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Identify Pressing Environmental Issues

This material was originally created for On the Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.
Kathy Licht, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Course: Environmental Geology
70 students
Connecting course topics to students' lives is a very effective motivational strategy.

The Activity

In order to start students thinking about the course materials, to set a tone that the course will be one of discussion and active participation, and to work toward building community on our commuter campus, I ask students to do the following:

  1. Introduce yourself to your two nearest neighbors
  2. Make a list of the top three local environmental problems
  3. Make a list of the top three global environmental problems

After the students discuss these topics in small groups for about 5 minutes, we make a list on the board of volunteered student responses and discuss how they fit into the topics we'll cover in Environmental Geology.

Additional Information

I think there are several valuable aspects of this exercise:

  1. It help students think outside of the box - for instance, students bring up a broad range of issues, including war. Most students don't think about the environmental impacts of war. So this exercise stretches their brains.
  2. It helps students identify something they care about, which usually translates into them feeling more invested in the class.
  3. It serves to raise student awareness of local issues, which they may not have heard about, but which they look forward to learning about later on in the class.