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North American Volcanoes Web Quest


In this in-class activity, groups of 2-3 students conduct web-based research on a North American volcano of their choice. Students are provided with a series of guiding questions to help focus their search. They construct a 5 minute presentation about their volcano based on their findings, which they then deliver to the entire class.

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Learning Goals

Students learn about the physiographic expression, eruptive history, and composition of various North American volcanoes. By investigating one volcano in detail, students become experts on that volcano. They then gain an appreciation for how their volcano compares and contrasts with other volcanoes in the region. Students also learn how the characteristics of volcanoes relate to plate tectonic setting.

Synthesis and organization of ideas and oral presentation skills are developed by this activity.

Context for Use

This activity was designed for use in an activity-based undergraduate introductory geology course at a large research university. The class size can vary, but ideally there should be approximately 10 groups of 2-3 students. Students should be given about an hour to research their volcano and construct the presentation; each group then needs 5 minutes to present to the class. This could be done in one long session or two shorter ones. Each group needs a computer with internet access and presentation software (such as Powerpoint). You will need a main instructor computer connected to a projector and a way to transfer the group presentations to the main computer.

This activity was designed to follow igneous rock classification and identification in order to teach the students about where these rock types are found and how they relate to eruptive style.

This peer-teaching format could easily be adapted to address any number of topics in a variety of courses.

Teaching Materials

Students are instructed to form groups of ~3 people, making sure that there is a computer available for each group. They are directed to the Smithsonian Global Volcanism website to pick a volcano in North America that they want to investigate. Once they have chosen a volcano, the groups should record this on the board to prevent duplication.

Students download a Word document that they can type directly into as they conduct their research.

Once the presentations are completed, students should load them onto the main computer (e-mail, jump drive, course website, etc.). Once all of the groups are ready, they can begin their presentation.

Once all of the groups have presented, the instructor should make some concluding remarks emphasizing key points of the activity (especially connections to plate tectonic setting). Assignment electronic handout (Microsoft Word PRIVATE FILE 41kB Jan31 08)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The instructor should circulate and make sure that groups are moving forward at an appropriate pace and answer any questions that come up.


References and Resources

Smithsonian Global Volcanism Project
This is a great place to have the groups start when picking a volcano to research.

How Volcanoes Work
Good resource for background information.

Google Earth
Great for screen shots of maps locating the volcano.