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Working with geoscience materials

Initial Publication Date: July 19, 2007
Most introductory geoscience labs have students work with a variety of materials. These may include earth materials, interpretive materials (such as geologic and topographic maps), data, and computer models of earth systems and processes. This page and its links give logistical and pedagogical tips on using these materials with introductory geoscience students.

Materials needed in (almost) every introductory geoscience lab

If you're setting up a lab from scratch or making an inventory of the equipment in your lab, you probably want to make sure that your lab has certain basic supplies. Fortunately, many of the basic expendable supplies are inexpensive, as is the basic equipment.

Learn more about equipping an introductory geoscience lab here

Rocks, minerals, fossils and other earth materials

Almost every geoscience department has collections of hand samples of rocks, minerals and fossils for student use in introductory geoscience labs. Many also have reference collections of specimens, special collections (for instance, Beloit College's B. H. Beane crinoid collection), display specimens, and/or "rock gardens" of oversized specimens collected, donated or purchased by the department, for instance at Santa Fe Community College, Gainesville, Florida. All of these materials can be well used in introductory geoscience classes.

Learn more about using earth materials here


Another distinction between introductory geoscience and other introductory science courses is the use of maps of various kinds. Increasingly, maps of all types are available on-line, for download into GIS (geographic information systems) projects or readable by viewers included in a site itself. However, most geoscience departments maintain collections of (paper) topographic maps; oversize geologic and other specialized topic maps of the world, continents, states, etc.; and sets of geologic maps, etc. for other purposes.

Learn more about using maps here

Air photos and other images

Even more so than maps, air photos and remotely-sensed images of various kinds have migrated to computers. Many departments, however, maintain teaching collections of air photos of classic areas, or historical sets of photos from local sites.

Learn more about using photos here

Geoscience instruments

Geoscience departments maintain a variety of laboratory instrumentation that can be used both for teaching and for research purposes. Depending on the staff available for technical teaching and maintenacne, many of these instruments are useful for introductory geoscience students. The link below leads to resources for teaching use of scanning electron microscopes (SEMs), XRay diffractometers and fluorescence units, ion chromatographs, and others.

Learn more about using instruments here

Data and models

Websites hosted by the Science Education Resource Center have rich resources for faculty wanting to teach indoor labs based on data sets and modeling. For example, two sites using data in the classroom and teaching with data have links to data sets, projects and labs using data sets, and suggestions (technical and pedagogical) about teaching with data. Similarly, teaching with models and the related sites about specific kinds of models (conceptual models, interactive demonstrations, mathematical and statistical models, and visualizations and visual models) have background technical and pedagogical information and links to many teaching examples from a variety of fields.