Field exercises are a valuable addition to introductory-level geoscience courses but are not always possible in an urban setting. To further develop student skills in rock identification, a project implementing the scientific method has been constructed that allows students to examine the building stones found in the store fronts at a shopping mall. The project is further enhanced with the use of Palm Pilot handheld technology as a tool for reference and data collection. This project allows students to see the use of geologic materials in an everyday setting and experience an innovative use of handheld technology.
It is standard for introductory-level physical geology courses to devote several laboratory sessions to mineral and rock identification. Students learn about the texture and composition of different rock types and are given unknowns to identify. The next logical step to further expose students to rocks and to enhance their identification skills would be to take students outside and examine rock outcrops in natural settings. Field activities, such as those involving rock and mineral identification, have been shown to affectively and cognitively enhance student learning and allow students to oe active and creative participants in their education (Kern and Carpenter, 1986; Karabinos et al., 1992). In courses that involve field exercises, students show and self-report an improved student attitude and interest (Kern and Carpenter, 1984; Spencer, 1990).
However, natural outcrops are not always an option for an instructor to take a class. For example, accessibility may be an issue, whether it be the distance to an outcrop, a lack of geologic variety in a region, or safety issues gaining access to a site. University geoscience departments in urban locations are developing innovative ways to expose students to rocks outside the laboratory for nontraditional field experiences. Saint Mary's University in Toronto has created a rock garden on campus with outcrop-scale features for mappable activities (Dillon et al., 2000). Hoskin (2000) at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand has his students examine the "urban outcrops" of the stones of the tabletops where he takes his students to eat lunch. Even museums such as The Cleveland Museum of Natural History have developed fieldtrips on urban geology for elementary school students through the general public (Hannibal and Schmidt, 1991).
Urban locations should not be considered a detriment to geoscience instruction but viewed as an advantage for the high diversity of geological materials that are easily accessible (Hannibal and Schmidt, 1991). The most common type of reported urban geology activity is the investigation of building stones. Some groups may examine the use of a particular building stone through time, while others may focus on the nature of the stone and sources of supply (Broadhurst, 2003). Kemp (1992) has students look at the weathering of building stones from a variety of lithologies, while Wetzel (2002) has designed an investigative project where her students explore the suitability of building stones in Tampa, Florida. Dragovich (1978) emphasizes differential weathering, examining different rock types subjected to similar weathering environments.
These prior examples explore exterior building stones, but rocks in urban settings can be examined indoors as well. Another venue that has an array of building stones is inside a shopping mall. I use shopping malls because the store fronts provide enough building stone variety for my students to review their igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic rock identifications. Shopping malls are advantageous for they are available seven days a week with free access. In addition, a trip to the mall does not need to be rescheduled because of bad weather. The main objective of most building stone exercises is the same whether done outdoors or indoors to observe the use of rocks in everyday construction and decoration, and to gain additional practice with the process of rock identification. …