North-Central Section - 47th Annual Meeting (2-3 May 2013)

Paper No. 7
Presentation Time: 3:50 PM


KEEN, Kerry L., Plant and Earth Science Dept, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, 410 S. 3rd Street, River Falls, WI 54022,

After some years of struggling with how best to help students develop a solid and integrated understanding of fundamental principles in my Hydrogeology course, I decided a different approach was needed. The topics to focus on include subsurface water zones, head, gradients, potentiometric surfaces, and flow. The revised approach incorporates a mix of short lectures and exercises, followed immediately by feedback, and structured so that each builds on the prior mini-lecture and exercise. I could have simply kept forcing this into the existing standardized time structure for this course (two 2-hour classes per week), but that was inefficient and ineffective. The long time gaps between class sessions worked against developing student abilities to process and synthesize these concepts.

Instead I created a 1-day weekend workshop focused on the topics specified above. We purposefully meet in a different classroom. A substantial set of workshop handouts: lecture notes plus exercises, are picked up at the beginning. We start by defining subsurface water zones, in the form of a group ice-breaker activity. This is followed by discussing head in the saturated and unsaturated zone, which leads directly to applying these definitions to an exercise on head measurements in a vertical cross-section through a field of nested piezometers and tensiometers. Once head values are contoured across both zones, flow can be diagrammed. While students work individually or in pairs, I answer questions and provide guidance. This is followed by projecting the exercise key, with further discussion/clarification. After a hearty and varied lunch (provided by me – and critical to workshop “success”), we build to more complex geology and systems of multiple potentiometric surfaces. Toward the end of the approximately 6-hour day, we return to analyze a data set of water-level measurements at a field site of nested piezometers, in the context of what has been learned earlier. Last year, I incorporated a follow-up exercise at the start of the next regular class session to help solidify what they learned in the workshop. Although students are tired by the end of the workshop, many make significant strides toward an enlightened understanding of the key concepts.