Explore Teaching Examples | Provide Feedback

Using Jigsaw in the Geosciences

Initial Publication Date: March 24, 2009

The examples below describe only a few of the many ways of using jigsaws in the geoscience classroom, lab, and field. Examples are listed in order of complexity and the likely amount of time necessary to complete the jigsaw.

You'll also want to explore our collection of jigsaw activities.

Jigsaws using images, maps, hand samples, thin sections

  • Geologic maps. Each team receives a different geologic map of an area showing similar kinds of structures. Teams analyze their maps, draw cross sections, and work out geologic histories. After peer teaching, groups work out similarities and differences among the areas and generalize about the particular type of structures portrayed.
  • Satellite images. Each team receives a different satellite image from a portion of a larger area. If carefully selected, each image could contain information on a portion of a regional story but not the entire story (which could be anything from land use to geomorphic history to structural evolution). After peer teaching, groups put the entire image and data set together to work out the regional picture.
  • Google Earth. Each team analyzes different locations in Google Earth that show similar features (e.g., barrier islands, folds, valley glaciers, etc.) but with somewhat different characteristics. After peer teaching, groups work out similarities and differences and develop a composite profile for the feature.
  • Hand samples/thin sections. Each team receives a set of thin sections and hand samples showing a particular feature (e.g., crenulation cleavage, feldspar alteration, fossil preservation, etc.) but with somewhat different characteristics. After peer teaching, groups work out similarities and differences and develop a composite profile for the feature.

Jigsaws for analyzing data sets

  • Earthquake epicenter location.Each team receives a different set of seismograms. After each team determines the P-S time differential and distance to the earthquake, mixed groups compare data and locate the earthquake.
  • Giant rock avalanches. Each team receives data on locations of giant rock avalanches, bedrock geology and structural features for one location in Argentina. Teams analyze why rock avalanches occurred in that particular area. After peer teaching, the group puts together a composite picture of what makes an area vulnerable to giant rock avalanches in this part of Argentina. (From Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College; see the complete activity).
  • Climate change in the Sahara. Each team receives a stratigraphic column for a different Early Holocene paleolake in the Sahara. Teams make observations about features in the strat columns, analyze the evidence, and interpret when rainfall changes likely happened in the area. After peer teaching, groups combine data from the strat columns to determine paleoenvironments across the Sahara at particular times. The groups also address what the geologic record suggests about the potential impact of global warming on the Sahara. (From Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College; download the assignment (Microsoft Word 5.7MB Jun15 05)).
  • MER (Mars Exploration Rover) Landing Site Selection. The class is divided into expert teams (planetary geologist, engineer or astrobiologist) who use their expert pespective to identify a list of top candidate landing sites for an upcoming Mars Rover mission. After peer teaching, all three groups of experts work together to narrow down the site selection to a top candidate. (From Eric Grosfils, Pomona College; https://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/mars/activities.html).
  • Mercalli earthquake activity. Each team receives descriptions of eyewitness accounts from a different set of earthquakes and assess a Mercalli value. After peer teaching, the group assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the Mercalli scale relative to the other magnitudes provided. The group will also develop a picture of what kinds of damage results from earthquakes of various sizes. (From Kaatje Kraft, Mesa Community College; see the complete activity).
  • Poleward heat transport jigsaw. Teams receive 11x17" color maps of Earth Radiation Budget Experiment (ERBE) data from different parts of the world. Teams estimate zonal averages of Incoming Solar (Shortwave), Absorbed Shortwave, and Outgoing Longwave Radiation. After peer teaching, groups create zonal averages of these data at particular longitudes and compare similarities and differences, and work out why the longitudinal plots are so similar. (From Christa Farmer, Hofstra University; see the complete activity).

Jigsaws in the field

On a field trip, as in the classroom, students learn more by making their own observations and doing their own analyses than by being lecture to by the instructor. At a large road cut, though, students are commonly overwhelmed, don't know what to look at, and spend a lot of time wandering up and down the road cut not making a lot of progress. Jigsaw is a terrific strategy to use to focus student work.
  • Outdoor field site. Each team is assigned a portion of an outcrop to examine closely and is given an assignment pertinent to the character of the field trip (e.g., based on what you can see in your section of the outcrop, what is the structural history of these rocks? the depositional environment? the intrusive relationships? the rock types?). After each team has examined its section, mixed groups rotate through the sections of the outcrops, with each team member sharing what he/she discovered. Each mixed group then puts the big picture together for the entire outcrop. This technique encourages students to look closely at an outcrop, rather than wandering around and looking only casually, and also drives home the point that what they conclude depends upon the outcrop exposure or the part of the outcrop they chose to examine.
  • Museum field site. A class meets at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on a weekend. In teams, the students document and describe the Earth materials displayed in art halls of ancient cultures. The following week, mixed groups meet in class to compare and contrast their museum-based findings and explore the geological concepts that underlie the use of materials by ancient cultures. (From Wayne Powell, Brooklyn College of CUNY; see the complete activity).

Jigsaws for reading in the literature

  • A simple two-team jigsaw investigating prehistoric smelting of iron in Africa. Team 1 reads an article outlining the metallurgical aspects of ancient iron smelting, concentrating on the chemistry of smelting and the function of the furnace. Team 2 reads an article outlining the anthropological aspects of smelting, concentrating on the ritualistic and mystical side of ancient iron smelting. Each person prepares answers to written questions as homework. At the start of class, all of the Team 1 people and all of the Team 2 people divide into subteams of 3-4 and discuss how to teach what they have learned. When everyone is prepared, students pair up and describe their respective sides of the iron smelting story. Each pair of students then sorts out which aspects of the smelting ritual have a basis in metallurgy and which appear to be purely ritual. Each person writes an individual summary of the comparison, which is due the following class. (From Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College; download the assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 90kB Feb24 09)).
  • A five-team zigsaw investigating climate change in Iceland. For homework, students on each team read different articles on climate proxies in Iceland and answer a series of guiding questions. No one student would have time to study all of the proxies, so this is an ideal assignment for the jigsaw technique. At the start of class, students meet in their respective teams to to clear up any confusion and to share ideas about how they will teach what they know. I circulate to make sure that each team is on the right track. After peer teaching in mixed groups, each group constructs an approximate average air temperature curve for Iceland for the past 1000 years based on the various climate proxies. Each group receives a group grade based on its temperature curve and answers to discussion questions. Individuals receive an additional grade based on their preparations and handouts. (From Barbara Tewksbury, Hamilton College; download the assignment (Acrobat (PDF) 181kB Feb24 09)).