ED11B-0726: Developing Scientific Reasoning Through Drawing Cross-Sections

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Authors: Kimberly A Hannula

Author Institutions: Department of Geosciences, Fort Lewis College, Durango, CO, USA

Cross-sections and 3D models of subsurface geology are typically based on incomplete information (whether surface geologic mapping, well logs, or geophysical data). Creating and evaluating those models requires spatial and quantitative thinking skills (including penetrative thinking, understanding of horizontality, mental rotation and animation, and scaling). However, evaluating the reasonableness of a cross-section or 3D structural model also requires consideration of multiple possible geometries and geologic histories. Teaching students to create good models requires application of the scientific methods of the geosciences (such as evaluation of multiple hypotheses and combining evidence from multiple techniques). Teaching these critical thinking skills, especially combined with teaching spatial thinking skills, is challenging. My Structural Geology and Advanced Structural Geology courses have taken two different approaches to developing both the abilities to visualize and to test multiple models. In the final project in Structural Geology (a 3rd year course with a pre-requisite sophomore mapping course), students create a viable cross-section across part of the Wyoming thrust belt by hand, based on a published 1:62,500 geologic map. The cross-section must meet a number of geometric criteria (such as the template constraint), but is not required to balance. Each student tries many potential geometries while trying to find a viable solution. In most cases, the students don’t visualize the implications of the geometries that they try, but have to draw them and then erase their work if it does not meet the criteria for validity. The Advanced Structural Geology course used Midland Valley’s Move suite to test the cross-sections that they made in Structural Geology, mostly using the flexural slip unfolding algorithm and testing whether the resulting line lengths balanced. In both exercises, students seemed more confident in the quality of their cross-sections when the sections were easy to visualize. Students in Structural Geology are proud of their cross-sections once they were inked and colored. Students in Advanced Structural Geology were confident in their digitized cross-sections, even before they had tried to balance them or had tested whether they were kinematically plausible. In both cases, visually attractive models seemed easier to believe. Three-dimensional models seemed even more convincing: if students could visualize the model, they also thought it should work geometrically and kinematically, whether they had tested it or not. Students were more inclined to test their models when they had a clear set of criteria that would indicate success or failure. However, future development of new ideas about the kinematic and/or mechanical development of structures may force the students to also decide which criteria fit their problem the best. Combining both kinds of critical thinking (evaluating techniques and evaluating their results) in the same assignment may be challenging.