InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Critical Zone Science > Instructor Stories > Jim Washburne
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Jim Washburne: Using in Introduction to Critical Zone Science at The University of Arizona



About this Course

Upper level undergraduate/graduate; variety of majors/non-majors

8
students
Two 75 min classes
weekly

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 48kB Apr12 17)

Research seminar which introduces students to the multitude of scientific disciplines and systems connections found in Critical Zone Observatories.

1. Characterize the relationship between the Critical Zone, atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and soil.
2. Summarize the effects of anthropogenic activities on local to global Critical Zone processes.
3. Demonstrate ability to analyze ethical issues related to CZ science.
4. Determine the distribution of chemical species in CZO environments.
5. Perform common air, water, and soil CZO laboratory and field procedures.
6. Analyze how water, carbon, nutrient and energy flow through the Critical Zone and impact long-term sustainability of water and soil resources.

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

I taught a small (8 person) mixed 400/500 level seminar course called Introduction to Critical Zone Science so the students were a mix of upper class undergraduates and graduates. Some of my students had prior experience (internships/RA's) with the actual Critical Zone research teams on campus so brought (and shared) their advanced but unique experiences with the class. Despite or perhaps because of their advanced level, most students had only been exposed to a narrow range of ideas relative to the big picture of critical zone integrated systems.

The greatest lesson students took away from this course was a much broader and integrated appreciation of the interacting Earth systems that make up the critical zone.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

One technique we used to digest a large number of scientific readings was to break the class into small groups and have each group make a short (5-minute report) summarizing the reading for the rest of the class. Students reported that this repeated practice of short and focused assignments, helped improve their overall comfort and confidence in making classroom presentations.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

My module or unit on atmospheric fluxes of energy and carbon represents a two-week segment of this 15-week course sequence. It represented the first largely technical section after a couple of introductory modules. I think this module does a great job of introducing students to cross-CZO and multisite data comparisons. Not only do we encourage students to explore the CZO database but we also expose them to the Ameriflux database.



Unit 1: CZO background
- Introduced CZO formative documents and philosophy using small group reading summaries.

Unit 2: Methods in CZO Science

-Reinforced small group reading summary format to share multiple perspectives on CZO science methodology.

Unit 3: CZ Architecture and Evolution
- Added some supplemental readings and walked students through web activities.

Unit 4: Energy and Carbon fluxes
- My main focus since I was the author. Some students need help dealing with real and large data sets in Excel.

Unit 5: Water fluxes

- This complemented Unit 4 nicely but the original activities were missing some data that I provide. I think these shortcomings have been rectified.

Unit 6: Geochemical & Biogeochemical fluxes
- I had the hardest time teaching this unit since it is furthest from my background. Just be sure to pre-read the material yourself.

Unit 7: Humans in the Critical Zone
- We are running short of time so we skim through this section in favor of the capstone project. The model your watershed software is very interesting but more designed for urban runoff-type problems.

Assessments

This module uses three forms of assessments. To get started, guided worksheets provide the structure students need to engage in the module. Next, students explore a variety of graphical data sets drawn from many different environments. The goal is to identify and focus on the main features of the graphs (or sites) rather than secondary effects or artifacts of incomplete data. Finally, students are asked to locate and graph data from areas of interest to them at both annual and daily time scales. The latter activity is quite challenging for students, who may not have had to graph data sets with 17,520 rows and 30 columns. Another challenge appears to be dealing with datasets that may contain many "Missing Data" values.

Outcomes

Energy and carbon fluxes and balances are a fundamental and oftentimes defining characteristic of a critical zone site. My goal was to show students how they might explore this data on their own and how to interpret it. Students uniformly became better flux-data analysists but many continued to have difficulty graphing the data on their own.

Overall, most students experienced a significant aha moment during the course when they finally understood how their research or expertise was part of and fit into the broader, integrated CZ science system.

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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 »