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Mapping a Park

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.
Kaye Savage, Vanderbilt University
Course: Methods in Environmental Geology
Up to 10 students
The most effective way to develop geoscience skills in your students is to make opportunities for them to practice those skills.

The Activity

This activity uses both class and lab time (both the first day). Class time: as a group, students discuss how they will conduct the assigned exercise. The exercise involves mapping drainage patterns and impervious surfaces in a park adjacent to campus. The park is larger than any individual could cover during the lab period. Students are asked to devise a plan and gather any materials they will find useful. During lab time, they go directly to the park without further interaction from me. Upon their return, I give them a set of instructions to complete individually. These involve compiling their maps, estimating the total impervious surface coverage, analyzing the group's tactics (identifying their own leadership role, if any) and describing what they would do differently if they were to do it again.

The assignment is due at the next class period, and the class after that I hand out a compilation of impervious surface area estimates and methods (used to discuss precision, accuracy and communicating error) and of ideas for improving results (these usually include ideas related to taking more thorough notes and developing a common system for group members). This activity sets the stage for good preparation for the remaining labs of the semester as well as working in teams.