend the optional field trips.) The workshop will be over on Wednesday evening, August 13, and participants should plan return travel on Thursday, August 14 (those who stay an extra day can attend optional field trip).


By applying to the workshop, participants agree to do the following if accepted:

  • Contribute to the Teaching Activity Review process prior to attending the workshop (April through June), applying standardized review criteria to teaching activities in the On the Cutting Edge activity collection.
  • Submit a case study or model research project prior to attending the workshop. A template will be provided for participants to enter the essential information about their student research projects. These research projects will be showcased at the workshop so they must be completed beforehand.
  • Prepare in advance for workshop discussions via readings, writings, discussion, or other activities developed by workshop leaders.
  • Participate fully in the entire workshop and attend all workshop sessions. Many participants will be invited to make presentations or serve as discussion or working group leaders at the workshop.
  • Post-workshop: continue to network with workshop participants, share workshop resources with colleagues across the geosciences, and participate in follow-on activities such as making presentations at theme sessions at professional society meetings.


The workshop will be held at Montana State University located in Bozeman, Montana. All scheduled workshop events will be on the Montana State University campus, either in the Student Union Building ballrooms for whole group meetings and meals, or in Earth Science classrooms. We will arrange surface transport from the motel to campus, or parking for those who will be driving their own vehicles.


Please be sure to send us your travel itinerary when you have it confirmed so that we can arrange surface transport once you arrive. Plan to arrive in Bozeman in time for the first workshop event at 5 pm on Sunday, August 10. The workshop will be over on Wednesday evening, August 13, and participants should plan return travel on Thursday, August 14 (those who stay an extra day can attend optional field trip)


We will offer a low-cost option to stay in the dorms at MSU (spartan, but meeting basic needs; convenient walk to meeting spaces). We have also been able to get a discounted rate from a local hotel (book early to get a spot). More detail and contact information is found on the lodging page.


Continental breakfasts (coffee, fruit, yogurt), mid day snacks, and buffet lunches (sandwich, soup, salad) will be provided as part of the workshop registration . we'll have a "mixer" the first evening and an opening session dinner; other dinners will be at a local Korean BBQ a short walk from campus, and we're planning an evening BBQ one night at Hyalite Reservoir (in the Eocene Absaroka Volcanics). Accommodations will be made for dietary restrictions (as noted on your registration form). There will be full food service in the Student Union Building if you need a more substantial breakfast, and there is a "high octane" espresso bar in the Student Union across from the main meeting room if you need an extra jump start


Decidedly casual. Be comfortable. Weather can be quite variable—it may be get down to the 40's at night; days may be warm into the 90's or 100's. Rain gear may be needed for field trippers. Bring comfortable walking shoes. Layers of cloths for different conditions are the best bet.


Our National Science Foundation grant provides funding for most of the operational costs of this workshop. To be supported by these funds, a participant must be either a US citizen, a permanent resident, or in the employ of a US institution. If you don't meet these requirements and are interested in participating in this workshop at your own expense, please contact the workshop conveners. Costs of the workshop not covered by the grant are outlined below.

Workshop registration fee (paid with registration: $300 ($250 for NAGT members). Learn more about becoming a member of NAGT (opens in a new window) and how your registration fees are used (opens in a new window).

Travel, lodging. Participants or their home institutions must cover costs of lodging plus travel to and from the workshop.

Optional field trips: There will be a separate fee for the pre- and post-workshop optional field trips. That fee has not yet been determined, but will cover transportation and food on a break-even basis.

We will be able to offer small stipends to participants from institutions unable to cover the costs of travel and participation in Cutting Edge workshops. The deadline for applying for one of these stipends is March 28, 2014.

Optional Field Trips

Pre-workshop field trip: For those who want to come a day or two early, Dave will organize a group hike to an area of local geologic interest. See our online Trail Guides: a) Sacagawea Peak in the Paleozoic sequence, abundant invertebrate fossils, Laramide and Sevier-Style structures, b) Bear Basin, crosses the Laramide Spanish Peak fault and into the Archean crystalline basement (up to 3.5 Ga gneisses, sillimanite, kyanite, gedrite assemblages), c) Hyalite Peak, in the Eocene Absaroka Volcanics. For those who might want to tour Bozeman, I recommend a visit to the Museum of the Rockies and the historic downtown district. Just be sure to let us know when you'll be arriving and if you'd like to join one of these trips.

Post-workshop field trip to Yellowstone: For those who want to spend a day touring Yellowstone, we'll leave early on Thursday August 14, travel down the Gallatin River Valley to West Yellowstone. In the Park we'll visit: the caldera rim, Fountain Paint Pots, Norris Basin, and Mammoth Hot Springs. We'll exit the Park through the north entrance (Gardiner) and have dinner at a restaurant on the way back to town. This is a long day, but well worth it. You should plan on reserving a room on that evening in Bozeman and plan departures for the next day. We have 20 folks that indicated on their registration that they'll be coming to this.

For More Information

Questions? Contact Dave Mogk (