Oregon Field Geology SCI 675 (West) and 676 (East) and 575 (Central)

Charles "Kip" Ault, Sarah Mock, Robert Butler, Bonnie Magura, and others, Teacher Education, Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling


"Oregon Field Geology" introduces field techniques at an novice level to both teachers and undergraduate Environmental Studies majors (the College has no geology department). Featured are travel through Oregon's volcanic landforms and exploration of the fossil record in the John Day country of north central Oregon. Participants reside at field stations, immersed in the experience of solving puzzles about changing landscapes. The course is team-taught by a geoscientist and a classroom teacher.

Course Type: Intro Level
Course Size:
less than 15

Course Format:
Lab only

Institution Type:
University with graduate programs, primarily masters programs

Course Context:

"Oregon Field Geology" introduces non-geologists to the nature of geological reasoning and provides experienced earth science instructors with background about Oregon geology. Teachers enroll in the course as a science elective towards fulfilling the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree. The format is a much abridged version of a summer field geology camp for geoscience majors. Three versions of the course have been offered that utilize different landscapes in western, central, and eastern Oregon. The description of the western Oregon course is as follows: "Field study in western Oregon examines the geologic processes of an active continental margin. The class journeys from the Pacific Coast to the Cascade Mountains while examining evidence of subduction zone earthquakes, docked seamounts, and active stratovolcanoes. Students learn to interpret the landscape with the theory of plate tectonics, to recognize regional geologic hazards, and to represent their interpretations as cross-sectional diagrams, stratigraphic columns, geologic maps and chronologies. Instruction emphasizes the ability to communicate these understandings to general audiences."

Course Content:

The drive to John Day country in north central Oregon traverses a Tertiary section consisting of the Cascade Arc and Columbia River flood basalts. Working out of Hancock Field Station, students first learn to navigate with map, compass, and GPS as they "walk the section" of Clarno and John Day formation strata (Eocene-Oligocene). Working in small teams, they spend 3 days entering rock units on a topographic map, along with notable features (lake bed fossils, fault scarps). Each teacher prepares a teaching collection of rocks. A 3-day loop through volcanic deposits and fossil beds ends the course. Many topics typical of introductory geology are introduced in the context of field study: rocks and minerals, plate tectonics, structural geology, stratigraphy and correlation, faunal succession.

Course Goals:

  • To instruct inservice and preservice teachers about the interpretation of readily observable geologic features of Oregon.
  • To develop topographic and geologic map interpretation skills and learn of techniques useful to the construction of such maps.
  • To increase awareness of scales in time and space of geologic change and its consequences for human activity.
  • To improve skills for perceiving physical patterns in regional geologic phenomena in order to attempt to correlate geologic events from one location with another.
  • To learn the significance of fossil bearing strata in the John Day River valley.
  • To acquire knowledge of problem-defining and problem-solving processes used in field geology adaptable to science teaching.
  • To learn current thinking about the geologic history of Oregon.
  • To practice fundamental geological reasoning and visualization skills associated with mapping.
  • To learn the geology of Oregon especially as it has developed near a series of subduction zones.

Course Features:

Students complete: a rudimentary geologic map, a geologic cross-section, outcrop sketch and interpretation (e.g., exposed drag fold), a stratigraphic column, and a teaching collection of rocks for interpreting the region of Oregon studied in the field. Students who do not teach science may propose an alternative project: landscape art, for example, as a means of synthesizing learning.

Course Philosophy:

The purpose of this course was to make "the having of geologic thoughts" possible for the novice. There are no prerequisites--basics are learned in the field when the time is right (for example, rock forming minerals, synclinal structure). Students are immersed in the experience of geologic problem solving across several scales. The rationale is to make what geologists do inviting, accessible, authentic, and useful for classroom teachers.


Assessment for Oregon Field Geology EAST from 2010:
1. The "Daily Column" – To help build an overview of the Geologic History of Oregon, students will work with a partner to create a stratigraphic column showing the relationships between the rocks encountered each day.

2. From the data collected as the "Daily Column," the class working together will construct a cross section of rock types, landforms, and structures experienced as they crossed the state. Each pair of students selectes one segment of the transect to complete.

3. "Wild Rock Collection". Students are to collect three rocks bearing some relationship to each other during the course of their trip. Students will present their rocks to the group at the Friday lunchtime stop explaining:
a. Properties of the rock
b. Origin of the rock
c. How the 3 rocks are related (variety at a location, types of volcanic processes, fossil bearing strata, temporal sequence, or whatever other relationship ties the collection of 3 samples together into a geological interpretation). The rock collection is graded based on the accuracy of the rock descriptions and the level of understanding displayed during the description of the relationships.
4. The Final Exam – A written paper due Monday August 23.
Describe at least two sites or localities visited on our trip. Offer geologic interpretations for how they are related in time or place.

The purpose of the final exam is to give you the opportunity to reason through a geologic question from observation to interpretation. As we travel across the state, you will want to keep this assignment in mind so that you can get information from the outcrops studied. The written paper will consist of five parts:
a. Define the locations. This should include where they are and a geologic description of what you saw there.
b. Frame the problem. What have you observed that makes you think there is some connection between the two sites?
c. Interpretation. Offer a hypothesis that addresses the problem.
d. Alternative Interpretation. Multiple working hypotheses are an important tool of the geologist. Provide a plausible alternative explanation.
e. Apply Geologic Knowledge. Relate to the regional geologic story and explain the geologic story using accurate terminology.

5. Daily work. Each day will include a variety of activities and geologic stops. Students are expected to keep a notebook, complete activities, puzzle out problems, and contribute to discussions daily.


Oregon Field Geology West: Coast to Cascades (Microsoft Word 70kB May15 12)

References and Notes:

Bishop, Ellen. 2003. In Search of Ancient Oregon. Timber Press, Portland, OR
McClaughry, Jason et al., 2009. Field trip guide to the Oligocene Crooked River Caldera: Central Oregon's Supervolcano, Crook, Deschutes, and Jefferson Counties Oregon. 69 (1), 25-44.

Manchester, Steven. 1995. Yes, we had bananas. Oregon Geology. 57 (2), 41-43.

Clague, J., Yorath, C., Franklin, R., and Turner, B. 2006. At Risk: Earthquakes and Tsunamis on the West Coast, Tricouni Press, Vancouver, B. C., 200 pp (for WEST section)