28 November 2017

A new approach for teaching the geologic history of Virginia

Posted by Callan Bentley

I believe in tinkering with my teaching, and reflecting on the new approaches to see if I think they’re worth keeping or not. One of the topics I teach is the geologic history of Virginia. I do this because it’s essential knowledge to put the students’ upcoming field trip in context, but it’s also a nice example of how geologic techniques can be applied to understand the history of a particular place. And of course, it happens to be the place where my students live – so it’s “home” in a very visceral sense.

Traditionally, I’ve presented this material as a lecture, the week prior to our field trip. However, this year I wanted to try something different. I was inspired by the “lecture tutorials” published by Karen Kortz and Jessica Smay. I’ve also been inspired lately by a semester-long professional development workshop I’ve been participating in, called SAGE2YC, wherein a bunch of great ideas have been tossed around.

So, here today I wanted to offer a brief report here about the approach I took to the Virginia geological history lecture. I passed out a handout at the start of the lecture that looked like this:

(click through for a full-resolution PDF)

And over the course of the lecture, I wanted the students to match up the different geologic events with the provinces in which they occurred, resulting in something that would look roughly like this:

(click through for a full-resolution PDF)

It went fine, I think – it gave students a “puzzle” to solve during the lecture; like bloodhounds, they sniffed the lecture’s content for clues to fill in their chart. And we reviewed it at the end to make sure everyone had roughly the same pattern of Xs. (The big ones are big bits of evidence, by the way, and the small ones are relatively minor.)

However, once I got through with the experience I thought that a better approach would be to replace the Xs with actual descriptions of the geology that served as evidence, to reinforce what certain rocks, structures, and landforms mean. So this is the final version I came up with, and the one I intend to use in future iterations of covering this material.

(click through for a full-resolution PDF)

It’s certainly a lot more complicated, and more comprehensive, though there are interesting things it too elides for the sake of space. I feel it’s a decent compromise though – and I feel good enough about it that I intend to keep it for the next go-round.

Those of you who teach or who learn: Have you ever used an approach like this? What was successful about it? How do you think it could be improved? Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts and your feedback.