Urban Environmental Excursions: Field trips to connect urban geology students with the world around them

Larry Lemke
Wayne State University
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Environmentally-themed field trips in urban areas can stimulate student interest in geology and environmental science while providing curricular links to topics such as global warming, energy resources, water quality, or environmental justice and the role of science in political decision making. This example describes a field trip about energy.

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This activity was designed for freshman-level introductory courses in Physical Geology and Environmental Geology. However, we have opened participation to all undergraduate students majoring in Geology or Environmental Science. An unintended consequence of this decision is informal peer mentoring that results from interactions between majors and non-majors on the trip. Designed for a geophysics course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No special skills are required. However, it is expected that students have had exposure to basic concepts of Earth Systems and Physical or Environmental Geology.

How the activity is situated in the course

The field trip is scheduled midway through the fall semester or three-fourths of the way through the winter semester to ensure that students have adequate preparation in terms of relevant course content and to accommodate weather considerations.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The overall goal of the activity is to provide a field trip experience that will appeal to a large fraction of the introductory geology students and to enhance student participation in the sciences.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Students make observations, ask questions, and participate in discussions about the environmental, economic, and societal impacts of the locations they visit. In the context of environmentally sensitive sites and activities, students are encouraged to make judgments about the environmental and economic trade-offs involved.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students experience, if only for one day, the concept of a learning community where participants work in groups and develop an expanded perspective through a shared a common experience.

Description of the activity/assignment

This activity describes one-day field trips for introductory Physical Geology or Environmental Geology courses that are designed around a central environmental theme (e.g., air quality, water quality, economic development, environmental justice, etc.) and visit urban locations (e.g., hazardous waste sites, solid and liquid waste disposal sites, brownfield redevelopment sites, industrial complexes, or sites with ongoing environmental restoration efforts). Students are provided with a guidebook containing one-page description of each stop on the trip, along with a list of questions to stimulate discussion among students and faculty. The guidebook gives students food for thought during the bus ride to each site, preparing them to formulate their own questions for our guides at each stop. The guidebook also serves as a tangible reminder of the trip for each student to take away and potentially discuss with other students or family members. Finally, the one-page summaries from the guidebook can also be used by course instructors as handouts or PowerPoint slides to tie field trip experiences into classroom instruction and discussion. Uses online and/or real-time data Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills Uses geophysics to solve problems in other fields

Determining whether students have met the goals

Active participation in site tours and discussions is used as an indication of successful student engagement in the activity.

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