2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 11
Presentation Time: 10:45 AM


TEWKSBURY, Barbara J., Department of Geology, Hamilton College, 198 College Hill Rd, Clinton, NY 13323-1218, btewksbu@hamilton.edu

Our department had been frustrated over the years by students who had taken a number of geology courses and promptly forgotten the basics after each course ended. We had also been disappointed by the level of basic skills among graduating seniors. In 2001-02, we prepared an eight-sheet booklet outlining the Basics of Geology, including rock and mineral identification, rock forming processes, geologic time, basic plate tectonics, and Earth systems. Each student entering a 200- or 300-level geology course in our department receives a copy of the Basics, and we have agreed that every course in the Department will be taught with the assumption that all students in the class have mastered the Basics. We have all agreed that we will in one way or another (typically via quizzes) hold students accountable early in each semester for material on the Basic Skills sheets. Copies of our Basic Skills sheets can be obtained from btewksbu@hamilton.edu

We used the Basics for the first time during spring 2002. The Basics were sorely needed. Very few students were capable of doing well on quizzes that covered the Basics, and virtually all students needed to spend time refreshing the Basics. We now have two full years of experience in using the Basics, and we have made a number of observations. 1) Students need repeated practice, and many students take several semesters of courses before becoming reasonably “fluent” in the Basics. 2) We have so far been unsuccessful in sticking to our intention of having students “walk in the door” with the Basics mastered each semester. While this is our goal, most of us quiz students repeatedly early in the semester. 3) While many students are successful at memorizing terms and diagrams, many have not mastered the concepts behind the terms. Testing with concept sketches may help address this problem. 4) Many students have commented that being tested on the Basics is something they really need, even if they don’t enjoy it. 5) The system works best, predictably, when all faculty in the Department are on board and don’t cherry pick portions of the Basics. 6) Our students who took field geology after having been through the Basic Skills system were noticeably better in the field at rock and mineral identification and had a better sense of temporal and tectonic context than students who had taken field geology in previous years.