Extra Terrestrial Plate Tectonics

Marshall Bartlett
Brigham Young University - Hawaii
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Students decide whether plate tectonics is operating on another planet in our solar system. Requires students to integrate and process a large array of visual data regarding plate tectonic processes. Students feel as if they are doing real science and remain engaged intellectually in the process.
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This is used in lower division college introductory geology, physical science, and astonomy courses.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Students need some background in the ideas behind plate tectonics. They must be familiar with processing visual information from a map have fairly good library research skills.

How the activity is situated in the course:

This project represents the bulk of a large unit all three of the courses in which it is used on plate tectonics. The students spend approximately three weeks working on the activity.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

Understand the influence plate tectonics has on landform development and the role it plays in planetary dynamics.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

Significant amounts of visual data analysis, hypothesis formulation and testing, critical evaluation of competing models.

Other skills goals for this activity:

Writing and oral presentation skills. Significant time spent working on the project in a group setting.

Description of the activity/assignment

students are engaged in reflecting on whether plate tectonics is a general theory of planetary organization and evolution. Students use topographic, magnetic, spectral, and other data from NASA and ESA missions to determine whether "Earth-style" plate tectonics is functional on planets and moons elsewhere in the solar system. Students are engaged in a data-rich environment from which they must formulate and test multiple hypotheses. Throughout the process, students are engaged in small groups to identify what they need to learn to answer their questions, what resources are available to them, how best to report their findings, and how they can assess the amount of learning that is taking place.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Oral presenations are given befor ethe entire class and students are expected to respond to peer questions after their presentation. A written report of the project is also required as including a mission proposal to collect further observations.

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