Pedagogy in Action > Library > Jigsaws > Jigsaw Activities > Applying Lessons Learned to the Volcanic Risk at Mt. Rainier

Applying Lessons Learned to the Volcanic Risk at Mt. Rainier

Laurel Goodell, Princeton University
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

This page first made public: Aug 20, 2010


Seattle and Mt. Rainier. Photo by Marli Bryant Miller.

In this jigsaw-method activity, students gain a broad background in the volcanic hazards associated with subduction zone volcanoes in general, and investigate the volcanic hazards at Mt. Rainier in particular. First, as a preparation assignment, students research one of four historic eruptions (either the 1902 eruption of Mt. Pelee, the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz, or the 1991 eruption of Mt. Pinatubo). In Part A of the classroom or lab activity, students meet in "homogeneous" groups to review their preparation assignments. In Part B, new "heterogeneous" groups are formed and students teach each other about the historic eruptions. In Part C, the instructor gives background information on Mt. Rainier, and then the heterogeneous groups prepare and give oral presentations focusing on policy recommendations to mitigate the effects of an eruption, both now before Mt. Rainier erupts and also during an actual eruption.

Learning Goals

1) Students learn about the wide range of volcanic hazards associated with subduction zone volcanoes by reviewing four historic eruptions. These case studies also illustrate how human action/inaction has resulted in either reduced or catastrophic loss of life. 2) Students research a particular case study and learn the information themselves, but also teach their case studies to one another. 3) Students must synthesize the information from the case studies and apply lessons learned to the situation around Mt. Rainier. 4) Students give formal oral presentations focusing on policy recommendations to mitigate the effects of an eruption at Mt. Rainier, and respond to questions from the audience.

Context for Use

This introductory-level jigsaw activity can be adapted for small and large classes at any institution. It can be accomplished in a three-hour lab session, assuming students come with their case studies prepared. It could also be spread out over several shorter class periods. It could be extended by requiring more extensive Part C presentations, or even a written Part C report. No special equipment is needed, although students need access to the Internet and/or a science library in order to research their case studies. The activity is easily adaptable for different settings, by choosing different case studies or a different application area.

Description and Teaching Materials

The preparation assignment instructs students on how to prepare the historic eruption case study that they must complete before coming to the classroom/lab session. The lab handout guides students through the jigsaw activity itself. The background PowerPoint presentation should be given by the instructor at the beginning of Part C of the activity, as background on Mt. Rainier, and should also be made available for students to adapt for their oral presentations.

Student preparation assignment for Mt. Rainier activity (Microsoft Word 35kB Aug20 10)
Student handout for Mt. Rainier activity (Microsoft Word 93kB Aug20 10)
background information on volcanic hazards at Mt. Rainier (PowerPoint 3.1MB Aug20 10)

Teaching Notes and Tips

The beauty of this assignment is that the instructor sets things in motion and gives guidance, but it is the students themselves who actively learn the information, teach the information, and apply the information. Part A, where students get together in homogeneous groups to review their case studies, allows students to supplement their own preparation as well as getting around the problem of some students doing a weak job on the preparation assignment. Part B gives students a broader background by having students teach their own case studies and learn about the other case studies. The meat of the activity, however, is the Part C application of Parts A and B to the situation at Mt. Rainier. The instructor does give a brief background presentation on Mt. Rainier (see PowerPoint file), but otherwise the instructor's role is to roam around and give feedback and advice to the various groups as they work. The authenticity of the Part C oral presentations can be increased, by inviting "outsiders" (e.g. other faculty members or lab instructors) to be a part of the audience.


Assessment has both individual and group components. Half of the grade is based on individual work as shown by the submitted preparation case studies. The other half of the grade is based on the Part C group oral presentation, and the groups' responses to questions posed by classmates and the instructor. Particular emphasis should be placed on how effectively the oral presentations apply the lessons learned from the preparation volcanoes to the situation at Mt. Rainier.

References and Resources