Monday Morning Meeting (II): Monitoring Mount St. Helens 2004 dome growth using authentic data

Kaatje Kraft, Whatcom Community College, Rachel Teasdale, California State University-Chico; Michael Poland, USGS
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This jigsaw activity groups students first as volcano monitoring experts of either RSAM seismic data, earthquake locations, or GPS data, and then regroups students into interdisciplinary teams. The teams discuss volcano monitoring data collected prior to magmatic activity at Mount St. Helens in fall 2004, with the purpose of developing hypotheses about the volcanic activity. The structure of the activity is similar to the one using Pu'u O'o data, which also mimics weekly staff meetings held at the U.S. Geological Survey's Hawaii and Cascades Volcano Observatory.

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Recommended use: This activity has been successfully implemented in undergraduate introductory general education course (during one class period of 120 minutes) and in an upper division volcanology course for geology majors (during two class periods of 75 minutes). With appropriate planning, the jigsaw activity can also be implemented in large lecture introductory courses of 50-75 minutes.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Recommended Pre-activity Skills and Concepts: Students are introduced to each data type used in the activity, but prior knowledge of earthquakes and the concept of how GPS works would be helpful. Exposure to seismic and GPS data would be useful to students but is not required. Students will learn how earthquakes and GPS are used in volcano monitoring, but prior knowledge would be useful (but not required).

How the activity is situated in the course

Lower Division Intro to Natural Disasters course (non-geology majors): in class during the 11th week of a 12 week term, not as a capstone activity but as an example of incorporation of the use of multiple data sets by professional geologists studying potential geologic activity.
Upper Division Volcanology course (geology majors): in class during the sixth week of a 15 minute term as the first activity associated with monitoring or use of seismic and GPS data.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
Read and interpret a multidisciplinary set of volcano monitoring data for assessing volcanic activity and
Use multidisciplinary data to make a forecast for a potential eruption

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

All students will evaluate authentic data sets from a short period of time, formulate hypotheses about what those data mean and develop a conceptual model for volcanic activity based on the combined data sets.

Other skills goals for this activity

Students work in groups, negotiate the meaning of various datasets, jointly interpret that data describe their data to students unfamiliar with it and, as a group, develop and present an oral report to the rest of the class. As an affective goal, students will experience first hand the ambiguities inherent in scientific research of natural systems. An optional follow-up assignment will give students experience reading a scientific article describing the real outcome of the magmatic activity, to which they compare their own interpretation in a short written paper.

Description and Teaching Materials

Every Monday at 9 AM, the staff of the Cascades Volcano Observatory gather to discuss monitoring data and geologic observations collected over the past week from Mount St. Helens volcano. These "Monday Morning Meetings" serve several purposes, including: 1) bringing the observatory staff (and National Park Service rangers who also attend) up-to-date about recent activity, 2) providing a forum for discussions and interpretations about volcanic activity (taking advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the gathering), and 3) allowing for the formulation of a consistent message about recent activity for use in public outreach. The "Monday Morning Meeting" educational exercise follows this format as a means of illustrating the nature of both volcano monitoring data and how scientific interpretations are formulated.

The exercise below is broken down into 6 phases and is organized on the basis of two 50- 75-minute class periods (although it can be expanded or contracted as needed for shorter or longer periods).

Intro: The "hook" (5-10 minutes). The exercise should start with the instructor telling the students that they are all employees at the Cascadian Volcano Observatory, and that the instructor is the Scientist-in-Charge of the Observatory. Then, the instructor should introduce the Monday Morning Meeting concept and its purpose at the Cascadian Volcano Observatory (a brief background about Mount St. Helens). A few photos and information about Mount St. Helens are provided in a PowerPoint file with activity introduction and information (PowerPoint 1.9MB Jul16 17) can serve as a "hook" that will jumpstart the exercise. The phase ends with an outline of the exercise, and the students will be informed of their responsibilities. The data that students will be examining will be from the 2004 explosive events leading up to the new dome growth. This ppt helps to set the stage of the history, the geography and the new dome growth.

Pre-readings for students assigned to GPS data is here (Acrobat (PDF) 246kB Jul16 17), and for students assigned earthquake locations and RSAM data are here (Acrobat (PDF) 1MB Jul16 17), both of which can also be used by students during class as needed.

