How to tell the Story of the Earth: Three lab exercises for Historical Geology
Student engagement is easy to encourage in introductory lab courses. We have developed an open access lab book for Historical Geology. Here we focus on three different lab exercises to show how we can use simple exercises to get students engaged in research beyond simple observations. We went beyond place based learning as we have found that students are curious to learn more about places that they have not been. So, the new exercises are a global tour of geology including the Andes Mountains, Alaska, Great Britain, Brazil, Morocco, Himalayas, Denmark, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, and Canada in addition to the traditional US centric locations like the Grand Canyon, Appalachians, Texas, and Rocky Mountains as well as Mars and Jurassic Park!
For example, instead of just identifying the textures and names of metamorphic rocks, there is an exercise interpreting metamorphic rocks as a result of ridge subduction in southern Alaska. Instead of just learning the sequence of phyllite, schist and gneiss, the student will put these into the context of an unusual geothermal gradient. For fossil preservation, the students compare fossils exposed around the edge of the Delaware Basin. These include delicately preserved fossils in the Glass Mountains to impressions in the Guadalupe Mountains. They need to speculate why these two exposures of the same reef have such different modes of preservation. The final exercise is to use maps and cross-sections of New Jersey to identify the geologic provinces that relate to four different tectonic events. Students in the Fall 2020 semester first used a digital, pre-release version of the labbook; a difficult semester due to the transition to online learning during the pandemic. Our focus on student engagement results in observing and thinking rather than read and repeat. This works to promote active and engaged learning with students.