My Special Place

Sadredin Moosavi, Walden University,
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Students pick a place of significance to them (their Special Place) for analysis in this semester-long project. (A model is provided by the instructor using a place the students are not likely to have visited.)

  1. Students write a descriptive essay of their special place in which they describe the place's location, significance to them, physical and biological appearance, and the student's initial thoughts of how the place formed and continues to develop both naturally and by anthropogenic processes.
  2. Students complete a checklist of course topics they think will assist them in analyzing their special place.
  3. Students with places of similar characteristics are placed in writing groups of 4. Over the next month, each week each writing group analyzes one student's essay with feedback being given orally on the quality of the writing, interpretation of the site, ways to improve the essay, etc. The instructor provides written feedback to each student at the same time.
  4. After meeting with their writing group the student meets with the faculty member 1 on 1 for an interview/feedback session about the site. This is focused on the comments of their peers and interpretation of the site.
  5. Student writes a brief essay response about the feedback they received.
  6. By the middle of the course the student must turn in a revised copy of this initial essay which is them graded.
  7. Each week, as the course moves through various topics, students complete short writing sessions in which they indicate how the topic of the week helps to explain their special place (or why it does not), and they pose questions relating to that content. These very rough pieces are read by the instructor for problems/feedback and become notes for the final essay.
  8. Students examine the stratigraphy of their special place (often highly speculative and based on library research) to pose a 3rd dimension to the structure of their place.
  9. Students find and analyze a topographic map of their special place.
  10. Students prepare a final essay for the end of the course in which they analyze their special place based on what they have learned about geology. They also perform a thought experiment on how global change may influence their place in the next 100 years. They pose remaining questions they still have and describe the role they will play, if any, in its future.

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Learning Goals

  1. Help students to read the landscape
  2. Develop scientific ways of observing and thinking about the landscape
  3. Provide concrete example of geologic principles/processes in action on a site with personal relevance to the student
  4. Develop an understanding of the magnitude and scale of geologic processes
  5. Develop a land ethic and sense of personal responsibility for the land
  6. Develop map reading/using skills
  7. Develop ability to ask scientific questions
  8. Ability to pose hypotheses regarding the landscape
  9. Practice finding, analyzing and interpreting limited data needed to support/refute/revise hypothesis
  10. Develop ability to critically evaluate their own and PEER investigations where limited data is available.
  11. Develop ability to defend one's hypothesis, analysis and conclusions in written form to their instructor/peers.
  12. Develop writing skills in the context of a meaningful project including multiple drafts, revision and use of writing groups.
  13. Working in writing groups to peer review and constructively contribute to a written document.
  14. Develop descriptive and observational skills relating to the landscape.
  15. Develop the skill to search for data on the web and the government documents section of the library (maps, etc.)

Context for Use

This assignment was developed for a moderate sized (72) general education course primarily directed at students not majoring in science. The course has both lecture and lab. The ideas here could be used in many levels and sizes of courses with modification.

Assignment assumes relatively low background knowledge or skills in writing, observing, science or geology. It is designed to develop these skills incrementally as they are applied.

The assignment is built into the framework of the entire course. You can remove the assignment from the course, but could not easily remove the course from the assignment as the course is the skeleton for it. (You could modify the concepts to a different course.)


The students work is analyzed at all steps of the process to insure they are on track and making connections to the course material. A detailed rubric gives quantitative feedback on the student's success in various categories.