31 October 2009

Accretionary Wedge #21: Earth Science Outreach

Posted by Jessica Ball

Happy Halloween! I hope you all are having a fun day of candy-and-costume-filled spookiness. And speaking of playing different roles, Earth scientists wear one hat in particular that’s very important: the Outreach Hat!

That’s why the subject of this month’s Accretionary Wedge was Earth Science Outreach. This October has been a big month for Earth science: we’ve had Earth Science Week (a yearly event), a national Geological Society of America meeting in Portland, OR, and a DonorsChoose challenge on ScienceBlogs (Geobloggers Giving Kids the Earth), sponsored by geobloggers Kim Hannula, Anne Jefferson, and Erik Klemetti.

But individual Earth scientists do just as much to show others why our work is important. Read on to find out what!

To start with something I’ve already mentioned, we have Earth Science Week, a campaign for Earth science awareness and education that’s been run by the American Geological Institute for more than a decade now. Silver Fox of Looking For Detachment wrote about some Earth Science Week activities in Nevada this year, and has plans to get even more involved next year. I’ve had some experience with Earth Science Week myself – before I started grad school, I worked for AGI for a year as their Outreach and Education Assistant. Part of my job was to help run the Earth Science Week program, so I’ll admit I’m a bit of a biased advocate. But one of my favorite parts of the job was getting to visit classrooms and talk about what it’s like to be a geologist; the photo at left is from one of those visits to my old elementary school in Virginia, where I’m trying to convince the students that scientists spend a lot of time writing. (I hope they believed me!)

Geobloggers spend time in (and out) of other people’s schools as well as their own. Dr. Ian Stimpson (AKA Hypocentre) at Hypo-theses has written a lot about his Seismology for Schools project in the UK, which is is “coordinated by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and involves the donation of seismometers to schools to help promote geology and geophysics in the classroom”. This is a great way to get students (and their teachers) directly involved in geoscience research – and who doesn’t like to jump up and down next to a seismometer once in a while? (The US has a similar program run through Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology [IRIS]). Garry Hayes of Geotripper writes about his own experiences with a program at Modesto Junior College called Science Educational Encounters for Kids, where local fifth graders visit the campus every Friday to get “an experience in science. Budget cuts in school systems across the country have made it difficult for teachers to give their students even a basic introduction to the sciences, and volunteering is a great way to make sure that students don’t go through school without the tools to understand their world. Florian Jenn of EffJot has posted about a similar program being run by the Brandenburg Technological University in Germany, where the Environmental Geology department holds practical courses for secondary school students. FJ’s students have done some projects in environmental geochemistry and hydrology – have a look!

Earth science outreach happens outside of a school setting as well, whether it’s through a visit to a museum, field trips, short courses, or teaching others to teach geoscience. Pascal of Research at a snail’s pace spent time trying to make the University of Wisconsin Geology Museum – and specifically its Burgess Shale exhibit – a little easier to visualize. (A good thing, since most of them were so hard to figure out that they got stuck in a genus called Hallucigenia!) Over at Geology Happens, we get to hear about opportunities for K-12 teachers and students to explore the Colorado Plateau. Since the Colorado Plateau was where I had my first real introduction to field work, I totally agree with the closing comment in that post: “You can’t beat walking the mountains with a bunch of kids and just let the rocks tell their story.” Lockwood of Outside The Interzone agrees – he’s been leading field trips for years! I’ve heard over and over that the way many people get hooked on the Earth sciences is through field trips – there’s just nothing to beat the sensory and intellectual experience you get in the field.

Finally, it’s important to remember that Earth science outreach isn’t just about showing people how wonderful the geosciences are – it’s about providing opportunities to those who wouldn’t necessarily have them. There are schools all over this country (and others) where teachers are incredibly dedicated to their students’ education, but just don’t have the means to
teach them about science. Good tools aren’t cheap, as anyone who’s ever swung a rock hammer will know. That’s why the ScienceBlogs Donors Choose Challenge was such a hot topic this month. Kim Hannula of All of My Faults Are Stress Related was part of the team who sponsored a challenge for geobloggers and their readers, with the goal of funding geoscience-related projects for classrooms in need. And it was a resounding success! Kim’s post says it all: “October’s over tomorrow, and the geobloggers’ challenge has raised more money than any other challenge here at Science Blogs. $8,288. 40 donors. 1218 students reached. Last week, I had to go searching for new geoscience-related projects to support, because so many of the original projects had already been completely funded.” Bravo, geobloggers! And remember, just because the ScienceBlogs Challenge is over doesn’t mean the projects still don’t need funding – go check out the geobloggers page and see who still needs help!

Thanks for everyone who contributed to this month’s Accretionary Wedge – and thank you again for all the Earth science outreach you do, no matter how you do it! (Even through blogging…) As always, if you’ve got a late contribution or I’ve missed anything, leave a link and I’ll add you on.

There’s still no one hosting the Wedge for November, so if you have an idea, leave a comment at Who’s hosting the next Accretionary Wedge? (and step up and volunteer some more, if you feel like it!)