by Dean Moosavi, Education Programs Coordinator at the Geological Society of America
About this time last year GSA began revising its programming for K-12 teachers and the future citizens that these teachers help prepare for life. An upcoming series of education-related blog posts is meant to share GSA’s journey to build a program, currently titled GeoTeachers, to help fill the gap in geoscience education besetting so many of our primary and secondary school programs which becomes the first and biggest bottleneck inhibiting creation of a geoscientifically literate citizenry with an ample supply of geoscientists at all levels of society.
GeoTeachers starts by recognizing the reality facing most teachers and the schools they teach in. These teachers and schools have relatively regimented teaching schedules and limited financial resources. Unlike college faculty, K-12 teachers cannot just cancel class or ask a peer to cover for them to miss a week of school to attend a conference or join a field trip during the 10 months of the year in which school is in session. To reach most teachers, our efforts must be targeted to summer break and staying local to minimize the cost of travel.
American public education and its curriculum are determined at the state and local level. While national efforts such as the Next Generation Science Education Standards have influence on the local standards, the local focus remains in nearly every jurisdiction in the country. That means a teacher in Florida and teacher in Oregon are both going to be tasked with teaching geoscience content, but with an emphasis on the subjects most relevant to their community and its local examples. The Florida teacher can tie in naturally to the formation of carbonate rocks, coastal reefs, karst landscape formation and the impacts of climate change on sea level and hurricane strength, while her colleague in Oregon will address the diverse rock structures created in subduction zones, coastal erosion on active margins, the dangers imposed by tsunamis and volcanic eruptions and the impacts of climate change on water supply and off-shore and terrestrial ecosystems. Meanwhile, their colleague in Iowa will address how marine rocks and coastal structures formed so far from an ocean his students have never seen while exploring past and future climate change impacts that created Iowa’s rich till-based farmlands and which threaten to bring a future without corn and soybeans due to shifting rainfall patterns.
GeoTeachers seeks to bring a geologic workshop to the environment where the teacher and students live, providing local examples of rock outcrops and geologic processes that the community not only lives with but may actually be based around. The local approach allows GeoTeachers workshops to draw on partnerships with local government agencies involved with land management, hazard mitigation and resource extraction allowing teachers to understand how their community interacts with the geology of the region. Further, by exposing teachers to geoscientists working in their community, the teachers gain an appreciation for the diversity of skills, workplaces and skills that geoscientists employ which they can pass on to their own students.
A GeoTeachers workshop is designed to run at the state level drawing teachers from within four hours of home by car to a central location, usually a university campus or geology field camp, with dormitory and dining hall facilities capable of supporting 45 – 90 teachers for a week of activities. The campus provides inexpensive accommodations and a home base from which to run day trips with coach busses or vans to explore the geology within two hours distance. The geology explored will depend upon what the local environment has to offer.
GeoTeachers draws it strength from the diversity of its volunteer field trip leaders and instructors. The experience of our 25,000 academic, government, professional geologists and geoscience educators helps bring expertise on local geology, regulation, hazards and industry to these workshops. The balance of experience and voices from the academic, regulatory, research and industrial work environments insures that teachers get a balanced view of the geology and human interaction with the environment to bring back to their classrooms. As with GSA field trips at annual and section meetings, GeoTeachers workshops draw on the same field guides, peer-reviewed publications and data sources and combine them with practical knowledge and day-to-day experience of the instructors in designing and implementing the field trips. The geoscience educators and master teachers involved with the workshops have the special role of insuring that our materials and program are made as relevant and useful to K-12 educators as possible.
Much as GeoTeachers workshops are focused on getting teachers out into the field, the reality is that most teachers will use the information we share in classroom environments. Each workshop will feature one or more keynote speakers on a topic relevant to the geology or a resource issue of the host location as well as overviews of the regional geology that are more easily understood from the comfort of a classroom with projected slides. Similarly, part of each GeoTeachers workshop is reserved for quality time in small group sessions where teachers and an expert instructor can interact on a subject of the teachers choosing with direct application to the classroom. These 90-minute short courses give participants the chance to explore new methods of teaching plate tectonics using Google Earth, or rock and mineral identification, or details of seismicity, etc. in hopes of giving teachers lesson plan ideas and materials that are close to ready for their actual classroom environment. After leaving the workshop, teachers will have the opportunity to participate in webinars designed to share ideas on translating what they have learned into the classroom environment.
So beyond the chance to see fantastic outcrops, visit facilities not normally open to the public, hear experts from diverse economic sectors speak on the local geology why should teachers spend a week of their summer in such a workshop? From a purely practical view, GeoTeachers workshops provide an opportunity to gain the continuing education credits (CEU’s) needed to maintain certification and even low-cost graduate credits for those whose career plans and contracts would benefit from such options. More importantly, GeoTeachers field workshops are not meant to be one-time affairs. GSA’s goal is for GeoTeachers workshops to become an annual event in the states where they occur. The workshop location can move from place to place over time allowing new teachers to explore their local geology and for repeat attendees to gain an in-depth understanding of the geology of their state and region over time. It has been said that the best geologists are those that have seen the most rocks. GeoTeachers is meant to help teachers not only see a lot more rocks, but also gain insight from the shared experience of GSA members who have seen even more rocks than the teachers will likely have occasion to see.
GeoTeachers workshops are open to all who would benefit from them including: private school teachers, home-school parents, informal educators from scouting programs and museums, as well as pre-service teachers and university instructors seeking additional experience in this area. You can join the GeoTeachers list by filling out the Google form for Participants. Similarly, GeoTeachers is a great opportunity for professional GSA members to share their love of their science and profession with others. Interested professionals should fill out the Google form for Staff .
Registration for the first round of GeoTeachers summer workshops in Arizona and Colorado are now open for registration with early registration deadlines set for 1 May. A mini-workshop tied to the GSA Annual Meeting in Indianapolis in November will open for registration 1 July. I will have more to share about the itinerary and short courses for the individual workshops and other GeoTeachers-related programs in future blog posts, so please stay tuned to the GeoTeachers webpage and here on Speaking of Geoscience for future updates. If you have more immediate questions or comments please do not hesitate to reach out to me at GSA headquarters.
Dean Moosavi is the Education Programs Coordinator at the Geological Society of America based in Boulder, Colorado, firstname.lastname@example.org. He has served as a lake surveyor, K-12 teacher and geoscience educator at all levels of academia. His teaching and research focus include place-based education, pre and in-service K-12 teacher training, coastal geomorphology and boreal/arctic biogeochemistry. Dean served as a volunteer with the Minnesota Mineral Education Workshop for 17 years before coming to GSA.