Monday, May 24, 2010

a Geo-Image Bonanza AW 25?

This month's Accretionary Wedge is all about geo-images, specifically one image that means something to you (or actually me) and the science of geology.

My image is taken from the needles section of Canyonlands National Park. The vantage point is on a pass between two small drainages. You can see the bulk of the Abajo Mountains, the cliffs of the Canyon Rim area, one of the six-shooter peaks and the red and white striped Cedar Mesa formation. This image has it all. The Abajo mountains are one of the laccolithic bodies that can be found on the Colorado Plateau. With elevations over 11,000 they catch a bit of precipitation which provides the water to carve these magnificent canyons. The Canyon Rim wall is made of the Kayenta, Wingate and Chinle formations. These three rock units are a wonderful example of how the past climate here has changed from desert to underwater. Six Shooter Peak, (Wingate and Kayenta) not only has a decidedly Western name, but is an example of erosion here in the arid west. The Cedar Mesa formation, another aeolian deposit, shows how the source material can change how the rocks look today.

Most important, to me, is that this image has a story to tell. Currently, I travel around the Intermountain West doing field trips on my own, I sometimes feel like those movie-prospectors with a map, compass, rock hammer, GPS and my old note book wandering around in the canyons. Most of my geology talking is now done in front of elementary and middle school kids and their teachers. My theme is always that the rocks have a story to tell and it is up to us to pull out the story.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Taking 3rd graders into the field

One of the objectives in 3rd grade science around here is to see examples of each rock type. What better way to that than by taking the kids out to see the rocks in situ (and even take home a sample or two)

The day started in the classroom with a quick reminder of the parts of the rock cycle. Once we established the names of the three main rock types, it was time to head for the buses.

The big yellow taxi took the 2 teachers, 4 chaperone's, 32 school kids and 1 geologist up into the nearby mountains. Once in place, I showed them some local sand stone and limestone and then asked the kids to examine the rock and describe what they saw. My goal was to have them see geology as a descriptive and interpretive science so we stopped a number of times so the kids could look at the bed rock or pick up pieces of rock. You just can't stop a bunch of 8 year olds from picking up rocks!

We ended the day with a hike up to an outcrop of the Uncompaghre formation and a view across the valley of a pretty nice unconformity. Here the entire class is pointing towards the missing billion years of earth history.

We ended the day by telling the story that we heard from the rocks.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The JASON Project: Operation Tectonic Fury

About once a year I get invited to Washington DC for the annual training of the newest JASON project curriculum. JASON has been around for many years. The early years were site specific, where they would mount an expedition, invite a few kids and teachers along and then invite the middle schools of the world to join with some live video feed from far flung locations.

The new JASON is more curriculum based. Before this year, the new JASON curricula consisted of weather, ecology and energy. This year I was excited to see the roll out of the newest Geology based JASON curriculum: Operation Tectonic Fury. The idea behind all of JASON is that we need to get middle school kids excited about science. JASON writers team up with scientists who are working on some pretty interesting stuff and then share this cutting edge research while developing the building blocks of the science. In this case, the researchers are examining crystal growth, soil formation in the aftermath of volcanic eruptions, looking for candidate locations for carbon sequestration and creating more detailed maps of the ocean floor. As the writing begins, a group of students, called "Argonauts" are picked from applications from all over the world. The Argonauts, accompanied by Argonaut teachers then visit the research areas where a camera crew video tapes lessons that pertain to the "unit" being studied.

Because JASON is a part of National Geographic and has partners the likes of NOAA, NASA and Oak Ridge labs, the research is fascinating and the product is excellent.

However, in my mind what sticks out as best in the whole JASON experience are the hands on labs that are created for each concept. In this day of school budget being slashed, the labs must be inexpensive to replicate but still must show the concept being taught. Too many times in my career have I seen labs that don't clearly show the concept being taught. Not here. The labs are inexpensive, easy to do and make a statement about the concept being taught. In Operation Tectonic Fury, labs ranged from the simple rock and mineral identification to modeling convection currents in the mantle resulting in moving plates and exercises with both relative and absolute dating. The IT department has also made some fantastic online games for all the JASON curricula. I am sure the teachers play these games as often as the kids do.

Everything JASON does is designed to help kids discover scientific concepts through inquiry. It does a good job.

I wanted to share my experiences with the rest of the geoblogosphere and invite you to visit the JASON site at All JASON materials are free! Send this along to any 5-8 grade teacher you might know.