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Geology in Family Photos

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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.


This assignment aims to increase urban student awareness of the many aspects of the earth and environmental sciences that surround day-to-day experiences in their lives, and connect their introductory geology class directly with family events/history. At the end of the first week of class, each student brings a family photo in which they can identify some aspect of earth science, and electronically scans the image. Outdoor photos should be encouraged because these can show the greatest diversity of geological features (e.g., landforms, climate, weather, soils, erosion). However, indoor photos, and even portraits, may allow for a deeper exploration of our reliance on natural resources by examining such things as jewelry, decorative items (e.g., paintings, sculptures, ceramics), and household goods (e.g, china, silverware, glassware) that are within the photograph.

By the beginning of the second week, each student submits the image file, along with a paragraph that describes the geological context, along with the date, location and historical/social context of the photo. (This is most easily done through an online course management system such as BlackBoard.) In class, the instructor leads with a personal family photo and describes its geological and personal context, in order to set the tone. Then each student projects their photo, and describes their photo and its geological context in a 2 to 3 minute oral presentation. If the class is large, then students can present within groups with print outs of the photos. Each presentation is followed by discussion and commentary. The instructor notes interesting details and connections that are inspired by the student's observations and interests for incorporation into later class lectures or activities.

Students are required to repeat the experience with a second photo on the last day of class. In one or two paragraphs, students reflect on how their perception and understanding of earth science has changed by the end of the course. A grade is assigned for this reflection.

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