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January 2010 NAGT e-Newsletter: Page 2

Mount McKinley
View of Denali (Mount McKinley), Alaska from the South. Image by Janis Treworgy, Principia College.

Web Resources

Quantitative Skills and Reasoning Resources

This month we have several websites to highlight that emphasize strategies for helping improve the quantitative skills and reasoning of our students.

The Math You Need, When You Need It
by Eric Baer (Highline Community College)

Often geoscience teachers are faced with a conundrum when teaching quantitatively in introductory college classes. Do we teach quantitative skills (such as unit conversions and basic graphing techniques) even though many of the students have these skills, or do we skip these topics and ignore the less prepared students since it is content that should have been learned previously? Judging from many introductory geoscience textbooks, there is a third option – get rid of the quantitative content. We offer a different solution: modular, on-line modules that students can use to bolster their quantitative skills just before they are needed in class. (Continue reading...)

Kéyah Math
by Steven Semken (Arizona State University)

Kéyah Math (KM; is a freely accessible set of versatile fully online activities for application of basic mathematics to geoscience, all of which are situated in geologically interesting and culturally significant places in the Southwestern United States. These place-based exercises are available to enhance any undergraduate geoscience course, and may be of particular interest to students and teachers with cultural ties to the Southwest, including American Indian and Hispanic students and teachers. (Continue reading...)

Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences

This classic website has recently undergone an extensive overhaul to bring it more up to date. The site now incorporates pedagogical information on teaching methods that are either explicitly quantitative or support quantitative learning. Also, reports and products of the several workshops run by the project have been excavated and integrated into the larger site to enhance their usefulness. Lastly, the connections to other organizations working to improve quantitative skills have been strengthened, both inside and out of the geosciences, in order to tie in to the growing community interested in these issues.

New from Earth Learning Idea

(From the ELI Blog ) We shall be publishing new EarthLearningIdeas every two weeks throughout 2010. Some of these activities will require the use of some basic school laboratory equipment and some will include more abstract ideas than we have considered in the past. We will label these activities ELI+.

We are launching the new activities with The watery world of underground chemistry - using pH to link the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere together The activity involves a discussion, with demonstrations, of the likely change in pH of water as it goes through the underground part of the water cycle.

Please do try it with your pupils and let us know how they get on. This is the 70th activity on the website so there are plenty to choose from.

Teaching the Process of Science

How do we know what we know? Many resources are available to help you teach 'what we know' - the science content that fills textbooks. Few of those resources explicitly address 'how we know' that content. We might feel that the process is implicit in our teaching, or that we don't have time to teach the process when there is so much content to cover. This module explains why teaching the process can support - rather than replace - teaching the content, and will help you integrate the process of science into your teaching. It includes common misconceptions students have about the process of science, example activities and courses, several texts that emphasize the process, ideas for assessment, and additional references and resources.

We are also looking for additional contributions. If you emphasize the process of science in your teaching, or know of a great resource to contribute it, please take a look at this module.

This module was authored by Anne E. Egger (Stanford University) as part of a collaboration between Visionlearning and Pedagogy in Action, and includes the products of a July 2009 workshop on Teaching the Process of Science.

Activity Highlight

In this issue, we're beginning a new segment to throw a spotlight on high-quality teaching activities that have been generated by members of the NAGT community. If you have a favorite activity that you would like to see highlighted in a future issue, tell us about it.

Using an M&M® Magma Chamber to Illustrate Magmatic Differentiation

Karl Wirth, Macalester College
ActivitySheet with video of the activity in action
Reviewed by John McDaris, SERC

In this activity, students work in groups to "reenact" Bowen's Reaction Series using M&Ms to represent the major cations present in a simplified basaltic magma. After carefully counting out the proper number of pieces, the students fractionate their magma chamber in 10 sequential crystallization steps. They can then do some analysis of the composition of the remaining magma as well as the species that crystallized out. Dr. Wirth has posted a general version of the activity that is appropriate for an introductory geoscience class as well as one for a Petrology class that asks for more analysis and interpretation from the students.

This hands-on activity brings students face to face with the stoichiometry involved in magma differentiation. It is very illustrative of how the composition of the magma changes with each crystallization stage, as well as the overall distribution of the various cations within the magma chamber as the process proceeds. The nature of the task keeps students engaged and working together. The addition of a "special" piece to represent a volatile like water during the activity asks students to consider its fate and the implications of its presence in the magma chamber. And afterward, they get to divide a veritable trove of edible cations between themselves!

Have you used this activity?

In the next issue, we'll post a map of where this activity has been used based on the responses and a summary of people's experience with using it.

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