September 2003 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 51, Number 4
Cover of Sept 03 JGE

A Problematic Fossil Bring Paleontology to the Classroom and the World
Sande Burr Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Cornell University, Ithica, NY
John Chiment Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, Cornell University, Ithica, NY
Warren Allmon Paleontological Research Institution, 1259 Trumansburg Rd., Ithica, NY
J. Keith Rigby Department of Geology, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
A problematic fossil discovered in 1998 by an amateur collector in central New York proved to be a valuable tool for teaching paleontology to people of diverse age and background. Highlighting its problematic status and including the public in the search for additional specimens as well as an investigation of affinities, allowed us to engage students and non-students alike in the most basic process of paleontology- reconstructing an organism from fossil remains.

Use of a web site,, which displayed the mystery fossil and invited comparison and comment, gained and held public attention. The story was widely covered by the media.

The fossil appears to be a previously undescribed Devonian siliceous sponge. What attracted public and media attention, however, was interest in solving a scientific puzzle. The episode suggests that the discovery of problematic fossils can open opportunities for educational outreach.
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Quantifying Urban Land Use and Runoff Changes Through Service-Learning Hydrology Projects
Kyle Nichols Department of Geosciences, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Paul Bierman Department of Geology and School of Natural Resources University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
Lyman Persico, Andrew Bosley, Paul Melillo, and James Kurfis Department of Geology, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT
We have used land use change, driven by development of the University of Vermont campus and recent student occupancy of surrounding neighborhoods in Burlington, Vermont, as an opportunity for service learning and for teaching fundamental hydrologic and geologic skills in two undergraduate Geology courses. Two students, from a Geomorphology class, used historical mapes and aerial photographys of the University campus to document the dramatic increase in impermeable surfaces on campus from 4% of the land area in 1869 to 42% in 1999. In Geohydrology, student teams used aerial photographu, field mapping, and door-to-door surveys to document green space losses of 40 to 50% over the past 20 years in neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by students, despice zoning controls enacted in 1973. Students used simple hydrologic calculations to demonstrate that this unregulated change in land use increased both the volume and peak flow of stormwater runoff. Senior research projects have also made field and demographic studies of individual neighborhoods and examined the percent of land use change. In each of these studies, students worked closely with City and University staff and presented results at local forums, professional national meeting, and on the World Wide Web. These service-learning projects have received positive feedback from the studens, city officals, and community members.
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Sixth Graders' Conceptions of Rocks in their Local Environments
Danielle Ford School of Education, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY
Instruction in a constructivist framework involves creating opportunites for learners to integrate new learning about abstract geological ideas with prior science-related experiences, and to apply ideas learned in class to everyday events. But do children readily make these connections? I surveyed 55 sixth grade children about their knowledge of rocks in their local area. Results indicate that students can provide appropriate but general definitions for rocks and explanations of their formation. They can name examples of rock specimens in their home areas, but have little understanding of the underlying geology of the region. Implications of these results emphasize that making local connections, especially in activities such as rock and mineral identificaion, should be included in K-12 geological education.
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Combining a Historical Geology Project with a Campus Student Organization's Fundraising Efforts
Laura Guertin and Catherine Nguyen Earth Sciences, Penn Stat Delaware County, Media, PA
Combining a classroom activity with the goals of a campus student organization can promote active learning for the enrolled students, the campus and local community. A service-learning project in a general education geoscience course encourages stronger student enthusiasm and a vested interest towards the success of the project. Undergraduate students enrolled in historical geology are required to present summaries of geologic time periods and fossil samples during the Change Thru Geologic Time project, a service-learning activity at Penn State University Delaware County. Attendees at the event are asked to donate change to a student organization's fundraising efforts for pediatric cancer patients, their families, and innovative pediatric cancer research. The success of this event demonstrates that a common historical geology class assignment requiring students to scale geologic time over a certain distance can be modified to serve as an educational showcase and a fundraiser for a campus student organization.
