Rachel Teasdale: Teaching Living on the Edge in Geological Hazards at California State University, Chico
About this course
This course fulfills an upper division general education science requirement for students who are not geology majors.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 607kB Mar5 14)
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
I piloted the module in a course taught by another faculty member while I was on sabbatical during the pilot time period. The module was taught among other topics of geologic disasters such as floods, storms, volcanoes and earthquakes. The module was piloted in weeks five and six of the 15-week semester, just after the instructor had completed introductory/background information on plate tectonics, Earth's interior and energy systems.
With a slightly larger class (50 students), I needed to be super-organized with group activities and especially the jigsaw activities of Units 5 and 6. The effort of incorporating group activities into my classes has always been worthwhile—they engage students to work together, think, plan, and interpret information, which really brings their learning to a higher level. The Living on the Edge module makes concepts of hazards and risks of plate boundary activity personal. Students were not only excited to be using real data, they found that considering the societal impacts of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions (both in far-off places or closer to home) to make the activities personal and relevant. This relevance led to students taking more care with the activities; they really wanted their results to be high quality so that their mock-school would be awarded funding for earthquake safety retrofitting, and they took it personally when they saw the damage to the town they had been working on.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsMy observations during the Living on the Edge pilot included students becoming invested in the activities (will "their" location survive the eruption?!), taking personal views on the probabilities of earthquake occurrences in Los Angeles and San Francisco (many of my students' hometowns are near one of those cities or the other), and struggling with not having enough data. What a concept—non-science students who complain about not having enough data!
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
I used the Living on the Edge module in the first third of the 15-week semester, following background information to get students ready to understand basic ideas of earth deformation. Laurel Goodell's Plate Tectonics primer (http://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/google_earth/examples/49004.html) was used the week before Living on the Edge and worked well to introduce ideas of plate tectonics used in the module. Hazards and risks were referred to repeatedly throughout the rest of the semester as other geologic hazards were explored, and the probabilities of other hazards (floods, hurricanes) were better understood because of material covered in Unit 1.
I embedded the unit assessments in the class PowerPoint files so that I could either a) have students work on the questions in their small groups (if there was enough time or if some groups finished main activities faster than others); or b) use the questions for slightly faster-paced questioning from me to the students to get shout out responses, which I needed to do in Units 1 and 2 when I did not save enough class time to allow for small group discussions plus an all-class debrief. Summative assessment questions were given on the midterm (a week after completing the Living on the Edge module) and a variation of the question on the final exam. In both cases, the questions were an earlier version than is included in the module now and did not work as well as the current summative assessments, but I am looking forward to using the newer summative assessments as they have worked much better for other instructors (Selkin).
I wanted to participate in the InTeGrate project because I am a firm believer in active learning and in helping students in all science classes—but especially in introductory courses—better understand the context and significance of scientific research and activities. I realize that the majority of my intro students are taking the class to fulfill the science requirement for the GE coursework, which I also realize translates to the class becoming their "terminal" science class (rather than the somewhat misnamed "introductory science" label!). So, given that this is a significant opportunity to influence their understanding and approach to science, I want them to find relevance. My observations during the Living on the Edge pilot included students becoming invested in the activity (will "their" location survive the eruption?!), taking personal views on the probabilities of earthquake occurrences in Los Angeles and San Francisco (many of my students' hometowns are near one of those cities or the other), and struggling with not having enough data. What a concept—non-science students who complaining about not having enough data! The Living on the Edge module certainly fulfilled and exceeded my expectations and I am running it again this fall (2014) in two classes, one with 80 students (an intro geology class for science/engineering majors) and in an intro class for non-science majors with 140 students! I am sure they will enjoy it as much as I do and will learn a lot about the practice of science, use of data, and the relevance of science to their lives and those of communities living on the edge of plate boundaries!