Skip to Navigation | Skip to Content

Academics: Interim courses

Earth Science for Educators: Montana Field Experience

Course structure (offered in odd numbered years)

GEOL 112 - Earth Science for Educators is an introductory geology (Earth Science) course based in southwest Montana (the Big Sky State). It fulfils the GEOL/GEOG 120 requirement for Integrated Science majors and minors, and emphasizes outdoor, field-based investigation and learning. The course is a 2-week immersion experience in geology, and will begin immediately after Calvin commencement. Students will be introduced to the breadth of geological study leading to responsible Christian appreciation and stewardship of the Earth, including rocks and minerals, landforms and surficial processes, geological hazards, and natural resources. In addition, the course is taught from the perspective of utilizing much of the content in one’s own classroom as a future teacher. Field activities are an important part of each day and the field experience complements morning class activities and lab. Southwest Montana offers superb geology and is within driving distance of outstanding geological localities including Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming) and Craters of the Moon National Monument (Idaho). As a graded course, quizzes and exams will cover lecture and text, and students will be required to complete lab assignments, complete all class activities, and will construct their own rock and mineral collection for use in their future classroom.

Who should apply?

This introductory course is designed for outdoor-oriented students new to geology who wish to take a course specifically designed for future teachers and are attracted to a cooperative living and learning experience. We encourage applications from all education students, who can use this course as a springboard to teaching natural science in their future classrooms. The cost is very low for an off-campus course because room and board are provided to us at no charge thanks to a gracious and generous supporter.


Students will fly from Grand Rapids to Bozeman or Billings and will normally arrive on the Monday following Calvin's graduation for the start of the course. (We encourage students to fly with the group from Grand Rapids. In past years, complicated travel arrangements have resulted in difficult logistics, duplicated and unused tickets, and a less than smooth start of class.) West coast students may wish to continue travel westward after the course and not return to GR. Some students may choose to drive private vehicles to the ranch location. A strict 24/7 no driving policy after arrival at the course location will be enforced during the course for private vehicles. Violation of the no driving policy during the course is considered adequate grounds for dismissal. If you drive or arrange your own airline ticket, you will probably receive a partial refund since we will not purchase an airline ticket for you, but we must know this far in advance of ticketing arrangements.

Location and facilities - Gainey Ranch, Dillon, MT

  • a 6000 acre ranch, rich in wildlife and waterfow
  • magnificent view of the Big Hole River and mountains.
  • 25 miles from Dillon (pop. ~5000) with all needed facilities, including a hospital
  • 6 bunkhouses with separate buildings for men and women (Bedding is provided)
  • separate bath/shower building
  • spacious main lodge for meals and classroom
  • game room: billiards, ping pong, fuzeball
  • softball field/basketball court
  • miles of seldom-used road for walking/jogging

Gainey Ranch is open to us through the generosity of the Gainey family and a desire to use their ranch to provide spiritual nourishment, and an appreciation of God and His good creation. Room and board is provided to us without cost. Our conduct and behavior while guests of the Gaineys must be consistent with the purpose of their ranch. We will likely have small chores to do and chore assignments will be made onsite.

Two longer excursions during the course will visit Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho as a daytrip, and Yellowstone National Park as an overnight trip at the conclusion of the course.

Course requirements

The course is a geology immersion experience with major emphasis on field learning and discovery. The course is two weeks in length and classes will be held each day Monday through Saturday for a total of 12 class days. On Sunday we will attend a local church in Dillon, have lunch in town, and have the rest of the day for personal or study activities at the ranch. On a typical day during the week, breakfast will be at 8 am, followed by devotions and 3 hours of class work/activities and lab work. We will break for lunch and leave most days at 1 pm for a field location that complements the topic of the day. We will return from the field at about 5:30 and in time for 6 pm dinner. No activities are scheduled after dinner, but students will usually be busy finishing assignments, reading, or preparing for quizzes and exams.

Since this is a graded course, students will be tested on their knowledge and ability to use what they have learned. Each day of the course equates to about a week of normal classroom activity on campus, and the pace of the course is fast with new topics introduced each day. Students will have about 7 hours each day of geology instruction compared to about 5 hours each week for a campus-based course (lecture plus lab). A course textbook is required and reading assignments will be given.

Field situations will involve light to moderate hiking in what could be cold, rainy, or even snowy conditions. Usually, May and June are very pleasant in Montana with temperatures cool at night and in the 60-70’s during the day, but exceptions frequently occur. Be prepared for variable weather and bring a can-do attitude that allows you to enjoy the field experience even when conditions are not perfect. Field work is also an experience in discovery and each visit to even well known localities reveals new or overlooked aspects.  With guidance, students will be encouraged to identify rocks, minerals, and landforms on their own or in groups and share their results during group discussions on the outcrop. Students will be required to keep a field notebook and record their stops and observations. The field experiences will often be free-flowing and students should be prepared to use their own initiative, enthusiasm and interaction to evaluate and discover the field relationships. Opportunities for strenuous hiking are available during free time. 

As part of the course work, students will assemble a mineral and rock collection for use in their future classroom. In addition, daily annotated sketches of outcrops and geological structures may be required. These projects will be viewed and graded at the end of the course.


The course is taught by professors from the Geology, Geography, and Environmental Sciences department at Calvin.  Ken Bergwerff is the primary instructor for the course while Dr. Sparks is the primary instructor for the Big Sky course. Both courses will run most field trips simultaneously.  Professor Bergwerff can be reached at and Professor Sparks can be reached at

Tuition and fees

For purposes of tuition, an Interim in May course can substitute for either a preceding or a following January Interim, thereby requiring no extra tuition. If you wish to not pay extra tuition, you will need to sit out the January Interim before (preferred) or the January Interim after the Earth Science for Educators course. The Office of the Registrar monitors Interim enrollments and if you sign up for too many Interim classes, they will charge for extra tuition. You may also take Earth Science for Educators as a Summer Session class and pay applicable Summer Session tuition. Tuition has been about $510 a credit, and Earth Science for Educators is a 4 credit course.  If you choose to take this as a Summer Session, you need not sit out a January Interim.

A fee of $1350 is required to cover airfare, rental vehicles, and other costs of the course. In addition to the fee, students should be prepared to pay for occasional light meals that will be taken on the road (perhaps $40). Several meals, entry fees into parks and monuments, and two nights lodging in Yellowstone will be covered by the course fee. A refund will be made to students if significant funds remain unspent.

Next offered: This course is offered in May of odd-numbered years.

How to apply

1. Go to the off-campus programs (OCP) website and follow the instructions.

2. The recommendations are normally from professors at Calvin, but if you are a freshman and feel you don't know any professors, a recommendation from a high school teacher will be acceptable.

3. Email Prof. Bergwerff when the application has been completed..

4. Also bring a check for $400 as a nonrefundable deposit towards your expenses. Prof. Bergwerff will hold the checks until February 1 so they are not confused with the January interim monies. If you drop out before March 1, you will receive a refund less the expenses incurred to that point and a $40 administration fee. After March 1, there are no refunds.

5. Prof. Bergwerff will review the applications with the Registrar in order to enroll you in the course.

6. The remaining cost of the interim course will be charged to your miscellaneous account on April 15, and due by May 1.