Comments to Students: The First Day of Class

Initial Publication Date: February 9, 2007

This class is different!

You will probably find this class different from others you have taken at the University of North Dakota. Why? Because this class is taught in a "studio" format.

What is a studio classroom?

Studio classrooms have many different manifestations but all share common elements. They involve longer, fewer, class sessions with focused, intense, student activity. Any disconnect between laboratory and lecture time is absent because lab and lecture are combined. Lectures are de-emphasized or eliminated altogether. Students work on projects instead, generally in groups.

Why teach this way?

Many studies have shown that students learn best by doing things (being active learners) instead of just listening (passive learning). Additionally, it is well known that most students learn best when they learn in groups (cooperative/collaborative learning). Studio classrooms are centered around active and group learning. The interactive classroom helps students learn the standard class content. Additionally, it promotes holistic skills, including thinking, inquiry, creativity and reflection.

Working in groups

Most of the work you do this semester will be done in groups. The instructor and TA will assign the groups; they will change periodically. All members of a group are responsible for seeing that assignments get completed. For some assignments, a single group report will be adequate. For others, each person must write their own report.

Spiral learning

This class involves spiral learning. That means we will cover topics more than once, returning to them several times and in different contexts. The basic order of topics follows the textbook but we will discuss the key principles many times.

The text books

The two texts we use are Mineralogy (Perkins, 2002, Prentice Hall) and Minerals in Thin Section (Perkins and Henke, 2004, Prentice Hall). In addition there are many handouts pertinent to specific class activities. You are expected to read them on your own. Frequent quizzes should be an encouragement.

Reading assignments

The instructor and TA will NOT give lectures that just repeat what is in the books. Instead, we will talk about things that you identify as being areas of confusion. We will also provide supplemental information not in the textbooks.


We will have many quizzes this semester. They are meant, primarily, to be learning experiences. Often, you will take the quiz individually and then get together with other students and take it again. Individual and group grades will be averaged.

Work time in and out of class

Although class is schedule to meet in 3 hour blocks, there will be quite a bit of variation. During a typical class period, we will have several different things going on. Different groups will be doing different things. Some days you may get done early. But, be warned: if you fall behind, it will be very difficult to catch up. (That's why we have you hand things in frequently.) Also: Many of the projects we will be doing require you to put in time beyond normal class hours. This is especially necessary when you need to use the X-ray machine, photographic equipment, and other gizmos.


You must keep a portfolio this semester that includes all your work. (It should be a three ring binder so you can add things easily.) You will hand in most assignments by handing in your portfolio. Periodically the TA or instructor will review your portfolio with you to make sure it is readable, complete and well organized. From time to time, we will ask you to go back through your portfolio and reflect on what you have done and what you have learned. During this process you will evaluate the merit/effectiveness of the various activities, making suggestions for things we could do that would help promote better learning. You will also discuss your learning: what worked, what did not work, and why. You will be able to use your portfolios when you take (most parts of) exams!


Students will be given grades based on (1) group projects, (2) class portfolios, (3) a semester long "private mineral" project, and (4) several exams.

Keeping notes

You will be doing some complicated projects this semester, and several experiments that require lots or measurement and calculation. It is absolutely necessary that you keep good notes or you will get very confused. We will talk more about this as we go on, but you should keep this rule in mind as you work in the lab: write down everything and keep good notes in your portfolio! One common source of mistakes is weighing errors. So, everything that is weighed needs to be weighed twice, by two separate people. There will be a book by the scale. You must write down what you weigh, how much it weighs, and then initial it. Then you must get someone else to repeat the weighing and put down their initials.