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Design and Assessment of an Interactive Digital Tutorial for Undergraduate-Level Sandstone Petrology
K.L. Milliken, E.F. McBride, and S.-J. Choh Department of Geological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
J.P. Barufaldi Science Education Center, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, TX
A digital interactive tutorial has been created to provide undergraduates a 'virtual microscope' resource for learning sandstone petrology. The tutorial does not replace hands-on laboratory experiences with the petrographic microscope, but lends efficiency and breadth to the learning process. Students are able to obtain practice with identification of a wide array of sandstone components outside of the laboratory and independently of the instructor.

The efficacy of traditional petrography instruction versus instruction supplemented by the tutorial was assessed in two semesters of GEO 416M, "Sedimentary Rocks" at the University of Texas at Austin. Students in the first semester were not provided with the tutorial, providing a baseline or control for comparison. In the second semester, the digital tutorial was provided to all students on CD and assigned as a required resource in laboratory exercises. Investigation of student attitudes towards the tutorial demonstrates a high level of approval, and subject matter attainment appears to improve with tutorial use. Individualized, one-on-one instruction should remain a key element in effective teaching of petrography. Digital materials have a clear benefit in terms of enhancing the quality, availability, and breadth of the demonstration materials that can be provided to students. Based on this preliminary assessment, there are benefits in student learning as well.
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Wetland Connections: Linking University Researchers and High School Teachers to Advance Science Education and Wetland Conservation
Aram Calhoun Department of Plant, Soil, and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Mary Ann McGarry Department of Education and Human Development, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Andrew Reeve Department of Geological Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Wetland Connections is a geosciences and biology field-based project connecting students to real-world problem solving. The broad goal was to link University faculty and students with high school teachers and students to conduct field research on Maine's wooded wetlands. Three university faculty, each from a different discipline, shared skills with teachers from three high schools as they investigated shrub and graminoid peatlands, mineral-soil forested wetlands, and vernal pools. Building the infrastructure for a long-term, wetland monitoring program required an integrated systems approach. Students collected environmental data to determine how wetland hydrology and water chemistry related to vegetation composition and structure, wildlife habitat, and geochemical gradients. Data were collected on nine wetlands with 178 students, teachers, community members, and University faculty and students directly participating. Data and information on each of the wetland types is being assembled on an interactive web site. Teachers reported the project helped them meet educational standards, inspired students to pursue further studies in the sciences, and provided baseline data on local, previously unstudied wetlands.
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Rationalizing Geomorphology with an Energy Balance
J.F. Devlin Department of Geology, University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS
An energy balance shows that geomorphological processes are driven by an energy source more powerful than the geological processes that raise the continents. In addition, energy fluxes for the entire Earth are calculated from several energy sources including energy from the Sun, Esolar, geothermal energy, Egeothermal, based primarily on heat production from radiogenic sources, energy in the hydrologic cycle, Ehydrologic, based on energy stored as latent heat in water vapor, and energy required to maintain continental uplift rates, Epotential. The Epotential term is estimated from the hyposometric curve for the Earth's continents and the crustal roots according to Airy's model of isostasy. It is shown that Esolar > Ehydrologic, Egeothermal > Ehydrologic and Epotential. The preceding calculations are presented in a format that illustrates the development and application of mathematical equations for geological problems. These examples provide instructors with material to illustrate the use of graphs, algebra and integral calculus in a geological context. All steps are explained assuming only basic knowledge from the reader.
