Karen Kortz: Using Measuring the Earth with GPS in Introduction to Geology at Community College of Rhode Island
Provenance: Karen Kortz
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About this Course
Introductory level, non-majors
Day: Two 75-min lectures, one 2-hour lab per week
Night: One 2.5-hour lecture and one 2-hour lab per week
Geology 1010 syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 52kB Dec19 18)
This course investigates the planet Earth, explaining the geologic events and features through plate tectonics. Major topics included are the study of minerals and rocks; volcanoes; earthquakes; weathering and erosion; streams and floods; and groundwater.
By the end of this course, students will be able to...
- Think critically about fundamental concepts in geology
- Explain people's influence on Earth and Earth's influence on people
- Communicate geologic concepts effectively
This module was taught in an introductory geology class for non-science majors at a community college. The course includes a focus on how people affect Earth and how Earth affects people. The module was taught spaced out throughout the semester, taking up one 75-minute lecture and three two-hour labs.
"I felt that students became more confident in their skills at reading and interpreting graphs and applying their findings to solve real-world problems."
My Experience Teaching with GETSI Materials
I used the module largely as written.
Relationship of GETSI Materials to my Course
Unit 1 (Introduction to GPS) was used during a 75-minute lecture Week 2 of the 15-week semester. The other three units were used during 2-hour labs throughout the semester, depending on when the topic corresponded to lecture. Unit 2 (Earthquakes) was used in Week 3, Unit 3 (Glaciers) was used in Week 9, and Unit 4 (Groundwater) was used in Week 14. During lecture, I referred frequently to the module done in lab.
- I used Unit 1 (Introduction to GPS) during a 75-minute lecture. I began with the lecture slides and gave the students the handout to help them take notes. The lecture took 15-30 minutes, depending on the class in which I gave it. The rest of the class was taken up by the jigsaw activity. I did not do the Think-Pair-Share graph interpretations at the end of the lecture slides due to time constraints.
- Tips and what I would change: During the lecture part, the initial "have you used GPS" question can be done very quickly. Things to keep in mind when installing a GPS can be skipped for time, although students found it interesting and it personalizes the data some. Brainstorming the applications of GPS did not lead to as meaningful of a conversation as I had hoped—in the future I will use the alternate slide. The majority of time should be budgeted to complete the jigsaw activity. Make sure that the first jigsaw teams all understand their topics before they re-divide, or you will end up with some confused groups at the end.
- I used Unit 2 (Earthquakes, GPS, and Plate Movement) during a 2 hour lab. I gave the short (5 minute) lecture at the beginning of lab. Activity 1 took most student groups 50-70 minutes to complete. I did not use Activity 2 (watching the animation) because it wasn't yet complete when I implemented the unit. In Activity 3, I had students skip most of Part 3 and Part 4 due to time constraints. Doing so, Activity 3 took most student groups 50-80 minutes to complete. Most students finished during the 2 hour lab time, but some students finished on their own outside of lab (total times for most student groups: 1:40 to 2:30). Each student had a copy of Activities 1-3, which they turned in, and each student group had a single copy of the larger version of GPS data, so they needed to work together to read the data.
- Tips and what I would change: Activity 2 (the animation) could be completed by students before coming to lab, as preparation. As silly as it sounds, students should be reminded to read the directions. With students who are working on their basic math skills, like many of mine, they can be required to complete modules in "The Math You Need When You Need It" prior to coming to lab. In the future, for Activities 1 and 3, I will likely remove the questions where students plot the vectors on the graphs, since that was confusing and time consuming for many of them, and it is not a skill that is built upon in subsequent units. In the time saved, after students turn in Activity 3, I will give students an example response of the "Letter to Alix" question where they synthesize what they have learned, and have them grade the example using the checklist or rubric.
- I used Unit 3 (Glaciers, GPS, and Sea Level Rise) during a 2 hour lab. I gave the short (5 minute) lecture at the beginning of most of the labs, but students who did not receive it did not seem to have any problems. Activity 1 took most student groups 25-45 minutes to complete. Activity 2 (the animation) took most student groups 15-20 minutes to complete. Students watched it on their phones and on provided laptops. Activity 3 took most student groups 30-80 minutes to complete. Most students finished during the 2 hour lab time (total times for most student groups: 1:15 to 2:30).
- Tips and what I would change: Students could complete either Activity 1 or Activity 2 outside of lab, to ensure that all groups finished within the lab time. Tell students to use the average line on the graph when reading the graph. See Unit 2 for additional tips.
- Based on my experience with the other units and wanting to ensure that students were able to finish the entire unit during the lab, I began Unit 4 (Groundwater, GPS, and Water Resources) during 30 minutes of lecture time followed by a 2 hour lab. I gave the short (10 minute) lecture to begin Activity 1. Activity 1 took most student groups 20 to 40 to complete, averaging about 35 minutes. Activity 2 (the animation) took most student groups 10 to 15 minutes to complete. Students watched it on their phones and on provided laptops. Activity 3 took most student groups 60 to 120 minutes to complete. Most students finished during the 2.5 hours given to them (total times for most student groups: 1:40 to 3:05).
- Tips and what I would change: As with Unit 3, students could complete either Activity 1 or Activity 2 prior to lab. Some students were confused during Activity 3 where different members of the group used different graphs, so this should be sure that it is clearly explained to them. To ensure that students are correctly understanding the concepts before moving on the majority of Activity 3, it would be useful for them to check to ensure that they have the correct relationships in either Activity 2 or in Questions 1 and 2 of Activity 3. See Units 2 and 3 for additional tips.
Primarily, I assessed students through the handouts for Units 2-4 they handed in during lab. Unit 1 (Introduction to GPS) was done as a lecture-long activity, and I did not separately assess it. Units 2-4 are each broken down into three parts. Although the grading looks intimidating, it is fairly quick. However, due to the number of students I was teaching, I made sure students completed all parts, but I selected some of the summary questions to grade for correctness, not just completion. For example in Unit 4 (GPS and Groundwater) I checked most questions for completeness, and then I graded for correctness (using the checkpoints or rubrics provided): Activity 1: Questions 9, 15, 17, and 18; and Activity 3: Questions 18 (table) and 22 (letter).
In addition to grading the handouts for Units 2-4, I included a few multiple-choice questions related to GPS graph-reading and interpretation on the first exam, and I included a long-answer GPS interpretation question (with the same write-a-letter prompt that students saw in each of the units) on the final exam.
I had wanted students to become more confident in their skills at reading and interpreting graphs and applying their findings to solve real-world problems. I feel that students definitely improved. Students in my classes had a wide range of quantitative skills, from struggling with reading graphical data to taking calculus, which made it challenging. Students were able to help each other out, but I think that the students who struggled with the GPS module the most were the ones that came in with the least comfort in quantitative skills. Students found these labs harder than most of their other labs, likely due to the high expectation of using quantitative skills and real world data, and they were mentally exhausted by the end of lab.
The similar structure and repeated use of GPS data with Units 2-4 were helpful for students. They definitely became more comfortable with working with the data, although not all students transferred their knowledge completely between modules. I did find that some students still lacked understanding basic principles (e.g. distance vs rate), but the repeated exposure helped most of them by the end. The modular nature added flexibility, which made it easier to incorporate into class.