Using a Remotely-Accessed Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) to Evaluate Sands in a 2-Year College Earth Science Earth Class

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In this project, earth science students at Valencia College in Orlando, FL evaluated the mineral composition and depositional history and environments a variety of sands, including campus and local sands, by remotely accessing a scanning electron microscope (SEM) and energy dispersive spectrometer (EDS) housed at the Florida Center for Analytical Electron Microscopy (FCAEM; The project was piloted in Spring, 2016 and subsequently revised and modified. In Fall of 2016, 46 students in 3 non-majors, non-lab earth science classes completed 4 sands activities. The 4 activities were presented in weeks 1, 6, 9, and 14 (SEM/EDS used in all but the first week) with progressively more complex tasks. On the first day of class, students collected campus sands and used reflective microscopes to make observations. For week 6, students rotated between using the SEM/EDS to determine elemental content and mineralogy of unknown sands grains and evaluating sands with reflective microscopes. For weeks 9 and 14 activities, students reviewed relevant literature on quartz sand textures and related environmental/climate interpretations. They completed jigsaw-type activities to calibrate observation criteria and to develop “local” expertise, then rotated between using the SEM/EDS and working on topic-related group activities. Students completed pre- and post-assessments looking at the project’s impact on student learning. The learning assessment included 6 questions developed by using student responses to open-ended questions from Spring, 2016 to create multiple choice questions used in Fall, 2016. Results for 2 of the 6 questions were statistically significant, both showing improvement. Students also completed attitude surveys at the end of the semester, with strongest positive responses towards working in groups and on how the activities and content were presented.

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Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, v. 49, issue 2, no. 16-3