5.1 Transition to a Research-style Approach in an Undergraduate Earth Science Laboratory Course

Tuesday, 12 January 2016: 1:30 PM
Room 353 ( New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center)
Rebecca Paulsen Edwards, Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX

A new approach to teaching the laboratory component of the Earth Science laboratory course will be undertaken during the fall semester of 2015 at Southwestern University, a small liberal arts institution located in Georgetown, Texas. Instead of weekly lab activities centered on a single experiment, a more inquiry-based style will be employed. The course will feature four major lab modules, two will cover geological topics, one will cover the meteorology component of the course, and the fourth will be dedicated to climate science. Students will spend three weeks working on each module with one week for library research, one week for data collection, and one week for GIS work in either Google Earth or ArcMap. At the conclusion of each module, each group of four to six students will submit a substantial lab report, consisting of sections for background research, methods, data (including maps when applicable), and results and conclusions. It is anticipated that the change in format will allow students to develop scientific skills in addition to simply learning the content presented in the course. During the library research time the students will gain background knowledge in the topic at hand as well as formulate their own research questions, which will guide their activities during the data collection period the following week. Each group will develop questions which interest them within the scope of the lab module. This type of ownership of the research questions increases student engagement and motivation. Research module topics were chosen carefully to ensure inclusion of as much of the Earth Science curriculum as possible. A summary of the curricular elements and activities included in each lab module are as follows: Geology I: Geology of the local environment. Data collection activities will include a field trip to a rock outcrop within walking distance of campus. Observations made on the field trip will be integrated with knowledge about local geological history and geography. Curricular elements addressed by this lab module include river valley formation, rocks, minerals, weathering and erosion local geologic history Geology 2: Plate tectonics, volcanism, and earthquakes. Data collection will include mapping of global earthquake frequency, and identification of current areas of earthquake and volcanism activity, mapping of a number of historical earthquakes/eruptions. Curricular elements addressed by this lab module include plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanoes, magma crystalline structure and its effect on eruption type, geographic distribution of tectonic activity, and more. Meteorology: This lab will be developed closer to the time of implementation as it will rely on current weather events (i.e. cold front passage, squall line, tropical cyclone). Students will gather data online, in the form of surface and upper-air plots, model data, and forecasts. Students will collect observational data on campus as the opportunity arises, for example, pre- and post-frontal passage, etc. Curricular elements addressed by this lab module include large-scale weather systems, meteorological measurements, understanding weather data and forecast models, the atmospheric circulation, and more. Climate: This module will incorporate knowledge gained in each of the three other lab activities. Data collection will involve gathering of historic records of climate variables, identifying changes in records of climate variables, and researching potential effects of a changing climate both globally and locally. Curricular elements addressed by this lab module include climate system, climate change, global and oceanic circulation, climate history, climate models and projections, current climate issues, the carbon cycle, and more.
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