Northeastern (46th Annual) and North-Central (45th Annual) Joint Meeting (20–22 March 2011)

Paper No. 9
Presentation Time: 4:00 PM


HAILEAB, Bereket, Geology, Carleton College, One North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057 and BETHUNE, James, Geology, Carleton College, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057,

Introductory geology students often come in with little knowledge of the methods of earth science, and are unprepared to conduct research of their own. When instructors attempt to bridge this knowledge gap too quickly, many students are frustrated with the technical aspect of a project, and some end up with the impression that the process of science is rote learning. This presents the challenge of getting students up to speed with the methods of science, while encouraging the free and open arena for ideas on which science thrives. To this end, students in an introductory geology course are divided into small groups to research local stream chemistry in a way that emphasizes the development of students’ observational and interpretive skills. To guide their study designs and interpretations, the students have available a suite of data collected by previous classes. By the end of five weeks students have carried the project through data collection, interpretation, and analysis, and have presented their work to the class. Students are excited by the ownership of the project, while grounding their work the context of previous data allows for broader and more robust interpretations. Students can complete the projects with Yellow Springs Instruments (YSI) and simple geospatial analysis tools, although advanced or motivated students are granted access to more sophisticated methods of analysis, such as atomic absorption, nitrate probing, and liquid chromatography. Although entire classes can be built around the use of such tools as geospatial analysis and chromatography, the instruction for these tools extends only as far as necessary for the students to complete the project, allowing students focus their energy on analysis and interpretation. The particularly motivated students have a chance to continue the research beyond the term, either through summer research or in a related class.