Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 10:00 AM
GRAIN SIZE ANALYSIS CAN BE FUN! USING SHORT DURATION RESEARCH PROJECTS TO TEACH CRITICAL THINKING AND LABORATORY TECHNIQUES IN AN UNDERGRADUATE SEDIMENTARY PETROLOGY CLASS
Sedimentary Petrology (GY 344) is a typical undergraduate geology class at the University of South Alabama in that it combines lectures with laboratories to expose students to concepts and techniques specific to the discipline. Some of the laboratory activities are time consuming, tedious and, if you accept student evaluations, boring. In order to improve its palatability, the first major laboratory assignment for the class (grain size analysis) has been converted into a 3 week long research project. Following an explanation of the scientific method, grain size analysis procedures and a sedimentological tour of the University of South Alabama main campus, each student is asked to identify a topic of interest to them, and to develop a research plan that tests one or more hypotheses dealing with sediment distribution. GY 344 attracts a variety of majors (e.g., geology, biology and archaeology), so there is usually a eclectic suite of proposed research hypotheses. Past projects have examined the role of storm water discharge on wetland siltation, the influence of dams and/or aquatic plants on sedimentation, the effects of grains size on subterranean piping, and poor construction practices. One intrepid student even attempted to determine if grain size distribution influenced the construction of ant hills. Regardless of the complexity of their topic, time constraints necessitate that each student analyze no more than 10 samples to test their hypothesis(es). The small data set means that students are seldom able to definitively conclude their projects; however, the exercise is still an valuable introduction to critical thinking. Moreover, students improve their analytical and reasoning skills by evaluating the mistakes that they made in the original research plan and by recommending areas for future research in the final report for the assignment.