InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Instructor Stories > Martha Conklin
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Martha Conklin: Critical Zone Science at University of California-Merced


About this Course

An upper level course for Earth System Science majors and non-majors
18
students
2 times a week, 75 minutes

Syllabus for Critical Zone Science (Acrobat (PDF) 275kB May15 17)

Turning students on to the "critical zone"

My course was a full semester, upper level multidisciplinary course that met twice a week for 75 minutes. This course was taught with short lectures, online readings and group activities both in and out of class. It culminated with a research paper and a 10-min presentation of the research paper. The class is now permanently on the schedule as an upper division course in the Earth System Science major. We have prerequisites to insure the students the necessary quantitative skills and scientific background.

The students were engaged throughout the class. The class was open to all majors – so I had students with a variety of backgrounds (Biology, Earth System Science, Environmental Engineering and Political Science). I was excited about the level of participation. The in-class exercises helped students to become comfortable with the material. We had an optional fieldtrip to the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory and the trip was right after we had dug a number of soil pits at the observatory – so the students could see the in situ soil heterogeneity. This class helps students synthesize the interconnection of critical zone processes (from soil forming to the role vegetation plays in the water balance) and the role these processes play in their lives.

California was in the midst of a four-year drought, I tried to link the material to the role the critical zone in mountains plays in storing and releasing water. This course made the students think of the critical zone processes involved in providing their tap water.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

I used the course material as provided by the website. I found the material provided depth and breadth with learning goals clearly stated. The variety of pedagogical approaches allowed me to experiment with how I delivered the content.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

My course was a semester long. Per my syllabus, I followed the outline provided on the website. The course is cumulative, so I made sure that lectures and exercises built on previous material. I usually modified the lectures given so they reflected my pedagogical style.

Assessments

I made sure that I had a number of assessment tools, so students would receive individual credit and credit for group activities. I ended up with about 40 graded assignments, including their research paper. To be successful, students had to complete all components of the course. Students were given rubrics for most assignments, so they knew how they would be graded. The research paper was in lieu of a final exam.

I like the approach of multiple assignments (varying from extremely short to longer) and the product ranging from a presentation to a spreadsheet to a formal paper. The students began to synthesize ideas and that was fun to watch. The oral presentations of the research projects were generally complete and polished.

Outcomes

My goals was to teach students to critically think about the critical zone. I found the students were receptive to this type of learning and many of them brought to the table the skills they had learned in other courses.

I do think we hit many of the course learning goals (e.g. Integrate multiple lines of data to explain critical zone processes; Summarize the effects of anthropogenic activities on local and global critical zone processes). We did not achieve the final goal and I will restate it when I teach this course again -- the students did not participate in critical zone science integrative research. They did learn to think critically about critical zone processes -- which was my overall goal.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »