InTeGrate Modules and Courses >A Growing Concern > Instructor Stories > Sarah Fortner
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Sarah Fortner: Teaching A Growing Concern in Geology of the Critical Zone at Wittenberg University

About this course

An introductory course for Geology and Environmental Science majors.

9
students

Three 60-minute lecture
sessions
One 3-hour lab
weekly
small, four-year liberal arts
college
Syllabus (Microsoft Word 455kB Jun28 14)


A Success Story in Building Student Engagement

I teach my courses using student-centered approaches, favoring students working with material in-class over content delivery (i.e. lecture). This module incorporated more intentional formative assessment of the previous knowledge and assumptions my students have about topics in class. Previously, I focused my assessment efforts on understanding what students had learned after they completed in-class, field, or laboratory activities. It surprised me how many students felt that urban activities were more responsible for soil degradation than agricultural ones. Now I am more likely to also ask students about their preconceptions are; this will be an asset in future courses. After students completed the module, they evaluated vacant lots in the city of Springfield, Ohio for their potential to store storm water and nutrients. Combined sewage overflows (CSOs) are a substantial source of excess nutrients from urban areas in the northeast.

My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate Materials

The Growing Concern Module encouraged students to think about the broad role soil plays in supporting our sustainability. The final fact sheet provided them with an opportunity to articulate what they had learned about the importance of the soil beneath and around them. It also required that they select reliable sources, which is increasingly important to social and political decision-making beyond class.

Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course

I taught the 6 module units in my 16 week introductory course, Geology of the Critical Zone. The Critical Zone is defined as the life sustaining region that extends from the lowermost groundwater to upper tree canopies. Because my class met 3 times a week including one 4-hour lab period, I incorporated field investigations to reinforce module concepts after unit 2, and students explored soil properties associated with land use in situ. I piloted the module in weeks 4 & 5 with the fact sheet due at the end of week 6. At the end of week 5, students had time with a reference librarian to learn more about choosing reliable information sources. The fact sheet served as a midterm. Before beginning the module, students were introduced to the three forcing agents of the critical zone: anthropogenic, tectonic, climate and with class and lab exercises examining local minerals, rocks, and evidence for physical and chemical weathering. This background knowledge informed their understanding of soil formation & destruction. Because my classes were longer than 50 minutes, I used time to tie into key Critical Zone concepts when discussing module material with students. After midterm, we moved into water quality & urban sustainability topics. See a field infiltration test evaluating a vacant lot for storm water detention.

The pre-work/homework structure of the module was distinct from the rest of my course. The bulk of my other grading occurs during lab periods, or in project work. In the future, I will make sure that my grading policies explicitly include this work. I will likely incorporate minute questions or other low stakes formative assessments regularly throughout the semester that paralleled the need for preparation & reflection that the module calls for. Most of the students in my course were non-science majors & benefited from replication of concepts in the module later in the semester (e.g. rates, soil properties). Our module was constructed to easily tie to local field experiences that relate to big issues in sustainability. Students were able to translate module concepts easily into field studies.

Assessments

I used all of the formative and summative assignments in the module. I'm adjusting my future course to mirror the pre-work/homework style of this module throughout the course. This will be described in the syllabus and students will understand how they are evaluated. Pre-work beyond reading was not typical to the rest of my course. After reviewing final fact sheets, we adjusted the published version of our module to give students greater background on climate change impacts on their region.

Outcomes

My primary goal using this module in my course was to provide students with a local-to-global context for solving sustainability issues. My ultimate hope is that they will take part in, or support, proactive management that fosters sustainability. Through completing the module, students were truly able to understand that soil resources are finite and need protection. Through developing a solution-oriented fact sheet, they learned that this protection needs to occur right where they are and as soon as possible. Action is the only option for preserving soil resources against the threats from tillage and global climate change.

Classroom Context

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »