Leah Joseph and Sally Willig: Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources in Geol/Env 102 at Ursinus College

(Write-up by Leah Joseph)

About this Course

A large introductory geoscience course, primarily comprised of non-science majors.


Two 75-minute lecture
One 3-hour lab

Four-year private liberal arts college

Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 175kB Jul14 14)

A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

The Humans' Dependence on Earth's Mineral Resources module was used within "Geology: The Earth around Us," an introductory physical geology course that caters to (primarily senior) non-science majors needing a science lab course to complete their core curriculum. Although it did not fully replace it, the module helped to make the "rocks and minerals" portion of our geology course much more interdisciplinary and relevant to the students. It also incorporated aspects of human impact on the environment as part of this unit, instead of being added on as a separate component later in the semester, and thus led to a closer association of geologic processes, human needs/actions, and environmental and human impact. The students seemed to actively engage in the material, completing the homework assignments as well. As the module was run near the very start of the semester, the hands-on and group work activities helped set the stage for classroom participation.

Our observations noted that the group work aspect of the module helped the students form closer and more interactive relationships with each other, which continued throughout the rest of the semester.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

The module was introduced at the end of the first week of classes and took two weeks to complete. These materials vary greatly in style from day to day, which helped to keep the students engaged during class time. Because we had two weeks of class plus lab periods, we were able to complete all of the units and their optional materials. Although I think we asked a lot of the students for those two weeks, they certainly rose to the challenge.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to Our Course

We used the module near the very beginning of this introductory physical geology course. From there, we worked for the next two weeks to fully complete Units 1 through 6 and took an additional class period for students to present their overarching mineral resource concept maps. We used the module to supplement and replace segments of the "rocks and minerals" portion of the course, maintaining some of the "traditional" activities, such as the mineral and rock identification labs, but replacing lectures about mineral and rock formation and related processes. The module also added a segment on "human impact" in relation to mining (and concepts of sustainability) that we may never have covered otherwise. Because we completed this module very close to the start of the semester, we believe that the required amount of student interactions (small group work with various partner combinations, whole-class discussions, presentations, etc.) resulted in a positive class dynamic that continued throughout the rest of the semester, even though the style of the course changed.

Some overall recommendations:

  • Be sure to remember to review the concepts from the previous unit and tie it into the following unit to provide context and flow to the units within the module. This also helps students reflect on, and draw connections about, the material they have been covering.
  • It helps to communicate a time limit for any particular activity before the activity begins.
    • Plan ahead to accommodate students who naturally work at a slower pace.
  • The instructor should take time to become comfortable with the material and the progression of the activities before leading the module.
  • Remind students that it is very important to complete not only the homework assignments but also the readings prior to coming to class.
  • It's helpful to be walk around the classroom to be available to answer student questions as they are completing the group work assignments.


  • Many module components provided opportunities for both formal and informal assessment of student learning.
  • Discussions and presentations of work in front of the class helped us assess general student comprehension of the material.
  • Because there are many pieces to this assignment, it was not feasible for us to grade every question for credit. Instead we graded most of the materials for "reasonable completion/effort" and more specifically graded a few other parts of the module.
  • The overarching assessments (concept map and two test questions) were helpful at the end of the module in assessing student learning.
  • Even if items were not graded for more than "reasonable completion/effort," reading through the students' answers gave insight into their comprehension of the ideas and the material.


I had hoped that by using this module students would:

  • be able to better connect geological concepts with not only the world around them overall but also with our own actions and decisions and the complexity of issues surrounding decisions about sustainable behavior.
  • be able to understand enough about rocks and minerals and the processes that form them to replace the traditional unit entirely.
  • find the content more meaningful and thus more memorable.
  • be actively engaged in the class and the material, as facilitated by the meaningful content as well as the active learning style of the activities.

For the most part, we found that:

  • students were activity engaged in the material during the class time. This was particularly noticeable when the class went back to a more lecture-based style and the interaction with the students decreased.
  • a number of students expressed (out loud) an interest in the material they were learning, particularly when we asked them to present. During presentations of their mineral resource concept map, we often heard comments similar to "another interesting thing I learned is" or "oh, and here's a cool fact." Students also sometimes asked questions that indicated that they were thinking about the concepts outside of class time.
  • the group work activities and the sharing of activity results to the rest of the class seemed to create an expectation of continued class involvement that lasted for the rest of the semester.
  • students reacted to the concepts in the material. For example, there were some comments similar to: "Wait, we must have calculated this wrong. There can't be that much waste created!"
  • students did not score as well on the assessment test questions regarding geological concepts as I would have liked. We have modified the module since we ran this pilot, so it might be different the next time we run the module. We do need to figure out if there are any mineral and rock concepts that we feel we still need to cover in some form or more deeply.

Classroom Context