Phase 1: Discipline expert groups (15-20 minutes). Following the introduction, the instructor will divide the student population into three "expert" groups: 1) GPS data, 2) seismic (epicenter) data, and 3) seismic (RSAM) data. Each member of each group will be given a worksheet relevant to their data type (Student worksheets for disciplinary groups (Microsoft Word 43kB Jul16 17)) and data for the expert teams to analyze (Student data for disciplinary groups (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 1.3MB Jul16 17)). Questions on the worksheets will drive the discussion and exploration in the first part of the exercise. Each group will need access to the Internet or have the pages pre-printed for each discipline group. The groups will discuss the worksheet questions, using the suggested websites as a resource as needed, and each member of each group will record answers to the questions on the worksheet. By the end of the time period, each group should have formulated hypotheses about the current and possible future behavior of Mount St. Helens based on their specific data.
Phase 2: Interdisciplinary groups (20 minutes). Following the meeting of the disciplinary groups, the instructor will again divide the student population into interdisciplinary groups, with each new group containing at least one member of each previous disciplinary group (in other words, each new interdisciplinary group will have a GPS expert, a seismic epicenter expert and a seismic RSAM expert). The interdisciplinary group discussion will begin with each discipline "expert" taking ~1 minute to tell the rest of the group what their data are used for, the advantages and disadvantages of that data type, and their interpretation of the data based on the conclusions of the disciplinary group. After all the discipline experts in the interdisciplinary groups have presented to their colleagues, discussion should focus on developing an interpretation of what is happening at Mount St. Helens that satisfies all data types. A new worksheet (Interdisciplinary Worksheet (Microsoft Word 37kB Jul16 17)) will be given to all students and will drive the discussion. At this stage, each small group is essentially holding a mini-Monday Morning Meeting. Each student must fill out a worksheet.
Phase 3: Report-back (10-20 minutes, varies depending on class size and report-back format). Each group will present their findings to the rest of the class, and to the Scientist-in-Charge (i.e., the instructor). This could be done in several ways, for example: the first group could present their interpretation, and each subsequent group could build on the hypotheses of the previous (explaining whether or not they agree and why, presenting alternative viewpoints, and pointing out aspects of the data that might not otherwise have been covered); or, each group could interpret a different time period within the dataset.
Phase 4: Wrap-up (10-15 minutes). The class period ends with an instructor-led discussion of the activity that is occurring at Mount St. Helens, the value of multiple independent datasets for geologic investigations (using the advantages and disadvantages that were discussed in the groups as a means of demonstrating that there is no "magic bullet" in geologic investigations), the process of scientific investigation, and the challenges in using and interpreting real-time data. If no written report is required, each student will turn in their two worksheets at the end of the class period. If a report is required, the students will take the worksheets home to aid with the report writing. Instructor can show data from present day and compare to the amount of data available in 2004 as a comparison. Students can be asked to interpret present day conditions as an alternate to a larger class report out as well. For those students living within the Cascades region (and even if not), it may be instructive to show instrumentation on less active volcanoes as a point of comparison. For example, after examining the GPS and seismic data available for Mount St. Helens, it is a bit shocking for students to see data from Mt. Baker, which by comparison has no GPS units and two seismographs monitored by University of Washington.

Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

  • When taught in a 24 person class, expert groups were broken up into groups of 3 and then re-convened for groups of 6 prior to meeting with the interdisciplinary teams to assure confidence in their data interpretation (particularly important with introductory students.
  • For the more adventurous faculty, you could combine the VEPP MMM activity ( so that half of the class is analyzing data from MSH and the other from Pu'u 'O'o, after interdisciplinary groups in the specific kind of volcano convene, then the class can share out their interpretations and findings for each volcano, which can then lead to a class discussion about the best/most optimal data for each type of volcano.


Formative: Instructor moves throughout the classroom to gauge student questions and comprehension as the groups discuss and answer the questions in the worksheets. In addition, when students share out their findings to the class, the instructor can provide feedback in the moment about the subtleties of data analysis. Lastly, when showing data from present day, the instructor can ask for interpretations and have groups talk to each other about their findings.
Summative Options:
  • Data analysis: In a quiz/exam or as an assignment, have students look at most current data to determine the likely activity (or non-activity) of a given stratovolcano in the Cascades.
  • Interdisciplinary worksheet: Instructor can collect the interdisciplinary worksheet from students
  • Writing Activity: Students read a scientific article Dzurisin et al., 2005 describing the real outcome of the magmatic activity, to which they compare their own interpretation in a short written paper. A template for this assignment is here (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Jul16 17).
  • Optional written report: Each student will write a report as if they were a volcanologist at the observatory summarizing their interpretations of the activity at Mount St. Helens for the Scientist-in-Charge (i.e., the instructor). The text of the report should include a summary and interpretations of each data type, figures supporting those interpretations, an overall hypothesis about volcanic activity at Mount St. Helens for the time period explored.

References and Resources

Dzurisin, D, Vallance, JW, Gerlach, TM, Moran, SC, Malone, SD, 2005, Mount St. Helens reawakens, Eos, Transactions American Geophysical Union 86.3 (2005): 25-29.

This activity can be used in parallel with the VEPP MMM activity, available here