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Joshua Villalobos: Using Environmental Justice and Freshwater Resources in Physical Geology at El Paso Community College

About this Course

An introductory course for non-majors.

Two 160-minute lecture
incl. lab
community college

Syllabus (Microsoft Word 237kB Jul1 14)

GEOL 1403 is an introduction to the study of the materials and processes that have modified and shaped the surface and interior of Earth over time. These processes are described by theories based on experimental data and geologic data gathered from field observations.

Course Goals:

This course has the following student learning outcomes (SLOs) that students are tested on after the completion of the course. Therefore upon successful completion of this course, the student should be able to:

  1. List the three particles of the atom and list their characteristics and locations; explain the characteristics of the bonding of the most common elements.
  2. Explain how atomic structure relates to the crystal form and physical properties of the basic rock forming and ore minerals.
  3. Describe the physical properties of minerals and use these to identify the common rock forming and ore minerals.
  4. Draw the rock cycle; explain the origins of the basic rock types and explain the processes that change rocks from one type to another.
  5. Draw Bowen's Reaction Series and explain how it relates to the various compositions of igneous rocks.
  6. Explain the processes involved in the formation of igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rocks and be able to identify the common rock types.
  7. List the basic volcanic processes acting upon Earth and their effect upon man and the environment.
  8. Describe the basic tectonic processes acting upon Earth and their effect upon man and the environment.
  9. Describe the basic hydrologic processes acting upon Earth and their effect upon man and the environment.
  10. Describe the basic weathering processes acting upon Earth and their effect upon man and the environment.
  11. Explain the basics of Earth's magnetic and gravitational fields.
  12. Explain the Big Bang Theory and the Solar Nebula Theory.
  13. Identify the structure and composition of Earth's interior.
  14. Explain the formation of and exploration for the basic mineral and energy resources.
  15. Read topographic maps and aerial photos and recognize important geomorphic features.

The completion of this course fulfills four credit hours of the common core science block for the state of Texas and is transferable to all Texas universities and degree plans.

Course Content

This course introduces the concepts which provide a foundation for the study of geology and geography, including the different elements of the natural environment as related to human activities and modes of living and map concepts .

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

Geology is such a dynamic subject that touches all aspects of our lives that getting students engaged and excited about it is often not an issue. Mineral resources, natural disasters, and local environments are subjects that students and instructors encounter every day that can be used to illustrate our connection to Earth and its systems. Often, though, our connections to these systems and the subsequent consequences of these connections are not so visible to students. Environmental justice is one such topic that is rarely discussed or taught but has profound consequences when students learn and recognize it. The concept of environmental justice illustrates the consequences of our actions to the natural world and to the individuals who live in it. Natural resources are often discussed in class in terms of their formation, locations, extraction, and uses, but rarely do the consequences of the usage of these resources go beyond the issue of depletion. We teach our students that Earth and its systems work in a complex balance of each other to ensure equilibrium and equality, therefore teaching our students about balance and equality among society, our resources, and the environment completes our task of educating our students about the world we live in.

Over the past few years I began to encounter a rapid demographic change in my classroom with an increase of millenial students. This shift in demographics would seem inevitable and obvious to most, but like at most two-year colleges, our student population was primarily non-traditional students (returning students, students over 35, single parents, after/before work students, and students with disabilities) with only a few recent high school graduates. These types of non-traditional students often flourish in lecture-only courses and thrive on solitary work assignments. Now, the trend at our institution is primarily recent high school graduates making up the bulk of our student body. For the first time in our institution's history, the median age of an EPCC student is now under 25! Therefore, I am constantly trying to enhance my teaching effectiveness. Students no longer respond well to lecture-only classes and seem to thrive on group work, instant feedback, and innovative pedagogy.

