JIM GIBBS: It's, indeed, an honor for me and a privilege to be able to be
with you today and spend this brief time. This is one of my favorite duties as
Chairman of the AAPG Foundation, something that gives me enormous pleasure. I
have the privilege of introducing to you a very special person who has been
named this year's AAPG Foundation Teacher of the Year.
As you know, the AAPG Foundation annually rewards teaching excellence
through our Teacher of the Year Initiative, which recognizes a K through 12 teacher
within the United States who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in the
field of geoscience education. Geoscience education is enormously important to
the AAPG Foundation. It's really a big part of our mission, and I know it's why
a lot of you support the foundation with your gifts and your contributions.
This year our finalists were selected from not only those who have already
won Teacher of the Year Awards by their respective sections, but also included
at large nominations from around the country. And that meant the competition
for this year's awards was intense and at a very high level.
The winner of our top prize receives a $6,000 award from the foundation, a
prize that is divided evenly with $3,000 going to the teacher's school for
educational purposes that are administered under his or her supervision and
then $3,000 for the winning teacher's personal use.
The winner also gets an expense paid trip to two to receive the award, and
that moment is about to occur. Joining the ranks of the AAPG's Foundation
Teacher of the Year is Laura Branch, a geologist who is now a science and AP
environmental science geology teacher at Ernest Righetti High School in Santa
Laura received an associate degree in geology from Santa Barbara City
College. And by the way, they have a great program there. They have been
inspiring geologists in giving them their first steps towards a profession for
decades, and a bachelors degree in geology from San Diego State University in
1996. She later received a master's degree in education with an emphasis in
teaching from the University of California in Santa Barbara.
I'll let her talk a little about her journey from geology student to
educator, but I can tell you that her love of geology started as a young girl
when her family visited such places as Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon,
Mount Shasta. Geology became her first love, and that love continues to this
day. But teaching and helping young students to experience the same level of
geology and here soon became an equal passion for her as a professional and her
creative and inspiring talents that have brought her to this moment.
Her peers describe her as being the most passionate, driven, and motivated
teacher they have ever met, and they praise her for continuously incorporating
her geologic life into her lesson planning. She travels frequently, bringing
back to her students new stories of adventures, newfound knowledge, in rocks,
She routinely and creatively encourages students to learn about natural
resources and the Earth's processes with her philosophy of inquiry-based
experience. By incorporating geological features and the environment that
shaped her home State, students that study both the deposition of gold and
placement, approximately 65 million years ago, and the deposition of oil before
the coast ranges existed and the importance of the San Andreas fault to the oil
traps of their area.
She's also praised as a consummate team player, tirelessly lending her time
and expertise to improve science education throughout the entire school
district. She has contributed to the development of multiple curriculum maps
and countless science lessons, all of which she shares. Maybe it's because she
gets to teach about geology, a subject she loves. Maybe it's because her
ability to connect with students is inspiring to them as it is to her peers.
Whatever the reason, the fact is she is an award-winning teacher who is
making geology come alive for a new generation of potential geoscientists, a
geologic Renaissance woman, if you will, combining her love of the Earth with
an unending passion for education, and we couldn't be more proud to introduce
her to you today.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking the 2019 AAPG Foundation
Teacher of the Year, Laura Branch. Laura. Good to see you. Thank you.
LAURA BRANCH: Thank you.
JIM GIBBS: Take some pictures.
LAURA BRANCH: Looking around the room here, this is the biggest class size
that I've ever had to work with, and it's large even by California's standards,
which are usually averaging around 32 students per science classroom. And I
think I might be about 360 students more than I'm used to here, so hopefully,
this goes well.
Anyways, looking around the room this afternoon, I'm trying to decide how
long I'm going to be speaking since a wise teacher named Bob Tierney once told
me that the time that a person can truly concentrate is actually have their age
in minutes. Does this mean I have a normal seven minutes or less that I have
with my freshman general science class, or does that mean that I have the eight
minutes that I usually have with my junior-level geology class?
Or do you think that I can get a whopping 25 minutes before I lose your
focus and all of you just get up and walk away and go get another drink? I
don't know if anybody here is part of the Facebook geologist drinking beer
page, but anyways.
