Cynthia Fadem: Teaching Climate of Change in Environmental Geology at Earlham College
About this Course
An introductory course for majors and non-majors.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 196kB May8 13)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
My course is introductory geology with an environmental emphasis, usually taught with a fairly traditional lecture, textbook, lab, and exam format. In recent years I've been gradually turning over content to allow students to take a more active role in acquiring the material (e.g., through acting out concepts or performing exercises integrated with lectures). This module represents the next phase of that transition—the maximum immersion possible in a classroom setting—where I would most like the rest of my curriculum to be.
My students were incredibly engaged throughout the module. The majority of students were hopeful about the future and empowered to make a difference after completing the module (a stark contrast to the general malaise following teaching climate more traditionally/typically in previous semesters).
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsI used the Climate of Change module in my Environmental Geology course near the end of the term. Referencing linkages to climate in each of the units that preceded the module allowed me to prepare the students for the material covered in the module. The students could see how the course material was building over the term, understand why the material is relevant to their lives, and were energized by the active learning components.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
Students began the module after 12 weeks of instruction in introductory geology. Students were familiar with minerals and rocks, tectonics, volcanoes, deformation, surface and groundwater, oceans, deserts, and glaciers. Students had experience contouring and graphing data, reading maps, basic calculations, and geoscientific reasoning.
The module was implemented during the 13th and 14th weeks (the last two weeks) of the semester. The only direct preparation was an in-class activity on desertification two weeks prior to beginning the module for which student groups had readings on current desertification in different regions. They used class time to synthesize the readings in display posters (one for the problems facing the area and one for possible solutions), then presented their region to the class.
Throughout the course I made references to the module and how each unit we were completing connected to climate. During the oceans and glaciers units I made more direct references with "teaser" slides showing the kind of data or material we would analyze during the module (and describing its interpretive power) with the promise of more to come.
Throughout the module I made changes or presented material in a way suited to my students and their learning environment.
I utilized all of the Climate of Change embedded assessments and most of the lower-level assessments as well. Responses showed students attained the vast majority of module outcomes. Subsequent changes to the embedded assessments and teaching materials addressed the shortfalls.
Though I teach this course every three or four semesters, I have never had a group of students so positively energized about climate science. They were engaged and active during each class, even when frustrated with uncertainties, large data sets, and quantitative problems. As it was clear to them how important and relevant the material was to their lives and futures, they were dedicated to learning the material, solving the problems, and resolving for themselves how to think and talk about climate issues. I look forward not only to teaching this module again next term but to changing the rest of my curriculum to follow suit.