I typically teach four to five introductory geology classes per semester, so having an effective lesson plan that is engaging and simple is very desirable, since I will probably have to teach it four to five times in one week. The module was perfect in its ability to have all resources for students to access and use during a single class period with the capability to have students complete it out of the class.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

I used the Environmental Justice module in my physical geology course for two weeks near the end of the semester. Having the students explore the different concepts of what environmental justice is throughout the semester helped them identify more clearly the cases discussed in the module. As the module began, students had a better concept of what environmental justice was and how it pertains to their everyday lives and to others around them.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

Molly Kent, Carleton College Download Joshua Villalobos video interview (MP4 Video 6.8MB) Details

The module was implemented during weeks 12 and 13 of a 16-week semester. Students had previously gone over the different concepts of minerals, rocks, geological setting and hazards as part of the course's required topics. As each topic was discussed, a related environmental justice concept was injected toward the end of the lecture or via a clicker question for further discussion. For example, after the earthquakes lecture, a discussion was started in class on the effects of recent tsunamis. Students were asked to compare the differences (preparedness of citizens, possible social classes, economic standing of the country, etc.) seen in YouTube videos of Banda Acheh from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and the tsunami of 2012 off the coast of Japan. As students observed the stark economic, social differences, and preparedness between both events, I posed the question: "Whose responsibility is it to ensure that adequate warning systems, education, and resources are available when events like these occur? Local government? National government? Citizens? or You and I?" Obviously there is no one correct answer, but these exercises allowed students to think about aspects of social, environmental, and economic justice that would be required for them to comprehend the issues of environmental justic. Students really got into these discussions on these issues and topics throughout the semester and were eager to point out local examples of environmental justice as we went along in the semester. As we approached the module, students were ready to be involved and had a clear understanding of what environmental justice is and how often the answer to social issues is not always clear.

Unit 1: Introduction to Environmental Justice

  • Prior to starting this module and unit it is recommended that pedagogues such as minute papers, think-pair-shares, and computer-based activities be done throughout the semester to help students get accustomed to these techniques. Having the students mentally ready for these activities will save on time for the other activities that are time-intensive.
  • I incorporated the Learning Objects for this unit as part of the class's weekly Student Learning Objectives (SLOs). These are shown on the board before class begins. This helps the students to mentally prepare for the subject of the lecture.
  • Before the lecture began I gave a quick five-minute review of Earth's systems. I use a Smart Board in my class so the review was done by drawing out the various spheres and having the students explain the relationship between each one to the other. This review of the Earth's system helped the students thinking along the right path of what an environment is for the unit.
  • The think-pair-share activity was converted to a clicker question exploring the concept of the environment and introducing the idea of Environmental Justice (EJ) and Environmental inJustice (EiJ) . Students were asked to discuss the results of the clicker survey and give examples of local scenarios where they feel the environment may be threatened. This activity ran longer than what was called for because students became very engaged with local issues of what they perceived as EiJ, especially those who grew up in agricultural families.
  • The EJ PowerPoint was used instead of the Prezi to allow for clicker questions. Students did another think-pair-share activity in groups of 5 (out of 20) with the question of "Define Environmental Justice." A discussion on the the differences and similarities between the class's definitions and the EPA and EJnet was then discussed.
  • After the minute papers were handed in, students were asked to write down, reflect on, and answer the following questions as a take-home assignment along with the Water Footprint exercise to prep them for the follow class:
    • Where does the water in your house come from?
    • Where does does it go when you use it?
    • Does everyone have access to water in our community?
    • Who uses water in our community?

Unit 2: The Hydrological Cycle and Freshwater Resources

  • Learning objectives are incorporated into SLOs.
  • I started the class immediately discussing the Water Footprint exercise results by having the students answer a clicker question on how much water is used in their household per day. The answers are in range from low <100 gallons/day to >200 gallons/day. Based on the clicker survey I began a quick discussion with the following questions:
    • Which activity used the most water?
    • Why do you think other counties use less water? Living in a border town across from Mexico, water usage, availability, and quality issues are a known issue for many of students or their family members so this provided a great real world example of the issues that were about to be discussed in lecture!
  • During the discussion of the water cycle I used the Smart Board to have students draw, label, and discuss the various aspects of the hydrological cycles. As the students began to complete the diagram, I pointed out that their collective diagram was a simplified version often depicted online and in textbooks. I then began to fill in the other key aspects of the hydrological cycle on the diagram and discuss their relationship with the components already put on the Smart Board by the students. Once a completed diagram was created, students answered clicker questions followed by a 2-3 discussion regarding:
    • The storage capacity of various freshwater reservoirs in the water cycles.
    • How are citizens/nature affected by modification of surface water (river diversions, damming of waterways, contaminated runoff, etc).
    • How global warming changes the water cycle.
    • How pollutants travel in the hydrological cycle from one reservoir to another.
  • Students are given a take-home assignment to watch the following videos (along with module USGS report take-home assignment) on Na Wai Eha stream in Maui to prep them for the next class period's module activity.

