Aaron Wood: Using Measuring the Earth with GPS in GEOL 100L: How the Earth Works at Iowa State University
About this CourseRequired introductory lab for geology majors. Science lab elective for non-majors.
GEOL 100L is a lab course that is independent of, but supplements, the introductory physical geology course at Iowa State University. It allows hands-on activities not possible in the large-enrollment lecture course. Only 40% of the enrolled students are STEM majors. I greatly appreciated the GETSI activities in which students dealt with hypotheses and graphically and verbally made predictions using those hypotheses. The discussions among students and between students and instructors were very fruitful in helping students understand the scientific process.
My Experience Teaching with GETSI MaterialsI used the module essentially unchanged
Relationship of GETSI Materials to my Course
The semester was 16 weeks long and the module was done during weeks 2-6. Labs were cancelled during week 3 due to winter weather. The lab includes a student-driven research project that requires students to collect samples and data in the field, which they cannot do safely until the end of March due to winter weather. So, working on the GETSI module gave them a great (indoor) introduction to the noise and uncertainty in real data, ways of formulating and testing hypotheses, and how to make scientific predictions based on incomplete observations. On top of that, the GETSI module helped reiterate how the geosciences are relevant to everyday life and can help address large problems faced by regional communities and our global society.
AssessmentsIn general I used the summative assessments as provided in the module.
For formative assessment of student understanding my TAs and I circulated around the groups and asked "checkpoint questions" to determine whether the groups were progressing adequately and understanding graphs and their own interpretations. We had to teach students on the fly about data outliers, demonstrate one-on-one how to perform graphical analyses, and occasionally prompt students to verbalize and externalize most of their cognitive processes so that we could steer them in the right direction.
OutcomesI was genuinely excited about exposing students to real data used by real geoscientists to solve important problems. The data sets looked somewhat noisy to me, meaning that the students would be exposed to a greater level of uncertainty than your typical "cook book" lab in which there is a single, definitive correct answer to every question. The opportunity for students to engage with numerical and graphical data was appealing as well, because the results of the basic math involved would be highly informative without overwhelming the students. Finally, in an intro class, instructors typically tell students that earthquakes cause deformation, melting glaciers cause uplift, and groundwater withdrawal leads to subsidence, and more often than not, students just take our word for it. The GETSI materials would allow students to see the evidence for themselves.
The GETSI materials supported student development of scientific and graph analysis skills. Sometimes I had the impression the GETSI materials improved students' graph reading skills more than their understanding of earthquake, climate, and groundwater processes, but perhaps in subsequent years I would be able to help the students make those connections more explicitly. I plan to use a modified, more stream-lined version of the activities with fewer questions to provide more time for classroom discussions of underlying concepts and societally-relevant issues. Having said that, the videos provided by GETSI were great and really helped the students understand the concepts.
Taking measurements directly from graphs generated much discussion as students 1) argued which points were representative of relevant time periods, 2) checked and double-checked their measurements with peers, and 3) provided peer-instruction for those who felt a little lost. Questions that required students to sketch out predictions of their hypotheses produced opportunities for friendly debates. Students greatly enjoyed questions requiring them to write letters to relatives, politicians, etc., despite initial groaning. The creative writing aspect allowed the students to be a little silly at the end of each lab. Overall, I saw more student engagement than I had originally expected.
In subsequent, non-GETSI labs, in which students were asked to make and test hypotheses using stream tables, groundwater models, etc., students were much better at communicating their thoughts both verbally and graphically than I had noticed in previous semesters.