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A Simple Experiment to Demonstrate Overpressured Fluids and Soft Sediment Deformation
D.C.P. Peacock Robertson Research International Ltd., Llandudno, LL30 1SA, UK
The development of overpressured fluids during soft sediment deformation and compaction can be illustrated using an analogue experiment, which is a simple, inexpensive and reusable teaching tool. Sand, mud and water are shaken in a plastic bottle. When the sediments settle and the water has cleared, the sand supports a layer of mud. Gentle squeezing of the bottle causes the sand to pack more closely and liquefy. Water is expelled from the sand, and becomes trapped beneath, and therefore supports, the mud layer. The pressure in the water beneath the mud changes from hydrostatic to hydrostatic plus the pressure exerted by the weight of the mud layer, i.e. it becomes overpressured. The overpressured water causes blistering and eventual cracking of the mud layer, with a plume of muddy water rising from the blister. The muddy water from the plume sinks because it is denser than the clear water. The mud layer also eventually sinks to become supported by the sand, and hydrostatic pressure.
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Integrating Investigation Across the Geology and Physics Curricula Using the Cullowhee Creek Environmental Field Station, Western Carolina University
Mark Lord and Ginny Peterson Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
Kurt Vandervoort Department of Chemistry and Physics, Western Carolina University, Cullowhee, NC
The geology and physics programs at Western Carolina University were revised to provide investigative, quantitative, and interdisciplinary opportunities at all levels of the curriculum. Central to the revisions was the development of the Cullowhee Creek Environmental Field Station (CCEFS). The field station, a part of the Western Carolina University campus, includes three groundwater wells, a gaging station, a weather station, and areas to investigate the physical, hydrological, and environmental systems on campus. Hydrological measurements are made using continuously monitored loggers and probes, hand-held instruments, and flow meters. Shallow subsurface characteristics are evaluated through surface material observations, shallow soil probes, and geophysical (seismic, resistivity, magnetic and ground-penetrating radar) surveys. Curricular reforms using the CCEFS have emphasized development of investigative projects related to the campus geological environment in several introductory through advanced courses in geology and physics, as well as an interdisciplinary geophysics course. Preliminary project assessment indicates that early and persistent student involvement in investigations has increased student understanding and ability to do science. The interdisciplinary field station activities have helped students recognize the importance and relevance of physics to geological and environmental problems.
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The Ongoing Educational Anomaly of Earth Science Placement
Paula Messina and Ellen Metzger Geology Department and Program in Science Education, San Jose State University, San Jose, CA
Paul Speranza Lafayette High School, Brooklyn, NY
Phil Stoffer United States Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA
The geosciences have traditionally been viewed with less "academic prestige" than other science curricula. Among the results of this perception are depressed K-16 enrollments, Earth Science assignments to lower-performing students, and relegation of these classes to sometimes under-qualified educators, all of which serve to confirm the widely-held misconceptions. An Earth Systems course developed at San Jose State University demonstrates the difficulty of a standard high school science curriculum, while recognizing the deficiencies in pre-college science surricula so that Earth Science is placed as a capstone course would greatly improve student understanding of the geosciences, while development of Earth systems courses that infuse real-world and hands-on learning at the college level is critical to bridging the information gap for those with no prior exposure to the Earth sciences. Well-crafted workshops for pre-service and inservice teachers of Earth Science can help to reverse the trends and unfortunate "status" in geoscience education.
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Making Geology Relevant to Non-Science Majors Through the Environmental Site Assessment Project
Kristen St. John and John Callahan Department of Geology, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC
The Environmental Site Assessment (ESA) project was developed to make geology more relevant to the non-science majors in Appalachian State University's Environmental and Applied Geology course. Pedagogically, this exercise is an example of directed-inquiry. Students are guided in applying the geoscience theory learned in the formal classroom setting to the reality of their own independent research projects. Through participation in the ESA project, students investigate earth resource issues of water quality and water supply, and geologic hazards specific to each student's place of residence. Student survey results indicated that this project had a positive impact on students' perceptions of the value and relevance of geoscience, particularly that knowledge gained from the ESA project would be very helpful to them in future decision-making situations, such as home or business site selection. With little modification, this exercise is transferable to survey geology courses at other colleges and to middle and high school earth and environmental science programs.
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Column - Research Methodologies in Science Education: Gender and the Geosciences
Julie C. Libarkin, Science Education Department, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)
Josepha P. Kurdziel, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Michigan