The Critical Zone

Semester Project Overview


In this course, a semester project is assigned in order to:

  1. allow you to develop a learning module that can be introduced into your classroom;
  2. provide you with an exercise in active learning; and
  3. provide me with one means of evaluating your level of scholarship in this course.

To me, point 1 above is the most important. I sincerely hope that you will engage this opportunity along with my expertise and your energy and creativity to develop a tool for teaching Critical Zone science in your classroom(s). The project is somewhat loosely defined, to be developed through communication between me and each of you, but you will research and study a site or process that exemplifies some aspect of Critical Zone science. Ideally, your project will focus on a locale within your teaching region so that a field trip could be designed if that is appropriate in your school district—with luck a suitable site may exist on your school property! In the end, you will develop and present a ten-page, referenced report and lesson plan for 30% of your final course grade. My philosophy is that if you sincerely and wholeheartedly engage points 1 and 2 above, my evaluation will be easy for me and great for you.

This week you will begin communication with me about your semester project. By the end of Week 3, you will have finalized the region and topic of your project. You should view this communication process as evolutionary, that is, we will probably not converge on a topic in one e-mail or phone conversation. Please adhere to the due dates associated with this project: communicate with me regarding potential project topics during week 1, refine the topic during week 2, finalize topic by week 3. Remember the evolutionary nature of topic development. As with other communications, if you wait until the last minute to discuss the semester project with me, I may not be able to respond to you in a time frame that allows you to adequately consider my comments and meet the deadline.

I've included some examples of well-considered and developed semester projects from some past semesters in which the course was offered and taught (see below under Attachments and a link). The first, by Laurie Syphard, presents a lesson plan that uses data from one of the National Science Foundation's Critical Zone Observatories to lead high school students through a hands-on learning exercise. Laurie is a 2012 graduate of the M.Ed. in Earth Sciences program and has been able to integrate some of the content that is covered in Earth 530 into her work as a freelance science curriculum developer. The second example, by John Smith, is also a lesson plan that in this case uses information you will learn to access during this course - to develop site studies that culminate in a field trip. John graduated from the M.Ed program in August 2013 and has indicated that he left this course with a greater understanding of the Critical Zone, which he intends to share with his students. Third, is an example completed by Adam Renick, a school teacher in San Diego - Adam used his semester project to organize his subsequent program-required "capstone" project: a virtual field trip to Torrey Pines State Park, the site of his semester project study. Click here to see the results of Adam's capstone, admittedly several steps beyond what I expect for your semester project, but an excellent example of what can be accomplished during this course to implement in your school curriculum. Feel free to view and study them, but please do not try to reuse them for your project!



Identify your semester project region and topic for your semester project. The region you identify for your semester project will be straightforward: it should lie within a bus ride of your school so that you can realistically consider implementing site visits into your school's curriculum if that seems appropriate. Alternatively, you could study some aspect of Critical Zone science at a nearby site in which you collect data, observations, and photographs that could be presented in your classroom. You will want to develop a topic and site that can engage your students in thinking about Critical Zone science as you will understand it after Lesson 1. If you have some specific expertise or area of interest, you may want to skip ahead to a lesson that engages that expertise/interest to guide your thinking on the semester project. In any case, we will need to discuss the specific site and topic, and you must receive my permission to proceed.

Submitting Your Work

  • Go to Lesson 1 - Semester Project Proposal dropbox in Canvas by the due date indicated on our Canvas calendar.
  • Use the "Message" field provided there to explain your proposed semester project region and topic. If you prefer, you may attach a document containing your proposal by using the "Attachments" link in that dropbox. Be prepared to discuss your choice with me by e-mail.


Attachments (optional) must be in Word (.doc) or PDF (.pdf) format so I can open them. In addition, documents must be double-spaced and typed in 12 point Times Roman font.

Grading Criteria

The identification of your semester project topic in a timely fashion will reflect on your grade for the project. If you adhere to the schedule, you will have begun the path toward an eventual "A." In other words, you will not have negatively affected your grade. If, however, you ignore the schedule, your grade will be adversely affected: 5% lower grade on the semester project for each day you are late.