USING EXTRATERRESTRIAL ACTIVITIES IN THE PHYSICAL GEOLOGY CLASSROOM TO ENCOURAGE CRITICAL THINKING
When asked to assess two (out of nine) labs in a Physical Geology course at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), ~30% of the students (5 out of 16) chose to comment on the Impact Lab (modeled after material developed by NASA). This lab asked students to create and diagram several craters, calculate the effects of mass and speed on energy released during impact, and think about where in the Solar System they would find craters. There was general consensus that it “was helpful in understanding how craters impact planets and what happens to the ejecta” by being able to “compare visually the different craters we made” and see how “impacts change based on angle and speed.” One student specifically commented that it “would have helped even more to compare velocity and angle [of impact] by looking at actual craters on the Moon, Mars, etc.”
In-class activities and short essay exam questions using maps of other planets encouraged students to think about the lines of evidence for the theory of plate tectonics. Given global maps of volcanism on Venus, thrust faults on Mercury, elevation on Mars, and all of these on Earth, they were asked to determine whether other planets have plate tectonics. In-class activities comparing Earth to Venus and Mercury were used during the Assistant Dean’s observation (NVCC); he “liked the activity,” which “got [the students] thinking about larger concepts.”
We encourage geology educators to include extraterrestrial content in their lecture materials, in-class activities, labs, and exam questions, as a way to engage students in critical thinking about geologic concepts and processes, particularly in introductory courses.