Josh Galster: Teaching Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes in Earth and the Environment at Montclair State University
About this Course
An introductory course for majors and non-majors.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 129kB Jan8 14)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
The Natural Hazards and Risks: Hurricanes module was taught to 20 introductory students over one week during two lectures and one laboratory session. Dividing the module between lecture and laboratory sessions allowed for different activities to be approached in a variety of ways—for example, having more discussion (e.g., Unit 1) during lecture and more data analysis (Activity 3) in the laboratory. The module was used about 2/3 into the semester, and students reacted positively to it by being more engaged and more interested in the activities than in some other parts of the class. The culminating exercise, Unit 6, was especially effective in fostering discussion and participation on whether to evacuate in the face of an approaching hurricane.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials
The classes I used this material in fulfilled general education requirements, so I often had to make sure students of different abilities were able to understand the material. This usually was accomplished by walking the students through some of the first problems/questions on a few of the units, or by giving examples of similar problems. The module often generated discussion and questions from the students, increasing their participation.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
I taught almost the entire module during three lectures and one laboratory session. This included about 3.5 hours of lectures and 2 hours of laboratory session. The module was taught during weeks 8 and 9 of a 15-week semester. The overall plan included:
- Unit 1 was taught in lecture #1.
- Units 2 and 4 were taught in lecture #2.
- Units 3 and 5 were taught in laboratory session #1.
- Units 4 and 6 were taught in lecture #3.
- Student learning was assessed both during and at the end of each session.
There are effective assessments with each part so that there is better understanding by the students and the instructor about what is being learned.
- The discussion generated about the hazards and risks presented in the cartoon at the beginning generated good points from the students. They came up with several examples, and the students also built upon concepts presented by students previously. Their written lists of examples could have been collected and graded for a more formal assessment, although I did not do this.
- I had the students individually complete the assessment on calculating their personal risk using the formula presented (risk = cost x frequency) in Activity 1.3. This provided a gradable, formal assessment for this unit.
- Students completed the assessment of the activity on whether to sail by writing their response (yes or no) as well as their reasons why in a paragraph or two of text. By having them write their responses instead of just discussing them with the class, I could individually assess their learning. If a less-structured assessment is desired, then a discussion of their responses could be conducted.
- The assessment for this unit was grading the plotted path of Hurricane Irene on the map and having students describe where and when the hurricane made landfall in the United States. A different geographic location for landfall could be chosen alternatively.
- A sketch of the differences between the pre- and post-Irene DEM was collected from each student. They were assessed more for the overall representation of the differences rather than achieving a 100% accurate portrayal of the differences. The Rodanthe DEM was useful for this as there are separate, large sections of both erosion and deposition.
- Assessment was done for both Activities 5.1 and 5.2 by collecting and grading the written assignments for each activity. For 5.1 it was the graphs of hurricane trends during the 20th century, and for 5.2 it was the written comparisons of changes in coastal development. Converting 5.2 into a class discussion of coastal development patterns and drivers would also work well.
- Assessment was conducted of the discussion on evacuations and uncertainty, using an informal rubric of how much each student participated and the quality of their input. One could also collect a written summary of each stakeholder's position, if a graded assessment is needed or wanted.
I had a few outcomes I was hoping for the students from this module:
- I wanted the material to engage them, and by engage I wanted them to think about, discuss, and write on the items presented here. The students increased their participation, and the quality of the thinking in their writing improved during this module, which I was happy to see. The debate during Unit 6 was a great example of this, with the students participating more than they had previously and really taking on the roles.
- I wanted to expose the students to more examples of real data sets that develop the students' quantitative skills. Using the Hurricane Irene paths, river hydrographs, DEMs, and other examples gave the students experience with those kinds of data. Working from those data sets, I wanted to introduce the students to how scientists often deal with uncertainty, and while I accomplished this to some degree I want to expand on this in the future.
Overall, I liked how this module used a variety of ways to engage students, including maps, tables of data, online tools, aerial photographs, DEMS, cartoons, and role-playing. The flexibility is great as it allows the material to either be used as a complete unit or as individual components.