Northeastern Section (45th Annual) and Southeastern Section (59th Annual) Joint Meeting (13-16 March 2010)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 8:00 AM-12:05 PM


WIZEVICH, Michael C., EVANS, Mark A., PIATEK, Jennifer L. and IVERS, Carol B., Department of Physics and Earth Sciences, Central Connecticut State University, 1615 Stanley St, New Britain, CT 06050,

As part of developing a geology specialization in the Earth Science program at CCSU, we redesigned our introductory physical geology lab so it meets three goals: 1) Provide an activity-based, learner-centered component to our primary general education course; 2) Give students specializing in geology strong fundamental concepts and critical thinking skills needed for advanced geology courses; and 3) Present interesting and alluring science to potential Earth Science majors.

Our first step was to expand lab meeting time from 2 to 3 hours. We determined that existing lab manuals were inadequate for our purposes, and an unnecessary expense for students. We created our own lab exercises that focus on concepts we feel are important, while best utilizing existing facilities and equipment. This also allowed us to integrate a Connecticut emphasis into the curriculum. The extra lab hour provides an opportunity to include more comprehensive activity-based exercises that enhance the learning process.

Our core lab curriculum continues to consist of a half semester of minerals and rocks and a second half of labs studying Earth surface features and processes. The redesigned mineral and rock curriculum includes exercises that go beyond sample memorization, requiring the development of observational skills and use of a systematic approach to identification. In addition, we require students to relate rocks to the geologic and tectonic setting from which they originated. For many students this is a big leap in interpretation, but we feel this holistic approach gives more meaning to the labs and provides students an opportunity to develop a higher level of understanding. Our new approach de-emphasizes topographic maps in studying Earth’s surface and instead includes activities to: 1) study discharge and water quality in a nearby stream, 2) use physical models to study groundwater and contaminant flow, and 3) model geologic structures with art clay.

Instead of traditional exams to assess learning, we developed open-notes capstone exercises. The two capstones each integrate a half-semester of labs and build on related concepts to help develop integrated understanding. The capstones are advantageous because they require students to connect multiple concepts and provide instructors with better measures of student comprehension.