SPIRALING SYSTEMATICALLY THROUGH A MINERALOGY COURSE
Three themes emerged. The first was our desire to use modern pedagogy: spiral learning (which treats topics multiple times at increasingly complicated levels) and inquiry-based learning (where students conceptualize a problem, wrestle with possible answers to it before they are given the answer). Spiraling learning starts with a core of basic information (i.e., the 10 most abundant minerals in the Earth’s crust), then progresses to increasingly complicated themes building upon that basic knowledge. For example, in the first “spiral” we’d list minerals and their formulas: quartz, feldspars, etc. In the second spiral we’d show how one can systemically go from SiO2 to NaAlSi3O8 to CaAl2Si2O8 by substituting Al for Si.
A second theme was to capitalize on students’ interests and abilities to learn from computer animations. Although many animations for teaching mineralogy are available on the web, their lack of consistency makes them difficult to incorporate into a coherent learning pathway that depends on successful visualizations of 3-D objects. We began to envision a textbook where the grey scale illustrations could be augmented by an included DVD with animated color images and videos for ALL the illustrations along with a printable, searchable, mineral database.
Our final theme deals with instruments used to study minerals. In all of them, we “expose” a mineral to “something” and then “see” what happens. The “something” might be visible light (i.e., polarized light microscope), electrons (i.e., scanning electron microscope), or X-rays (i.e., powder X-ray diffractometer). The similarly in these instruments helps students realize they are not “black boxes.”
Using these three themes, we have crafted a basis for teaching mineralogy that led to the publication of Mineralogy and Optical Mineralogy in 2008 with support from the National Science Foundation. By publishing it through a non-profit society (The Mineralogical Society of America), the cost to the student could be reduced.