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

Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 9:00 AM


HANNULA, Kimberly A., Geoscience Department, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO 81301, hannula_k@fortlewis.edu

Writing about observations from field trips provides both a mechanism to evaluate student learning and an opportunity for students to improve understanding of content and practice important skills. Writing assignments focus students’ attention on their field observations by making them look more closely at the outcrop and re-examine their observations while putting them into words. They improve student comprehension of structural descriptions by making students use descriptive terminology in the context of a longer paper. They encourage students to think about the variations, possible errors, and implications of their data as they plot stereonets, describe spatial relationships, and discuss interpretations. Finally, writing about field observations provides a connection between spatial and verbal skills, ideally improving both.

The field lab write-ups that I assign take the form of the middle section of a geologic report. There are two main parts: description and interpretation. The reports also typically include figures (including stereonet plots), references (if they refer to the textbook or any other written source), and acknowledgments (for any informal help the student received, including discussions with classmates, the TA, and the instructor). The content of the description and interpretation sections is guided by a handout that outlines observations to make, data to collect, and questions to answer about processes, tectonics, or other issues to which their data might relate.

This sort of write-up is adaptable to a range of types of field trips. It can be used to encourage speculation about processes on labs that have a primarily descriptive purpose, and to push students to use data to evaluate competing hypotheses for more complicated field areas. Although the repeated use of writing exercises in a single class is useful for improving students’ writing skills, this sort of exercise should be adaptable to courses where field work is concentrated in a single long field trip as well as for courses with weekly access to field areas.