Sunday, August 30, 2009

Accepted!!! GSA Here I come

Well I got accepted to GSA this year. Woot Woot. I actually wasn't expecting to get in, so I guess now I need to come up with a presentation. So as promised here is my abstract. The talk is on Sunday morning at 9:20 (I'm like one of the first talks).

From Dinosaurs to Volcanoes: Helping Students Learn from Hollywood's Mistakes

Entertainment is often, if not always to some extent, a significant element of effective education. In courses designed for non-major undergraduate students a significant challenge of teaching is how to get as much important information absorbed by the students in the most effective way. Usually this is accomplished via textbooks and lectures, but there are numerous other, more innovative ideas, that can work just as effectively. One approach is to take the bad geological movies that Hollywood seems so intent on creating and using them as teaching tools to show students what is and what is not possible in the real world of geology.

Since the beginning of the movie age, geology and paleontology have provided popular subject matter for the film industry. As early as 1905, Prehistoric Peeps offered an entertaining depiction of a scientist who dreamed of being chased by dinosaurs. For over a century now, movie directors have produced a plethora of movies in which humans are chased by bizarre prehistoric creatures and many other ways that Mother Nature and the Earth could possibly fight back against its human oppressors, all in an attempt to entertain the scientifically naive public. Although entertainment is the main goal, science education could also be a goal when the films are seen in the proper perspective with a pertinent scientific background. Unfortunately, movie makers will usually forgo any real knowledge of science to produce a “blockbuster”, but even the worst pseudo-scientific movies could be used as a teaching tool by the thoughtful and clever instructor. For example, despite their outlandish plot lines, Dante’s Peak could be used to teach students the actual sequence of a Plinian eruption, and The Day After Tomorrow could be used to teach students about dangerous effects of global warming on the Gulf Stream. The only thing that is needed while viewing the movie is for an experienced science teacher to direct the students’ minds to the appropriate concepts in order to demonstrate what is plausible fact or ridiculous fiction. By setting up a series of incisive research questions highlighting the scientifically accurate parts of the movie, it is possible to use even the least scientifically accurate geological movie as an engaging and effective teaching tool, instead of just a mindless and grossly misleading waste of two hours.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Accretionary Wedge #19 - Out of the Box Teaching Ideas

Teaching is a tricky thing. You want the students to learn, but you want them to learn in such a way that they can remember the information and reiterate it if necessary. The problem with many classes now-a-days is that teaching to most teachers involves standing in front of a lecture hall, reading off notes, based on a textbook, that the students have neither any desire to read and if they do happen to read, obtain little useful knowledge out of it. Granted this may be a bleak view of education but this is sometimes how it seems.
So this months Accretionary Wedge is based on this:

"What out of the box ideas do you use to teach people about geology or geological concepts?" No need to limit yourself on ideas you have actively used. If you have used it and you think it is good, great. Is it an idea you have worked up on and gotten ready but haven't had the chance to use it yet, also great (this is pretty much my scenario). What if it is just a theory that you think would be something different and cool, even better. Anything works, as long as it is "Outside the Box" (i.e. not your typical lecture and textbook approach).

And boy did we get a wide variety of ideas. Actually the ideas were spread out enough that made me think that different people use the different senses to try and teach. Anything from touch to taste was sampled and tried, and here are the results of our experiments (some experiments fall into multiple categories so I am only going to list it under the one that seems the most appropriate or fun).

Out of the five senses this is the easiest for people to take advantage of in teaching. We live in a visual world and geology is in part a visual science. With that in mind, several of my own teaching ideas have taken advantage of this including using geological movies as a teaching tool, (You can check out Part 1 of Dante's Peak) or using classic works of literature to introduce different geological concepts (like creating topo maps in Thoreau's Walden).

