June 2010 NAGT e-Newsletter: Page 2

Sea stacks along Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
Sea stacks along the Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia. Photo taken from a helicopter February, 2010 Details

Designing and Redesigning Courses

Heading into summer, many of our members have plans to design a new course or overhaul one they have been teaching for a while. Below are resources created by NAGT or its sponsored projects that can help you make that course that you've been thinking about all spring.


Exemplars and Activities

On the Cutting Edge- Course Goals/Syllabus Database: Over 250 course descriptions or syllabi from geoscience educators.

Starting Point -Browse Courses: Browse through over 200 course descriptions associated with the different pedagogic modules.

EarthLabs: This project provides a national model for rigorous and engaging Earth and environmental science labs.

A Civil Action - The Woburn Toxic Trial: Developed from a popular mock-trial course at Ohio State University, the site consists of a series of educational modules that students work through potentially culminating in the presentation of a mock trial.


On the Cutting Edge - Course Design Tutorial

Developed by Cutting Edge PIs Barbara Tewksbury (Hamilton College) and Heather Macdonald (College of William and Mary), this web-based Course Design Tutorial leads users through the process of designing a course from the standpoint of what educators want students to get out of the class. This goal-centered strategy has been developed over more than a decade of conducting face-to-face and virtual workshops to help educators get the most out of their courses. This part of Cutting Edge also includes the Course Goals/Syllabus Database which contains over 250 course descriptions.

Starting Point - Designing a Course

Several of the modules developed for Starting Point: Teaching Introductory Geoscience aim specifically at issues involved with designing courses with particular kinds of content, pedagogy, or students in mind. Some of these include:

  • Designing an Earth System Course (Russanne Low, UCAR) provides help creating a course with a systems emphasis. 
  • Field Labs (Mary Savina, Carleton College) provides tips and help for getting students outside.
  • Using an Earth History Approach (Rebecca Teed, Wright State University) provides faculty with resources and insights on teaching from this perspective. This module also includes the important resource on Addressing Creationism.
  • Teaching Urban Students (Wayne Powell, Brooklyn College - CUNY) provides information about how to effectively teach in an urban environment. Urban students bring a rich set of experiences to the classroom that may be significantly different than those of students in small-town settings.

Preparing Teachers to Teach Earth Science - Teacher Preparation Courses

Preparing future teachers is an important part of many geoscience departments. This collection of course descriptions include such information as course goals and content, instructor contact information, and teaching materials used specifically in teacher preparation courses around the country.

Pedagogy in Action

There are many different ways of teaching and some are more helpful than others in particular situations. The Pedagogy in Action portal presents modules on dozens of different pedagogies, telling the what, why, and how and presenting a body of teaching activities that use each one. This is a great resource if you are looking to try a new way of teaching in your classes. Examples of pedagogies include:


Activity Highlight

If you have a favorite activity that you would like to see highlighted in a future issue, tell us about it.

Profiling Earth's Surface Using GeoMapApp

Laura Reiser Wetzel, Eckerd College
Activity Sheet - Part of the Margins Data in the Classroom project.

In this activity, students relate large-scale features on Earth's surface to lithospheric plates, the underlying asthenosphere, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Students follow step-by-step instructions to use GeoMapApp, a versatile—and free—visualization program to explore aspects of marine geology and geophysics.


The student's first challenge is to use GeoMapApp to create a topographic cross section extending from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean, which will include the East Pacific Rise, the Peru-Chile Trench, the Andes Mountains, South America, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the East African Rift. Students then print out their profile to sketch the depth to the Moho and the low velocity zone and indicate the locations of earthquakes, volcanoes, plate boundaries, and continental margins.


This exercise is appropriate for an introductory physical geology class or as a review in a structural geology or introductory geophysics class. The ultimate goals are for students to recognize large-scale surface features; relate them to volcanoes and earthquakes; and understand that variations in surface elevation reflect differences in crustal and lithospheric thickness. An added benefit is for students use GeoMapApp and realize that the program is a fun and easy way to explore Earth.