geologic treasures in Canada are the perfect settings for spreading
the word to the public. The Dinosaur Park Formation, deposited 76.5
to 74.5 million years ago, consisting of coastal plain sediments.
Photo courtesy of Royal Tyrrell Museum
In August, earth science teachers and geologists --
those intrepid enough to complete the 12-mile, round-trip hike with
a 2,500-foot elevation gain -- visited the Burgess Shale, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site, as part of the GeoSciEd IV conference held
in nearby Calgary, Alberta. In order to maximize the opportunity
for educational cross-pollination, the field trip was co-led
by a geologist and teacher.
"Geologists and teachers are worlds apart," said Godfrey Nowlan,
chair of GeoSciEd IV. "Our role is to bring them closer together
... I think that its very important for the two professions
to respect each other; the cultures are so different."
GeoSciEd IV, scheduled every three years, is the official meeting
of the IGEO, the International Geoscience Education Organization.
GeoSciEd IV provided an international forum for earth scientists,
teachers and researchers of earth science education to meet each
other, and to share new ideas and concepts in science and education.
This summers meeting boasted 160 speakers from 27 countries
who gave keynote addresses, present oral and poster sessions, and
led field trips for the 260 delegates. The educators are as diverse
as the global community from which they originate -- grades K-12,
post-secondary and tertiary institutions, museums, science centers,
grass roots groups and geological societies and organizations, to
name just a few.
Calgary proved an ideal venue -- it's located at the transition
between the Plains and the Rocky Mountains, is home to Canadas
largest concentration of earth scientists and is the heart of the
nations oil and gas industry.
EnCana Corp. and ConocoPhillips Canada stepped up to the plate
to sponsor GeoSciEd IV. EnCana, recognizing the need for science
teachers to attend the conference -- especially those working in
rural areas with limited budgets -- offered financial support to
teachers from its rural base of oil and gas operations in the provinces
of British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan.
"From our perspective, on the home front, hopefully well
have teachers that understand the complexities and the balance that
we face everyday," said Dick Wilson, EnCanas senior advisor,
office of the president.
Nowlan, a Calgary-based geologist with the Geological Survey of
Canada, attributed the success of GeoSciEd IV to his core group
of 20 to 25 volunteers who worked tirelessly during the past few
years to make it all happen. Nowlan was proud of the fact that the
local organizing committee raised sufficient funds to sponsor 100
percent of the elementary and high school teachers who applied for
full and/or partial subsidies.
Also, his organizing committee was able to fund 30 percent of the
registrants who applied from developing countries.
'An Art Form'
Nowlan and his volunteers themselves learned a lot about teaching
"I think that its been a real eye opener for the scientists,"
explained Nowlan when describing how teachers, children and the
general public view the Earth. "Teachers look for ways in which
this view or feature can be used in the classroom. The simplification
of science becomes an art form."
Nowlans committee took advantage of the four United
Nations UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Calgarys backyard.
Getting geologists and educators together in the field to see geology
in action was key.
Each field trip was co-led by a geologist and an educator. Those
- Dinosaur graveyards in Dinosaur Provincial Park.
- The Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology.
- The Badlands.
- On Top of the World: A Geological Transect of the Canadian
- The Frank Slide.
- The Athabasca Glacier.
- Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump.
- The Burgess Shale.
Participants also benefited from Albertas vast repository
of publicly available cores and drilling samples at the core research
facility in Calgary run by the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board
(AEUB). Volunteers from the AEUB and the Canadian Society of Petroleum
Geologists (CSPG) designed an "underground" tour for teachers to
study the producing reservoirs of the Western Canadian Sedimentary
Two half-day core seminars were tailored for K-12 and for post-secondary
educators. Teaching aides for the seminars included cores, drilling
samples, well logs, cross-sections, maps and depositional models.
Participants also received "take away" materials and some fun --
yet effective -- ideas to use in the classrooms.
Diversity and creativity were two terms that could describe the
activities and approaches that surfaced during the conference.