Kim over at All My Faults are Stress Related has gone in a different direction. Instead of blocking her student's use of the internet, she encourages it. She uses the internet and Google Earth to teach about volcanoes across the globe. She directs the students to pick one of several volcanoes and using Google Earth, they have to determine if there are recent eruptions and evidence of lava, ash fall, or mudflows. After that they can use the Global Volcanism Program to get other information available on the volcanoes including recent eruptions and the type of lava erupted.

Using hearing as a teaching tool is not a novel idea. Typically this is the principle learning technique used in lectures but there are novel ways that this can be used. Dr. Tony Ekdale had come up with a unique way to use sonification in paleontology. "In paleontology, it is possible to render various aspects of fossil shapes, such as cephalopod suture patterns or brachiopod commissure lines, as a series of musical tones that can be recognized easily by the human ear... Evocative sounds can generate vivid images in our mind's eye. For several centuries, natural sounds have been incorporated into art." He used the natural variances in suture patterns and other paleontological patterns to create differing audible patterns. Definitely a unique take on paleontology.

Out of most of the sciences out there, geology is one of the few where touch is the principle method of learning. You need to touch and look at the rocks, minerals, maps and so on to really get a grasp at what you are dealing with. With that in mind Lockwood over at Outside the Interzone has come up with several different methods where students can use their hands to create different Earth systems. Some of his highlighted activities includes creating a 13 meter (that's right, 13 meter!) 1:1,000,000 scale cross section of the earth to demonstrate convection. Another is using iron filings and a magnet to show "how magnetic inclination can be used to determine paleolatitude." He also links to the massive manual From Mountains to Monsoons that he helped work on with step by step instructions on how to complete these and several other activities.

Food seems to be a big motivation factor in alternative teaching. Christie over at Christie at the cape currently uses cake (that's right, mmmmm cake) to teach about deformation. "As it turns out, cake deforms elastically at low stress and non-recoverably (let's call it viscous) at higher stress. The students cut as many sample cores from the cake as they can. This leads to a bit of waste, invariably eaten, thereby increasing the general level of (blood sugar) excitement in the room. Load is applied by placing other food items (of labeled mass, e.g. small cans and jars) on top of the cake cores. The students measure the surface area of contact and calculate applied stress."

A bit fattening maybe, but an awesome use of baked goods. Another healthier example is brought to us by Ian over at Hypo-theses who wants to use "a banana as an analogue for rock deformation in general, and fault propagation folding in particular. Grasp an end in each hand leaving at least the central third free. Slowly move your hands towards each other. Initially the banana will deform ductilely, and actually thicken. After the initial thickening, the banana will start to fold." He accompanies these instructions with step by step pictures of a slowly deforming banana as well as a real life comparison to his mutated fruit. And when your done, you can counter act that sheet of cake you ate previously.

Smell is one weird teaching technique that is a bit hard to quantify so I determined that Callan's method from the NOVA Geoblog about using sweat stains as an analogy for ore bodies is the best "smell learning technique". It shows how "certain types of ore bodies are thought to be 'sweated out' from magma chambers as they intrude to shallow enough levels in the crust... These hydrothermal disseminated deposits end up in the pore spaces of surrounding rocks, or filling in cracks. This is kind of like how your body sweats out a solution of dissolved salts in water." Ewww, but definitely a fitting analogy, if not a smelly one. He also goes on to describe how peanut butter between bread can be used to show how igneous sills work and how a Mack truck can be used to show how exotic terrains can be accumulated by a drifting continent.
So although there is a preponderance of typical teaching methods in the geological education community, there definitely is no shortage of people with fantastic and a little wacky out of the box teaching ideas. And who knows, perhaps someday some of these examples will become the norm in teaching.
Make sure you check out next month's Accretionary Wedge being hosted by Dave over at cryology and co.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Too Busy

Sorry for the delay in posting this month's Accretionary wedge. I have been super busy with the start of school and I hope to have it up sometime this weekend. It is currently about 2/3rds done.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Teaching Geology Through Literature - Dorian Gray

Next up in the Geology Through Literature section is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. You can check out a downloadable packet at the site with directions, answers, and lessons learned. See just the directions and questions below.

