Pedagogy in Action > Library > Service-Learning > Examples of Service-Learning Projects > Marine Environmental Geology

Marine Environmental Geology

Course taught by Prof. Ed Laine, Bowdoin College ( and Cathryn Field, Lab Instructor ( Example compiled by Suzanne Savanick, Science Education Resource Center (
This material was originally created for Starting Point:Introductory Geology
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Service-learning Student, Photo by Cathryn Field
This course is an introduction to the aspects of marine geology and oceanography that affect the environment and marine resources. Topics include estuarine oceanography and sediments, eutrophication of coastal waters, primary productivity, waves and tides, sea level history, glacial geology of coastal Maine, and an introduction to plate tectonics. Weekly field trips and labs examine local environmental problems affecting Casco Bay and the Maine coast. Service-learning is an essential component of how students learn about the earth. We deliver part of the content of this course by arranging for students to solve a problem with a local community partner. This semester our community partner was the Friends of Casco Bay. Small groups of students examined a research question in detail over the course of the semester, designed and conducted field studies, analyzed data, prepared a final report, and drew conclusions that may then be used by the Friends of Casco Bay.

Learning Goals

We hope that by working in this way students learn the lessons more durably, become better problem solvers, and that by helping community partners students gain skills that will prove useful in later life. An additional goal was to provide the community partners with information that may not otherwise be available to them.

Context for Use

Service-learning students, photo by Ed Laine

Size: 36 students (two lab sections of 18 each)

Level: Mixed science, non-science, Environmental Studies (ES) students. Mostly first and second year students.

Requirements: Meets inquiry in natural sciences requirement (for about half the students this is one of two science courses they take at Bowdoin). The course can be counted toward the geology major as one of two intro courses and counts for science requirement in the ES major.

Misc: Typically between 60-75% women

Description and Teaching Materials

Course information is available on the Marine Environmental Geology course website:

The website includes service-learning project information: and the course syllabus:

This course is also listed in the Teaching Introductory Geoscience collection.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Community Building - Almost half the grade in this course is based on evaluation of the service-learning project. There are usually 12 projects, with groups of three students working on each. Group dynamics is very important. We devote significant class and lab time early in the course to "community building", helping the students form a trusting community where they feel intellectually safe and able to work in an true inquiry mode. Barriers have to be broken down between students and the faculty/laboratory instructor and between individual students, forging new roles for everyone. We monitor the strength of the community throughout the semester and take additional steps if we feel the community of the class or within individual groups weakening.

Capacity Building - The semester is carefully planned to make sure that we build the capacity of students to successfully carry out their projects. Part of this is done through traditional classroom work ("sage on the stage"), some through early labs/field experiences which expose students to the techniques they are likely to use in the field, part through web resources that hit predictable needs, and finally through "just in time" lectures and demonstrations that deliver content and techniques right when they are needed. Looked at another way, capacity building is teaching.

Community Partners - We work with our community partners in the summer, planning projects for the fall. In addition to writing a "problem statement" for us on their letterhead, they visit class early in the semester to explain their projects. They also visit once while the students are doing field work, once when they are working on their data, and for a semester ending presentation. They also edit a draft of each group's report. At the end of the semester we have an informal meeting in a brew pub to discuss what went well and what needs attention. The college provides recognition to our partners in a ceremony at the end of the year.


The course syllabus ( includes information on student assessment.

References and Resources

Course Project Resources:

Student data example
Student data example
Student data example

Sample Student Paper 1 ( 1.5MB Aug25 05)

Sample Student Paper 2 ( 429kB Aug25 05)

Sample Student Poster ( 338kB Aug25 05)