Megan Steinweg: Using InTeGrate materials in Nutrient Transformations at Roanoke College

About this Course

This course is an upper division course taken by biology majors and occasionally environmental science majors. Most of the biology students have not had any type of earth science or ecology course prior to taking my course.
three 60 minute lecture sessions

Syllabus for Nutrient Transformations (Acrobat (PDF) 333kB Feb7 20)

I was teaching my upper level nutrient transformation course for the second time when I started to add in Integrate modules. The first time I taught the course it was lecture heavy with some activities interspersed. The Integrate modules had several in and out of class activities that related to topics that I already wanted to cover in my course.

My students very much enjoyed the in-class activities and I thought the homework assignments reinforced the topics well. It was great hearing the buzz of students talking in class about the topic during activities. Students recognized the reinforcement of certain concepts throughout the course and mentioned that they hadn't experienced that often in other courses but appreciated the opportunity to apply their knowledge in new systems.

Students came away from the course having a greater understanding and appreciation for topics that impact their lives today and in the future.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

I used a portion of the units from the "Earth's Thermostat" module to have students focus on the amount of energy that Earth receives and how that changes. I didn't use the units in sequential order, instead I started with Unit 4 on the first day of class. We then worked back to energy flows and used what we learned from Earth and applied it to other planets. I used a portion of the units from "A Growing Concern" module that highlighted how soils and soil properties differ across the United States and the impact of erosion. I modified the initial "What is soil" assignment to include a reading from Jenny's "Factor of soil formation" and the "How Full is Full" porosity exercise to explore other soils. I used part of a "Climate of Change" module focusing on climate variability and anomalous behavior, El Nino and La Nina. I didn't change any of the assignments or lecture but only used some of the module. For the "Ocean sustainability" module I used the lectures from units 1-3 to reinforce the importance of the ocean in carbon cycling and its ability to store carbon. There was not change in the assignments.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

Our semesters are 13 weeks. The Earth's Thermostat module was used in the first two weeks when the students had no prior knowledge other than what they came in with from other courses. We then moved to talking about other planet's energy balance and that allowed us to also talk about weathering which segued us into soils. A growing concern module was used during week 4 and 5 of the course. During week 6 we used the idea of erosion to also bring up movement of N and P from agricultural systems to the oceans which got us to ocean sustainability for week 7 and part of 8. Since we were already talking about oceans we continued on with the Climate of Change module for weeks 9, 10.


I used a combination of summative and formative assessments throughout the semester. Most of the in class activities were used as formative assessment and often took longer than I anticipated. Since we do not have a geoscience major the types of diagrams/maps used were new to students and they needed to spend some time orienting themselves to the figures. At the end of several lectures I also had an "exit question" focusing mostly on retrieval. There were also some out of class formative assessments. The first assignment, a modified version of Earth's thermostat unit 1 solar irradiance and temperature, was strictly used so I could get a handle on how students were understanding the concepts. I collected the assignment and made comments but students received credit. Students also wrote weekly summaries where they needed to explain the material we had covered that week and write about anything that was still unclear. These reflective summaries were helpful to both the students and myself.

In terms of summative assessment the students had typical assessments, quizzes, assignments, and exams. Students had quizzes and exams throughout the semester, often those questions came from the assessment questions in the modules online. I also used several of the module assignments as out of class homework (Systems feedback assignment, Climate of Change Case 2.2 Variability in North Atlantic Oscillation).


This is the second time I've taught this course and I had two main goals, one for myself and one for the students. The goal for myself was to include more active learning and quantitative components to the course. The Integrate modules have a lot of great activities that I was able to use in and out of the classroom with my students to introduce and reinforce concepts. There were some activities that required quantitative skills which did stretch my students.

The second goal was listed on my syllabus, "for students to describe a more holistic view of nutrient cycles and by using modules that covered the atmosphere, lithosphere, and hydrosphere students were able to describe the complexities of Earth," and I definitely think this was accomplished. Ultimately I think all of our courses try to build knowledge but sometimes students don't see that. Students view topics in our courses as "one and done" but not here, the Integrate module allowed them to scaffold and build off of previous knowledge so they could appreciate the complexities of the Earth system.