Using The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

While seeming to offer no geological significance, several works can still be used to describe the beauty available in the natural world. One of those works is The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde where in one portion of the book the title character becomes obsessed with gems and minerals. This leads to a rather lengthy discussion and listing of several varieties of gems, minerals, precious metals, and a host of other things (some of which I still am not sure what are).

Project Description

Read Chapter 11 (around the middle of the chapter, begins “On one occasion he took up the study of jewels” of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. There are approximately 35 different varieties of gems, minerals, and precious metals mentioned in the text. The minerals mentioned in the text are listed out on the provided sheet.

(A website that might be of some use is:, but I recommend using Google and Yahoo! as a back-up as well, since that website does not always give the correct answers)

1. Several of the gems and minerals have multiple colors listed in the text. Write down the colors mentioned on the chart under the Color Variations column.

2. Several of the gems and minerals also list special properties in the text. Write down the special properties on the chart under the Special Properties column.

3. Gem names are often specific colored varieties of certain minerals (i.e. purple quartz is called amethyst). List what the mineral name is for the open boxes on the chart under the Alias column. (The red boxes I am unable to determine so I will not expect anyone else to determine them either. See Bonus Question 1.)

4. There are 4 different varieties of Quartz (or chalcedony, which is a variety of quartz) mentioned. What are those gems mentioned?





5. According to Mohs Hardness Scale, which of the minerals/gems mentioned are on the scale? (Fill in the blanks below, multiple blanks means multiple answers)
1 – Talc
2 – ___________
3 – Calcite
4 – Fluorite
5 – Apatite
6 – ____________; ____________
7 – ____________; ____________; ____________; ____________;
8 – ____________;
9 – ____________; ____________;
10 – ____________;

6. Looking at all the duplicates in the Alias column (i.e. garnet, quartz, etc.) what is the principle difference, other than color, between the different varieties of the same mineral?

7. What is the difference between Balas Rubies and regular Rubies?

8. Amethyst is mentioned that it “drove away the fumes of wine”. What did the ancient Greeks do with amethyst that helped corroborate this claim?

9. Which of the three gems mentioned are not inorganically formed but biologically produced?



Bonus (i.e harder than normal)
1. Fill in the dark red boxes for Aliases of the 3 unknown gems (aspilate, hydropicus, and meloceus) And if you do know what these are let me know as well.

2. What is the difference between Turquoise and Turquoise de la vieille roche?

Friday, August 21, 2009

Due TODAY!!! Accretionary Wedge

As I get ready to go off to my first day of school in 4 years with my backpack and my new school clothes I am reminded that today is the due date for the new Accretionary Wedge. Our back-to-school theme is Out of the box teaching ideas. So head on over to the original post and post a link to your entry. Any late submissions will be added as I have time.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Accretionary Wedge - Teaching Ideas

I just read an article by my advisor, Dr. Tony Ekdale, that fits perfectly into the new - Accretionary Wedge: Out of the Box Teaching Ideas - that I figured I would go ahead and mention it here.

The article is called Paleontological Sonification: Letting music bring fossils to your ears (clicking on the link will bring you to the full article). The article goes into depth on how to bring things like cephalopod suture patterns, trace fossil locomotion trails, and pelecypods hinge dentition patterns into an audible realm and allow the students to decipher subtle differences between different classes and species of an organism (or traces). The article is very in depth on how to do this as well as giving three real life lab examples and some of the students reactions to it.

Very interesting and a perfect example of what I wish to compile with this new Accretionary Wedge.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Reminder: ***Accretionary Wedge Deadline in 1 Week***

As I was reminded by Lockwood the deadline for the next Accretionary Wedge: Out of the Box Teaching Ideas is fast approaching (1 week from today, Friday Aug 21st). Please leave comments with a link to your submission on the original post Here.