InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Module 2: Methods in CZ Science > Unit 2.1 - Basic Tools & Analysis
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Unit 2.1 - Basic Tools & Analysis

Susan Gill (Stroud Water Research Center) and Ashlee Dere (University of Nebraska - Omaha)

This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

  • team-based development to ensure materials are appropriate across multiple educational settings.
  • multiple iterative reviews and feedback cycles through the course of material development with input to the authoring team from both project editors and an external assessment team.
  • real in-class testing of materials in at least 3 institutions with external review of student assessment data.
  • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
  • review by external experts for accuracy of the science content.


This page first made public: May 15, 2017

Summary

This unit will introduce methods and data from Critical Zone observatories as well as methods that scientists use in their research. These activities will provide an introduction to methods used in later units and help students develop a research proposal for the summative assessment activity.

In this unit, students will be introduced to basic scientific methods such as:
    • How to create an effective annotated bibliography.
    • How to use software such as MS Excel to graph, analyze, and interpret data.

Learning Goals

Students must demonstrate the fundamental skills of reviewing the scientific literature and displaying scientific data sets by:

  • Creating a short annotated bibliography of a Critical Zone research question of interest to them.
  • Using Excel to graph, analyze, and interpret a Critical Zone data set.

Context for Use

This week-long unit for advanced undergraduates/graduates in environmental science reviews two fundamental scientific skills as they apply to Critical Zone science during two 75 minute class periods. This module, "Methods in Critical Zone Science," is part of the InTeGrate interdisciplinary course called "Introduction to Critical Zone Science."

Description and Teaching Materials

Unit 2.1 (Day 1)

Pre-class (instructor) - Arrange for a librarian with special knowledge of environmental or Earth science to guide students in literature searching.

Pre-class Homework - Students should be asked to think about a Critical Zone topic or research question that they want to do preliminary research on.

Guest Lecture - Reference Librarian (45 min)

  • Invite a reference librarian or research specialist (either in-class or at library teaching lab). The topics covered should include:
      • How to define and narrow a topic for a literature search
      • How to locate appropriate databases in which to search
      • How to find full-text sources
      • How to cite references
Activity 2.1 - Annotated Bibliography (30 min)
    • Each student should define a topic of interest, select five appropriate sources, produce an annotated bibliography and refine their research questions based on what they have read (See detailed assignment below). Have students focus on refining their research question and getting started with a bibliographic search.

Homework - Complete Activity 2.1 started in class.

Unit 2.1 (Day 2)

Pre-class (instructor) - Survey the students to determine their level of comfort and expertise using MS Excel. Students will likely need instruction on how to deal with gaps in data (reported as -9999 or empty cells in datafiles). It will also be helpful to review which types of data are best suited to different graphing approaches (such as line plots or bar graphs).

Lecture - Excel Spreadsheets (40 min)
  • This activity covers various ways to graph and visualize data. Instructors can use or direct students to material from the Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences Basic Graphing site to review basic spreadsheet operations such as:
    • Import data
    • Using formulas (average, standard deviation, t-test)
    • Line, bar and XY graphing
    • Trendline analysis and construction of histograms
    • Representation of time and missing data
Activity 2.2: Plotting Data (35 min)
  • Each student should produce a line graph and estimate slope, draw a histogram, and produce a bar graph using data from one of the CZO web sites http://criticalzone.org/national/. Each site has data listed that can be used. Have students start exploring the CZO database for data sets they are interested in using.
Homework - Complete Activity 2.2 started in class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Unit 2.1 Day 1

The annotated bibliography activity should begin with a library session where a reference librarian instructs students on how to do a literature search and begin an annotated bibliography. If your institution has a computer lab where this session can take place, that will allow students to begin their literature search with the librarian present. The handout suggests that a good sample topic to use as an example is:

  • "How does vegetation affect soil formation in different ecosystems?"
    • Links to 5 exemplary research articles (and search strategy for locating them)

The librarian should also discuss what should be in an annotated bibliography. If not, instruct students to look up Annotated Bibliography in any of the listed references or on Wikipedia. Under that entry, they should understand that they are to complete an informative annotated bibliography.

Students should not include any more references than are requested. Tell them that they will be evaluated only on the first five entries even if later entries are better. If they want to do more, they should decide which entries they will keep, and delete the others.

Unit 2.1 Day 2

The Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences website, hosted by SERC, has a broad range of activities. Although some students may already have these skills, others may not. It may be appropriate to survey the class beforehand as to what their comfort level with graphing skills is (perhaps in an email or a form, so that they do not need to feel uncomfortable if their experience is limited). Once you have a sense of their individual skill level, you may want to pair students at different levels so that they can do the exercises together. Each student, however, should hand in his or her own work. These exercises were integrated from the SERC website and, unfortunately, not all of the links in this activity work consistently. However, there is much more material in the unit than the students can complete. Select those activities that meet your students' ability and the content (as closely as you can). The exercises cover many levels from the most basic to somewhat more complex content.

Assessment

The annotated bibliography and literature review should be completed after the meeting with the reference librarian. Should any student be unable to attend the class where the reference librarian covers this material, that student should schedule an appointment with a science librarian, preferably one who has a background in geoscience, but certainly one who has a science background.

Research Activity.

Graphing Activity

The graphing activity was developed as an activity from the Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences website, hosted by SERC. There are quite a few activities at many levels. Once you have established your students' level of graphing expertise, you can select from these activities. There are several concept tests that can be used as assessment of the students' ability to read and interpret graphs.

Total Points: 55 pts

References and Resources

Annotated Bibliographies:

Spreadsheet Analysis:

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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 »