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

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 10:30 AM


LEIGHTY, Robert S. and BENSON, Donna M., Physical Sciences, Mesa Community College, 1833 W. Southern Ave, Mesa, AZ 85202, donnabenson@mail.mc.maricopa.edu

We have recently made significant changes in our introductory-level geology lab courses, which include Physical (103), Historical (104), Planetary (105), and Environmental (111) geology. After a recent review of our lab curricula, we considered the format to be somewhat cumbersome and compartmentalized. We were concerned that the focus was more on memorization than on maximizing retention. A comprehensive redesign of labs followed, with the goal of providing a more coherent, relevant, and fun lab experience. Always guiding the revisions was the question: "Why do students need to know this?"

All four of our geology lab courses stress similar fundamentals before diverging into more course-relevant topics. In the 103 and 104 labs, contour maps and geologic maps are presented first. Students create their own maps before learning how to read "real" ones. The topographic map labs concentrate on landform description and interpretation, whereas the geologic map labs include relative dating methods and sequence diagrams. Next are several rock and fossil labs that utilize large, hand-sized samples. Pertinent rock-forming minerals, geologic maps, and sequence diagrams are included in every rock lab. Structural geology is introduced by measuring strike and dip orientations using Brunton compasses. Students then apply their knowledge in a comprehensive, two-week, on-campus lab exercise, dubbed Purgatory Flat. Students interpret the geologic history of Purgatory Flat by making their own geologic map, which requires identifying rock types and measuring orientations of bedding and foliation at over 50 separate outcrops. This is the defining moment in the semester where students realize they can do something larger than just a lab exercise. Subsequent 103 labs include Arizona geology, USA geology, and copper mining and typically involve group presentations and discussions. The 104 labs consist of Grand Canyon geology and 3 weeks devoted to a review of several excellent DVDs recreating Phanerozoic life. At the end of the semester, topical posters are submitted in 103, whereas 104 students construct their own geologic sequence diagram poster. The semester ends with all labs playing Knowledge Haloes, a class-specific trivial pursuit-style game. It is rewarding to see students amaze each other with their newly found knowledge.