Unit 3: Streams and Water Diversion

  • Learning objectives of the unit are incorporated into SLOs of lecture.
  • After students wrote down their SLO for their surface water lecture, I reviewed the videos by having a discussion on their thoughts of the situation in Kaulana Na Wai Eha. This allowed the students to refresh their memory on the environmental justice component of the situation as well as get them mentally prepared for the think-pair-share activity.
  • After the think-pair-share activity, students have the knowledge regarding environmental justice and geology to continue to the assessment exercise.
  • A major issue was encountered with use of the assessment exercise utilizing Google Earth. Students were on laptops and the use of multiple (20 ) Wi-Fi users slowed the connection considerably. To prevent students losing focus and class time, the Google Earth exercise was conducted in groups. I used the groups formed in the think-pair-share activity and made the activity into a last-minute think-pair-share activity between groups.
  • One student reflection chosen from each group was written on the board to allow students to see if their reflection on Unit 3 was geared toward the geology side or environmental justice side.
  • This modification added about 15 minutes to the schedule but the results were great.
  • Before class ended, I did a quick tutorial on how the class was to do the take-home assignment using the USGS data site. Over the course of the semester, students were introduced to various USGS sites for data collection, reading assignments, or visuals to help them navigate the website and to get accustomed to using the Internet for assignments.

Unit 4 and 5 were not covered due to lack of time.

Unit 6: Groundwater Availability and Resources

  • Learning objectives of the unit are incorporated into SLOs of lecture on groundwater.
  • After the lecture we discussed the take-home assignment and reviewed the wells via the Smart Board to prepare the students for the think-pair-share activity.
  • Think-pair-share activity was conducted and went over several minutes. This was due to the students giving their personal point of view of the situation of groundwater depletion in their area of the town, which is predominately an agricultural community.
  • During the discussion of the Ogallala Aquifer, the class made comparisons to geology and settings of the our local aquifers (Mesilla Bolson and Hueco Bolson) to the Ogallala Aquifer.
  • This unit had the students most engaged during the course of the semester. The connections between the issues discussed in class to issues they see at home, in the local news, and in the community opened their eyes to their role in the issue of groundwater depletion. Making connections between the module units and their daily lives often led to educational and informative class discussions that were not encountered in non-module related lectures.
  • After the lecture and final think-pair-share activity, the students were asked to explore for homework the following using the El Paso Water Utilities website
    • How do you read your water meter? Find out how much water you have used this month.
    • What are some ways to conserve water indoors and outdoors, according the website?
    • What is stormwater? How is it controlled in El Paso?


I utilized all of the Environmental Justice embedded assessments for the units covered and found that the assessments indicated that the students developed a good understanding of what environmental justice was in the unit's topic. The assessments outcomes were correlated with clicker data that is regularly used in my classes to help me gauge their understanding of the material. The assessments and clicker responses showed that students achieved the objectives of the module units. Subsequent changes to the embedded assessments and teaching materials addressed the shortfalls. The integration of more clicker questions and activities into the module would be advantageous to those who have access to clicker technology.


Environmental justice was a challenging topic to include in an introductory geology course for many reasons, but it was well worth the added effort. Often when we teach our intro-science courses, we illustrate fundamental concepts in broad strokes to help facilitate the students' ability to learn and to get excited (because they are learning) about geology. Challenging the students to think about geoscience-related issues requires them to think like scientists, but when introducing them to issues regarding environmental justice, students must think in a different way. Introducing students to the concepts and issues regarding environmental justice gave my students a much broader sense of the natural world and the consequences of us using and living in it. Many students began to realize issues of environmental justice were closer to home than they expected. Living along the US/Mexico border with many of my students coming from or knowing migrant farms, my students were able to put a name to issues that they have seen and heard of their whole lives. Teaching with the environmental justice module also gave my students a way to find out how to address these issues by becoming proactive, informed members of a community.

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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 »