Rock Experts: an innovative rock lab for preservice elementary teachers
Rocks are part of the curriculum of all introductory geology labs. To avoid having students memorize names and complete worksheets without understanding the significance of rocks as fundamental components of the Earth's systems, we have implemented a two-week lab that engages students with piles of unidentified, but representative, samples and the task to actively engage in the identification process using a jigsaw approach.
This two-lab sequence takes place in week 2 and 3 of a one-credit, two-hour Earth and Space Science lab required for elementary education majors. The lab complements a two-credit online content course. This lab is an adaptation of the four-week rock and mineral lab that is part of the curriculum of a physical geology lab open to all students. Given the broader scope and diverse content of the Earth and Space Science lab, we reduced the amount of time dedicated to rocks and the total number of rock types, but without losing the important message of their significance as building stones of the Earth and the inner Solar System. During the first lab, students are asked to become 'experts' of one rock group. After spending some time with the hand samples, completing a scavenger hunt, and working through the identification charts independently, three groups of student 'experts' gather in teams. The students creatively teach each other the characteristics and differences of the three rock types and work together to identify a pile of rock specimens using what they learned about each group.
The outcome of this two-lab sequence is the transformation of our students from confused to excited, and an encouraging sense of ownership of their learning and significant growth in their science teaching self-efficacy. Through this first week of 'expert group' activities, the students gain understanding of their own 'expert group' of rocks. By the second week, they are ready to tackle identifying samples confidently.
Traditional rock labs include the identification of 20-30 rock samples and the completion of a worksheet that is based on classification schemes. Elementary education majors are rarely excited about learning science, and have a low science teaching self-efficacy. One of our main goals is ensuring that students don't believe that science is dull and focused on memorizing facts, and feedback from students and teaching assistants show that this lab is successful. We have observed that students at the end of this lab sequence are enthusiastic and more confident about rock identification.