Fieldwork 101: Gathering Information and Creating Your Own VFE

What follows are recommendations. These recommendations are intended to help prepare you for fieldwork, but they are just guidelines, not steadfast rules. Bringing the field to the classroom at any scale is better than not bringing the field to the classroom at all. The careful attention to detail described here will prove extremely helpful, but avoid being discouraged if your first trip to the field isn’t as productive as you had initially imagined. Scientists of all disciplines continually refine their methods and procedures, leading to more productive and “better” results over time. With time and more fieldwork, your confidence will grow. Get into the field, be safe, and do your best to capture the experience in a way that allows you to best reproduce it for your students!

Before visiting the site: understand the natural history of the region

In order to make sense of a local site, it’s helpful to understand the geologic history of the larger region before your visit. Did inland seas once flood the area? Have mountain-building events shaped the landscape and its rocks? Was it glaciated? Since the reasons that a place looks the way it does are dependent upon more than the geology, you want to pay attention to this concept as well. That being said, since the geology is the base upon which the landscape is built, starting there makes good sense. The Teacher-Friendly Guides™ are an excellent source for discovering the history of a region, as well as that history’s effect on the rocks, fossils, and other features of the area.

Questions to Keep in Mind

When visiting or examining any area, the ultimate question to answer is: Why does this place look the way it does? But to help understand such an overarching concern, it is important to have certain other questions in mind. These questions will guide exploration, and they will help ensure that important information is recorded during your visit:

  • What kind(s) of rock(s) are found in the area? How do you know?
  • In what environment did these rocks probably form?
  • What is the arrangement of the rocks?
  • Are fossils preserved in the rocks? If so, what can they tell you about past environments?
  • What has happened to this area to make it look the way it does today? (That is, what has happened to the area since the rocks formed?) Why do you think so? (What is the evidence for your claim?)

We have put together a set of questions that build upon the fundamentals listed above and that can be asked of any site. This is a key idea—that there are questions that can be asked productively about any environment. Recognizing that idea is a key step toward being able to take the lessons of one field trip and applying them to the “reading” of any landscape. These questions are included in the graphic organizer in Figure 11.1, and as a checklist in the section entitled “Back in the Classroom”.

Figure 11.1

Figure 11.1: This pair of graphic organizers shows various paths of inquiry that stem from the question: Why does this place look the way it does? The top graphic focuses upon the geosciences, and the bottom focuses upon the environmental sciences. The questions within the diagrams are also included as printable checklists in the section “Back in the Classroom.”