I want to give a big thank you to everyone here and to the AAPG Teacher of
the Year Foundation and the Selection Committee for all the support for my
getting this award and for your support of geoscience education. I also want to
give a big shout out to Audrey-- is she out-- there she is-- because she's had
to field all of my emails since March, and I've had a lot of them.
Geoscience education is really important, whether it's for petroleum
geology, environmental geology, climate change, or even for a student to figure
out where the best place to live is during graduation. And my first slide here
is actually my geologic map that I have in my classroom that the district
actually wants to take down to put a giant screen TV. But it has all of the
earthquakes in the conterminous United States, and I had some little people in
there, but they didn't show up.
But I always tell my students to pick their disaster, whether you want to go
earthquakes where we live or tornadoes, which I think somebody at my table was
under tornado watch in Oklahoma, or flooding, or nor'easters. And in seriously,
where I teach in Santa Maria California, we have this housing complex called
the River Homes.
And the reason is because the houses are literally built in the river, and
the kids are always shocked to hear about this, and it's kind of fun to watch
them contemplate about liquefaction issues due to earthquakes since we live
along the bench portion of the San Andreas fault. So they always run to me if
we have a little earthquake. Oh, my gosh, liquefaction.
Anyways, my passion for geology actually started at an early age, so there I
am. And my parents didn't have a lot of money to take us on luxurious field
trips, so they packed up us five kids in the car, and we'd drive across the
United States, whether it would be Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon or Mesa
Verde or Colorado Plateau, Mount St. Helens. And my favorite place would be the
eastern Sierra Nevadas and mammoth area.
And we actually didn't see very much in Texas, and so I was really, really
glad to go on Tom's following the water trip yesterday. I don't know if Tom's
in the room today, but it was awesome. And at Santa Barbara City College, I
finally took my first geology class because the guys in the department were
really, really cute, and because we got to go and cool field trips. It was
mostly the cool field trips.
But little did I know that 20 years later, I would still be hooked. There's
nothing better than sitting on the Sierra Nevada Mountains and learning about
the gold mining there or learning about the Sierra Pelona shifts along the San
Andreas fault. So they would take us everywhere.
And I can say that I'm freaked out by height, so there is something better
than going out on open oil derrick that you guys all do in high winds. It's
been there, done that, and don't want to do that one again. And I'm glad that I
didn't have to use the Whitaker. Do you guys-- OK.
The best thing about all these experiences is that I get to bring them back
to the classroom and share my passion with my students. Yes, I still break for
road cuts, and I really did get to see a great white shark suddenly attack and
eat a sea otter while looking at an ophiolite field. It was amazing, and the
teacher made us all get back into the van because nobody would look at the
ophiolite field anymore. So it was like get back in the van.
Anyways, as a teacher, my job is to get the students to be college and
career ready so they have the skills and the passion to work for industry
partners like you. How do I accomplish this? By sparking their interest in
science. And over the past 20 years, I've worked to get geoscience to be a
mainstream science. And my bucket list has always included getting my geology
course to weigh the same as a chemistry class as far as our UC system was
concerned and also gaining concurrent enrollment in our local community
college. And finally, this year I got to cross those off my list. I actually
heard about it on Thursday about the concurrence. So I was really, really
excited. Thank you.
And as you can tell just like these little kids in Peru that perseverance is
one of my strengths. And yes, she has a turtle as a car for her transformer.
That is kind of funny. I was like, wow, that's pretty-- and she was just
pushing it across the floor. And those boys are actually boating across the
mile-wide Amazon River to get to school, and they made the canoe, so yeah.
So what is the key to being an effective teacher? Having a sense of humor in
the classroom. And the best advice that I was ever given for teaching came from
my advisor, Dr. Lynnette Cavazos, at UC Santa Barbara. She said, the moment
that you lose your sense of humor is the moment that you need to find a new
career. So based on these pictures right here, you can tell that I've had some
pretty hilarious days, and yes, it was stinky. And I think one of them actually
did barf doing the L palette.
