6 November 2008

Getting dirty

Posted by Jessica Ball

This week has been a fun one in my intro labs – we’re doing a lab on rivers, and we get to play with the stream table. I’ve been pretty tired lately for various reasons, and I wasn’t looking forward to teaching labs, but I am now, because this lab is just fun.

It’s kind of amazing to watch a bunch of college students – most of whom are just taking the lab as a science requirement – get excited about something. It seemed like initially, they didn’t quite believe they could learn anything by “playing in a sandbox”, as one of the guys put it. But when I told them that the only thing I was going to do in the lab was turn the tap on and off, and made them get their hands wet and sandy and pruney, they started getting really interested. And when they reached the part in the lab where they got to design their own landscape and streamflow experiment, they were downright enthusiastic. Granted, the other TAs and I had a lot of fun testing out the table last week, but we thought that was just us being geology geeks. Turns out it wasn’t just us. Some of the students wanted to stay late so they could do more experimenting.

And that, I think, is one of the best parts of geology, especially when you’re just learning it. There’s memorization, just like any other class, and you have to learn how science works, but you also get to go outside or to a lab and get messy and watch it work and There will always be people who complain about getting their favorite shoes dirty, or not wanting to touch the mucky fossil you just pulled out of a streambank, or not wanting to lick the halite to test that it’s salty – but the ones who aren’t bothered by it have fun. And that’s great. There’s no better draw than showing someone that geology is a science where you can do the same sort of things that you did as a little kid – playing around in the dirt and getting wet and scraping your knees up – and still learn something.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, because the lab is mostly guys and I can definitely see potential for competition to build the coolest floodplain. I’ll have to clean up the mess at the end, but it will definitely be worth it.