2007 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (28–31 October 2007)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM


TEWKSBURY, Barbara J., Dept of Geosciences, Hamilton College, Clinton, NY 13323-1218, btewksbu@hamilton.edu

We have the sense that being in the field is a good thing for students, and the temptation is strong to think that students must be learning because they are seeing real rocks and are surrounded by real geologic processes. But the same principles apply in the field that apply in the classroom. Exposure doesn't guarantee learning. Rather, students learn when they are actively engaged, practicing skills, and solving problems. Students learn when they have a context for new information and time for analysis and reflection. A "look-see" field trip, particularly one that visits many stops in a short time, is not one that optimizes student learning.

What can we learn from strategies that are known to improve student learning in the classroom, and how might we adapt them to improve student learning on field trips? 1) Set field trip goals. Ask what you want students to be able to do in the field and to be better at after the field trip, rather than what field sites you want to show them. 2) Consider adopting a "less is more" approach. Fewer field trip stops give students time to make adequate observations, document observations thoroughly, and make progress in skills and analytical abilities. In our enthusiasm, we are prone to packing six to eight field trip stops into a day. Two to three stops are more appropriate if you really want students to accomplish something at each stop. 3) Adapt successful group work strategies such as the jigsaw technique, concept sketches, or the Gallery Walk to structure students' observations and analysis in the field. 4) Bring other data into the field to augment students' field observations. Faculty typically bring maps and cross sections on field trips, but photomicrographs, geochemical data, and age data can be equally valuable, particularly if students will not revisit a field trip site. 5) Prepare students adequately. Students commonly do not know what to look for and can flounder when asked to make field observations. Maximize field trip analysis time and improve learning by having students practice observing and describing rocks and outcrop photos before the field trip. 6) Avoid introducing new information for which students have little context. For example, presenting complex tectonic models in the field is a common practice, but students learn little if they hear the complex models for the first time in the field.