Sandbox modeling

Laura Serpa
University of Texas at El Paso
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Students deform layers of colored sand to simulate features they observe in city. They construct topo maps and cross-sections based on the results of the sandbox experiment. The model is then the basis for discussing a variety of topics relevant to the community.

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This activity has been used in various forms with high school freshmen, undergraduate math education students, and graduate science education and geoscience majors. It is intended for a Physical geology lab but has not yet been implemented there. Designed for a geophysics course Integrates geophysics into a core course in geology Designed for an introductory geology course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

basic observational skills

How the activity is situated in the course

for the High school and undergraduate students it has been used as a stand alone activity. It is part of a sequence for the graduate students.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

the original goal was to teach students about topo maps and cross sections. It seems to be good at teaching students to relate processes to observations and testing hypotheses.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

formulation and testing of hypotheses, evaluation of models, visualization

Other skills goals for this activity

working in groups

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are given colored sand and a plexiglas box with a sliding base. They make relatively thin, flat layers of sand (each layer has its own color)completely covering the base of the boxes then they move the base in one direction forcing the sand to pile up against the backstop side of the box. Then they measure the topography, make a topo map and construct cross sections. Has minimal/no quantitative component

Determining whether students have met the goals

So far, the evaluation is informal and has consisted of writing reflections and examining what the students do with the results.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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