So what's next? As an educator, I've always tried to stretch myself and take
on challenges. A few years ago, I decided I didn't know much about ecosystems
in the environment, which is pretty important when I was planning my
environmental pathway at my school.
So I found myself on a plane to do just that in the Amazon rainforest in
Peru. This is how I met the educator Academy of the Amazon rainforest Director
and this Amazon Academy is for teachers to learn about rainforest, global
climate change, and agro sustainability.
It was an awesome experience and life changing. And it was a way that I was
able to get my kids to do something called citizen science projects and learn
about data collection and analysis techniques, which is going to help when they
go off and work for all of you.
So based on this trip, I've worked with Maijuna community. I've met the Bug
Chicks. If you don't know who they are, you should totally look them up because
they're really, really funny, and I eat a termite, actually three of them, and
they're surprisingly minty. And I accidentally wound up in the advanced birding
boat with the author of the book, Birds of Peru, so there we are. And by the
way, I still hate birds. I really like rocks. I don't really like birds.
And throughout this whole project though, even though it's inspirational and
it's awe inspiring, I found that the program was actually lacking in two
things, natural resources and geosciences education. And so this is how I ended
up being their cohort leader for the high school teachers in the community, or
in the program, and on their Advisory Council for the Morpho Institute that
they actually just started up. So I thought that was pretty cool, and it's
really hot in the Amazon, so my colleague would be mortified that I put that
picture in there, but I was hot.
So teaching geology is my passion and my legacy, and my other passion is my
family. And as most of you who are also rock lickers know that your friends and
family have probably had to move rocks from the field to the front doorstep.
And my family had to also endure not only moving those rocks, but also endured
about lessons on turbidite sequence in clastic dykes when they just want to
look at the normal scenery like a normal person. But no, we have to stop the
car, and they're like we don't want to go in Branch's car anymore.
Anyways, and I want to give a special thanks to my husband, Brian, so he's
my plus one for there and because without him I would not be where I am today.
And he has always supported me on my endeavors wherever they may be and he has
had to hang out with teachers in Hawaii and in the rainforest. And I think that
if you ever talked to him, he got bit by a nocturnal wasp, and it was quite the
experience. We were all laughing in the boat, but he wasn't.
And also he's had to go to some boring teacher conventions too. And he even
helped me, along with our kids, to schlep one of your swag bag prizes today,
which is actually our State rock of serpentinite. And he's actually begging you
to please take them all home because he doesn't want to have another incident
with TSA like the time that he accidentally brought five kilos of Peruvian salt
in his carry on, and he got pushed aside. And I got pushed aside the other
side, and I think he got drug tested a lot. So anyways, you can ask him about
it. We were there for a while.
Speaking of swag bags though, if you're anything like my students, someone
has already likely opened the dinosaur swag bag that's on your table. And if
not, you can go ahead and open them now. There should be one at everybody's
table. And I like to bring science to the classroom, and so I did the same for
you. And my poor kids had to do this really big STEM project with them.
So what we did is my students created 1 to 40 scale classrooms to see if they
could take refuge from a charging dinosaur. We then created 1 to 40 scale
models of ourselves, complete with crazy geology puns. And I took out the ones
that were about cleavage because I was like, no, you guys, this is not going.
There were a lot of them.
Anyways, a STEM project at its finest, and everyone at your table gets to
take home one of my students, so there you go. And I think if they were one of
the language learners and it says on the back this was a language learner or
this was a resource student. And you also get to take home a dinosaur eraser,
so don't eat them-- they're little dinosaurs-- a dinosaur pencil, a tattoo, and
a sticker. Don't fight amongst yourselves. But whoever touched the swag bag
first gets to keep the dinosaur pen. My kids love dinosaurs.
So yeah. And the person at your table-- and you guys can all figure this
out, because I know in my class who has the shortest attention span. But
whoever has the shortest attention span gets to keep the egg dinosaur grow pet.
And whoever you determine at your table is the wisest or has the longest
attention span, doesn't really mean that they're the oldest, but the wisest,
you get to keep the serpentinite because seriously, my husband does not want to
take them home.
So thank you, again, for all of your support, and thank you.