Initial Publication Date: January 22, 2018

Elizabeth Nagy: Using portions of four InTeGrate modules in Physical Geology at Pasadena City College

About this Course

An introductory course for non-majors.

Two meeting per week. 3 hours 20 minutes each. Lecture/lab combo.

Nagy Fall 2016 Phys Geol Syll (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 167kB Jun12 17) 

Replacing lab activities with materials from four InTeGrate modules in an introductory physical geology course at a two-year college

I replaced about half of my previous laboratory activities in an introductory physical geology class with ten activities adapted from four Integrate Modules. The students seemed to enjoy the group work and moving around the room, something that I rarely did in previous semesters. I also enjoyed the diversity of teaching techniques. I do not recommend making such drastic changes in a single semester, but because I was a member of the InTeGrate Research Team, I was required to make significant changes all at once.

I recall one student in particular who came into class one day in the middle of the semester and announced to no one in particular, "OK, I can do this class." She sat in the front row and struck me as the type of student who had decided before the semester even began that she was going to fail this course because she was terrible at math and science. But she found the activities understandable and relevant, not overloaded with memorization or focused on obscure concepts, and even enjoyed some of them. She finished the semester with a "C" and a newfound confidence in her own ability to succeed where she once believed success to be impossible.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterials

The reflections I wrote after every class period during my first semester of using the modules were invaluable when I taught the material a second time. These reminded me of what I had wanted to modify and change, and made this second instructional round even more polished.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

We have 16-week semesters. I introduced the changes during Spring 2016 and am describing here results from the following Fall 2016 semester, when I used the materials for a second time. The first major topic in my course was plate tectonics, which was introduced without Integrate material, although it was followed by one lesson from Map Your Hazards, and all of the units from Living on the Edge. The students took Exam #1 after these topics. 
I then taught earthquakes and faults from my own activities, followed by three class periods introducing minerals. Two of these three classes used Integrate materials. I then taught them about igneous rocks using my own materials and they took exam #2.
The last third of the semester covered weathering/erosion and sediment, sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks, and ore minerals and mining. I introduced erosion with two units from the Growing Concern module. Sedimentary and metamorphic rocks were taught using my own material, and the last few classes used more materials from the Mineral Resources module to cover mining and ore mineral formation.
I never specifically told the class that we were using Integrate materials. I had all necessary student material already printed and in their semester course pack, or gave them handouts. Thus they did not interact with the web site at all.


One thing I did the second time I taught with these materials that really helped me save time was to put the pre-work questions onto my CMS so that it could be automatically graded prior to our class period. Because this was part of their grade, I got much better participation that in the previous semester when I asked them to hand in the paper version of the pre-work at the beginning of class. I used many of the provided summative assessments as exam questions, but found better results when I explicitly asked the same or similar question in class and had a discussion of the answer. I often did this at the beginning of a class period, when I generally put a question up on the board for students to answer (on paper) while I am taking attendance and answering individual questions. I also added some of them them to online quizzes. Formative assessments, such as worksheets done during lab, were graded less rigorously, sometimes just noting if the students had completed all parts.


Before the trial semester began (Spring 2016) I had already taught materials from InTeGrate modules in several of my courses, thus I was familiar with the overall web layout. This made it a little easier to explore the new modules that I would be teaching. My general advice for someone new to a module would be to (1) read the summary on the home page, (2) read the instructor materials page (excellent summaries), (3) read the unit summaries and learning goals for each unit, and (4) read the instructor stories. When you teach a particular unit, these instructor stories are invaluable for learning what other instructors experienced during their implementation. Having taught some InTeGrate units up to eight or nine times, my own initial instructor reflections have been a fantastic tool to remind me what went right and what I needed to adjust. I strongly recommend writing a paragraph of your thoughts after you teach one of these lessons. It is difficult to remember your impressions the next semester.

It takes a few semesters to get things working just right and deciding what to keep and what to remove. I also used some of the materials in new ways (e.g., I use the economic mineral flowchart for additional activities). I provided students with hard copies of their classroom materials (rather than have them use the website) that I put into an in-house laboratory manual. I laminated materials that would be used every semester, especially color figures. I put a lot of the pre-lab HW online using a CMS (Canvas). When it was on paper, students forgot to do it or simply didn't. Once I had it worked into their regular habit (online HW before pretty much every class) it got done.

In terms of my class preparation, I usually started with the provided ppt and modified it to meet my needs. As I said above it takes a few trials to figure out the balance between lecturing and letting students figure out what to do. I found that I often needed to remind students, or explicitly summarize, the purpose of the activity, as they would get wrapped up in data analysis and forget the overall goal. The group work went really well and seemed to be well received by the students. I also really liked the summative assessments.

Importantly, in order to free up time to include so much new material, I significantly modified my previous syllabus. This was a major challenge for all of the research team participants. The most significant change is that I removed the preparation and practice for a mineral identification exam, as well as the exam itself, that has been a hallmark of our physical geology courses since the early part of the 20th century. My modified syllabus is given above in the unit-by-unit breakdown.