Eric Riggs, a geophysicist and assistant professor of geoscience
education in the Department of Geological Sciences at San Diego
State University presented a paper titled "Native American Earth
Science Education and Indigenous Knowledge: Partnerships in the
San Diego Region of Southern California."
Through the Indigenous Earth Sciences Project (IESP), Riggs performs
community outreach to the La Jolla, Pala, Pauma, Rincon, San Pasqual,
Campo and Jamul tribes of Southern California.
The challenge, Riggs said, is how to combine Native American and
Euro-American ways of understanding the earth and her processes.
Riggs described the "cultural border crossing" that Native American
students deal with every day in school, and said his mandate is
to develop curricula that are relevant to the issues facing Native
He also provides scientific knowledge designed to assist Native
Americans becoming scientifically self-sufficient in managing their
sovereign territories and natural resources.
Riggss best results have come from working with Native Americans
in a field setting through the investigation of a real life problem,
like watershed management on tribal lands. He described the concept
of "place based" educational learning for Native Americans -- thats
when individuals have a psychological and geographical connection
to the land.
"Indigenous knowledge seems to be accessed more readily in the
field," Riggs said. "Youre tapping into -- and ultimately
validating -- their indigenous history."
"Ethnogeology," according to Riggs, is a term used to describe
how groups of people use the land today and in the past.
"Theres lots of good, empirical scientific data encoded in
mythology that has been preserved," Riggs said. "How do you unravel
If Miriam Fischer had her way, every elementary student in Germany
would be digging up his parents back yard, building ponds.
Fischer is a researcher with the Leibniz Institute for Science
Education at the University of Kiel, Germany. She presented a paper
titled "How to Develop a System Understanding of the System
Earth in Elementary School -- An Approach to Build Up a Better
Awareness of the Earth."
A geologist by profession, Fischer is designing new and innovative
"Our aim," she said, "is to develop good information for the teachers
on a low level so they can introduce science to the students.
"Teachers still have a little bit of fear of science," she added.
"They dont think that they can do it."
Fischer described introducing "cognitive conflicts" when teaching
elementary school students. For example, the concept of soil permeability
is demonstrated through the pond experiment -- the children dig
a pond (or create one in a sandbox in the classroom) in both a sand
and clay substrate. When they fill the pond with water, the pond
lined with the impermeable clay retains the water; conversely, the
permeable sand substrate absorbs the water.
She also described the cognitive conflict of differing densities
in rocks: To demonstrate this concept, teachers use pumice, a highly
porous rock, and granite, a dense rock. When the rocks are put in
water, one "swims," the other sinks.
Two natural disasters in the Philippines -- a serious earthquake
followed by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 -- galvanized
Miguel Cerna Canos interest in geology into a career.
Cano, at his third GeoScieEd conference, presented a paper titled,
"Earth Sciences in the Dark: Problems in Providing Earth Science
Education for the Visually-Impaired learners (Focus on the Philippines)."
Cano, who shared his research in Australia and the Philippines,
cited the World Declaration of Education for All, made 10 years
ago, which states that every person -- sighted or not sighted --
should benefit from educational opportunities to meet basic learning
"We isolate blind people," Cano said. "However, we really cannot
make decisions for the visually impaired."
Cano, the science department head at St. Stephens High School
in Manila, studies how the blind learn science -- in the classroom
setting and in science centers. He recently canvassed the two universities
in the Philippines who grant degrees in geology with the question:
"How do you feel about having a blind student in your class?
According to Cano, the professors were shocked, saying they were
at a loss of how to provide earth science education to the visually
"Its only when your raise these questions, that they start
to think," he said.
Cano has worked with the visually impaired in Australia where science
centers are not well equipped to handle disabled people, he said,
let alone the visually impaired.
Cano described how visually-impaired students experienced the simulation
of an earthquake -- a metal plate on the floor that starts to shake.
He also described how visually-impaired students reacted to holograms.
"The students moved with the hologram," he said. "They felt the
change of the movement.
"The visually impaired are very much focused," he added. "Therefore,
one sense could be very developed."
Heres to natural disasters.