I thought taking Physical Geology would be fun. Good for me. A knowledgeable experience. I chose a Bachelors of Science because I’d rather learn about the Earth than spend 4 semesters in a foreign language I’ll never really master, and probably forget the moment I graduate. So, I signed up for Geology, because rocks.
Do you remember in grade school, how they would teach us Sedimentary, Metamorphic, and Igneous rocks? I always loved that unit. I love staring at the cliffs lining highways and the crazy lines running across the cut faces. I thought I could handle this class….after all, it’s 10x better than Biology.
Oh how wrong I was…
My TA looks like Glenn from The Walking Dead. This is the only thing going for him, in my opinion. He’s awful at teaching. He doesn’t answer questions, and when he does, he tells me in vague replies that don’t suit my learning style at all. I need you to show me the difference between Fracture and Cleavage on a rock and explain why it is so. Half the time, we ask him a question about a rock, he picks it up, flicks it around a bit, then tells us “this is a nice specimen. good cleavage.” or something like that, then walks away. Knowledge gained=zero.
On the first lab day, he informed us that we would be having a Midterm Practical the week before Spring Break (TODAY). He didn’t lie to us at all. Apparently less than half the entire Physical Geology class (all sections included) passes the Practical. Now, help me out here….WHY WOULD YOU CONTINUE TO GIVE A TEST THAT NO ONE CAN SEEM TO DO WELL ON? I’ve heard of professors like these who love to watch students retake their classes again and again. I even know of one who dresses up as Satan on test days. Why.
Upon realizing the test was a week away, I immediately set out to make my trusty flash cards. I figured that if I could memorize how to characterize the rocks and minerals before tutoring on Friday, I could go in, get some pictures in my head to match the characteristics, and continue studying over the weekend. I did just that. I felt so good about everything after tutoring! I had been studying twice a day all week, had the rocks and minerals pretty much down, and I still had two more days to go. Then came Saturday. My brain was tired…I couldn’t handle the flashcards. Sunday….no flashcards. Today, I resigned myself to whatever fate was in store for me. If I knew it, I knew it. After a weekend of seeing flashcards with Dolostone, Calcite, and Gneiss pop into my head with little information to follow, I was ready to be done with my Practical.
As I waited outside to be called in alongside lab mates and students from other labs, I heard a group of girls discussing the Practicals they took last year. Because, you know, they didn’t pass last year. Because this class sucks. My lab group was shocked to hear the test would not be multiple choice after all. (HE. PROMISED. MULTIPLE. CHOICE. Damn it Glenn!!!) I set down my flash cards and stared at the wall until I was called. Resigned.
There was no way I could have been prepared for this. This Practical might seem easy to majors who have spent they’re entire college experience categorizing rocks, but not a lab of non majors who only meet once a week for 2 hours. Every week we were introduced to a new batch of about ten rocks with a new batch of characteristic terms and identification tools. I’ve spent a month in this class, there was no way. At each table there were about ten different rocks with one or two questions associated with them. Some were naming, some were about technical texture terms, some were about placing the rocks on the Hardness scale.
At one point I got to a rock that had two questions to it. I don’t remember the questions. I think I only answered one. I remember dropping to eye level with the rock and staring at it for a long time, because there was no way for me to characterize it. My brain had failed me for at least the twentieth time in that hour. To me, it was just a rock. It had no name other than rock. Because, in all honesty, that’s all they are. They’re rocks. You pick up a rock on the side of the road, and it may be comprised of minerals with names, but this was just a rock. I could have seen this very rock in my front yard back home. There was absolutely nothing special about it….so I sighed, stood up, and moved on.
Not much later, I was on the final table. I picked up a rock and immediately knew it was Hematite. Two questions belonged to this rock, to which I knew the name of. Do you know how often I absolutely knew the names of the rocks and minerals during that test? Once. Hematite. You want to know what questions belonged to Hematite? Not “what is the name of this rock?” I can assure you. I knew it was Hematite. I didn’t know its economical uses or whatever the second question was. At that point, I wanted to begin writing all of the knowledge I had gathered on my answer sheet, because I have knowledge in this class. I know things. That….I didn’t know. It frustrated me to no end. I moved on.
Halite, Calcite, and Quartz look very similar. Calcite bubbles in acid and Halite tastes salty. I’ve tasted Halite before, just out of curiosity, but I wasn’t going to lick it in the middle of my Practical. So I stared at it for a minute or two, playing Einie-Meenie- Minie- Mo in my head. (Get ready to be proud, mom) Then I remembered “You can see daylight through the Halite”, decided this mineral was clear enough to be so, and wrote it down. That’s about as confident of an answer as I was gonna get on that test.
I left a few blank. I guessed on too many. I probably only got a handful right out of fifty questions. The point of this pitiful story is….don’t take Geology if you don’t have to. It’s not just Sedimentary, Igneous, and Metamorphic anymore.