Controversies in the Earth Sciences

Capstone Project assignment


My philosophy for this course

I chose the topic of contemporary Earth sciences controversies because I wanted to focus on issues that wouldn't necessarily be covered in a textbook, since they are ongoing and unresolved debates. I tried to put together a mix of types of controversies . . . for example, the New Madrid seismic risk controversy pits scientists against each other but also pits scientists against policymakers. On the other hand, the mass extinction controversies do not involve any public policy. I also wanted you to participate in the process of science by carrying out analyses as well as reading research papers. I used publicly available datasets because I hoped that if you found any of the analyses interesting, you could easily co-opt them for your own use. The "teaching and learning" discussions were intended to get you to think about how you might use some of this material if you wanted to turn around and teach it, and also to think about necessary science skills independent of science content.

My guess is that you can take bits and pieces of this course and transform them into a lesson for your own use. Now is the time to prove it!

Activity: Capstone Project

In this activity, you will design a lesson for an audience of your choosing based on one of the topics we covered in this course.


  1. Figure out approximately what you want to teach and email me a brief description of your plan and your audience. For example, you could just say, "I'm going to design a lesson where high school students investigate GPS measurements of local faults" or something like that.
  2. Write up your lesson plan. Your lesson plan should include the following:
    • A brief overview of what will be taught and why
    • A set of learning objectives (What will your students know or be able to do at the end of your lesson?) For this, I would like you to think about both the content (facts, concepts, etc.) as well as the skills (critical thinking, data analysis, etc.) that you hope students get from your lesson.
    • A description of your plan (What will the students do?) This plan needs to have enough detail so another person could follow it and carry it out exactly as you intend.
    • List of necessary materials
    • A list of deliverables (What will the students turn in? How will you know if they learned what you wanted them to learn?) I want to see sample answers or a key so I know what kind of responses/ results you expect from your students.
    • An evaluation rubric (so that another teacher could assess the students in the manner that you intended)

Save an electronic version of your activity in the following format:

L6_capstone_AccessAccountID_LastName.doc/.pdf/.pages/.your extension

For example, Cardinals manager and former catcher Mike Matheny would name his capstone project L6_capstone_msm1_Matheny.doc

Submitting your work

Upload your capstone project file to the Capstone project assignment in CANVAS by the due date on the first page of this lesson.

Note on Grading:

I am interested in the scientific accuracy of the topic you choose to teach and on how well your lesson incorporates scientific thinking skills.

I am not going to base my grade on whether you have constructed a lesson plan in some special way (as long as all the components listed above are there). My assumption is that for those of you who are teachers, you don't need me to tell you how to write a lesson plan because you already know. For those of you who are not teachers, I am not the one who is going to instruct you on correct lesson plan-making. However, I am a scientist, so if facts are not right, or could use clarification, I can assist with that.

Grading rubric

  • An "A" capstone project is complete, clear, and organized. It contains all the components listed above. The science is accurate and the activity is well-posed. I can follow your instructions and get the results you expected me to get. The questions you made up are well-designed and would elicit the appropriate amount of thinking and interpretation on the part of the intended audience. Your project shows independent thinking.
  • A "B" capstone project is like that of an "A" project, except that its directions may not be clear enough that I can follow them without having to guess a little bit about your exact intentions. A "B" write-up is complete and contains all the components listed above.
  • A "C" capstone project may have clarity problems, leading me to have to guess how to follow your instructions. A "C" write-up may also be incomplete with some of the assignment components missing. The science may not be accurate.
  • A "D" capstone project has such badly written directions that I can't even begin to guess how to follow your instructions. A "D" write-up may be significantly incomplete and it may contain gross factual errors.