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Use of active learning modules in water quality and stream flow to enhance understanding of the scientific method

Use of active learning modules in water quality and stream flow to enhance understanding of the scientific method

Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 33(6): 193

Simple field-oriented testing equipment is used in three levels of courses to help students enhance their understanding of the scientific method. Learning modules geared toward introductory students (non-majors), Geology majors and upper division science students guide student learners as they build chemical and physical data sets and interpret their results. Real-world problems that revolve around issues of water quality, water supply and stream flow (flood events) are used as the focus of learning modules. These modules also give students hands-on experience utilizing the scientific method as they explore the natural world. An introductory module for non-majors and pre-teachers guides student learners as they use portable water quality test kits to compare water quality in tap water, a storm drain and the nearby American River. In the second module, upper division Geology majors conduct advanced experiments during hydrogeology and engineering geology labs. Portable water quality test kits are used to collect data about nutrient, metal and bacteria content in natural bodies of water. Stream gaging equipment is also used to illustrate techniques for measuring discharge conditions and evaluate flood events in local river systems. In these modules emphasis is placed on the student's ability to interpret data sets, evaluate data quality and make reasonable interpretations. A third learning modules consists of an 11 day field trip for geology majors and minors that inter-relates water quality and geologic processes. The field setting provides natural laboratories where students test hypotheses about water quality and underlying geologic control. The effectiveness of the modules is evaluated using pre- and post-testing of student attitudes, understanding and retention. Both students' self-assessments and instructor evaluations showed increased understanding of water quality issues as a result of the new curriculum modules. Furthermore, these types of field projects generate significant student interest and discussion that might not occur in a more traditional learning environment.

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