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CLASSIFYING ROCKS: A PRACTICAL EXERCISE TO LEARN PROGRAMMING THROUGH GEOLOGICAL CONCEPTS

A. Alonso, A. Casillas, L. Ortega, M. Penagarikano

University of the Basque Country (SPAIN)
The Undergraduate Degree in Geology of the University of the Basque Country contains an “Introduction to Computation” subject that is taught in the first semester of the first course. Students are generally very little interested in this matter, mainly because they think that programming skills are no related to any geological subject they are interested in.

In this paper we discuss the implementation of a new activity in the context of the subject “Introduction to Computation” and focused on increasing the motivation of the students on the programming subject. The activity consists on the development of an exercise which combines programming skills and real geological problems, and it is supervised by a multidisciplinary team of teachers from different knowledge areas: teachers from the subject “Introduction to Computation” (henceforth computing teacher) and teachers from the subject “Complements of Geology” (henceforth geology teacher).

The proposed exercise consists of three phases. First, the geology teacher introduces a real geology-related problem and explains how could it be resolved. On a second phase, the computing teacher explains how to automatize part of the resolution process in terms of a programming language. On a third phase, and once the students have implemented the algorithmic solution to the problem, they solve real examples of the proposed geological problem using the previously created computing tool. On this last phase, both the geology and computing teachers help the students with any geological or programming related question.

The selected geological problem was the Classification of Rocks. The students are presented a classification method based on binary questions (two possible answers, YES/NO) which can be implemented in terms of complex/nested If-Then-Else statements. The exercise introduces some new geological concepts and serves as a test-bed for the programming skills, and the students create a useful computer program that will be finally used to classify a collection of rocks.

Some interviews carried out after this experience showed that the students where satisfied with the exercise and that they had gained interest in the programming skills.