NAGT > Publications > JGE > Journal Articles 2001-2008 > JGE November 2004

November 2004 Journal of Geoscience Education

Volume 52, Number 5
Cover shot from Nov 2004 issue of JGE

What is Urban Geoscience Education?
Mark Abolins Department of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN
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Overcoming the Limitations of an Urban Setting Through Field-based Earth Systems Inquiry
Stuart Birnbaum Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, TX
Disconnection between students and nature in an urban setting thwarts student engagement and impedes geoscience teaching and learning. Conducting field trips is one way to engage students, but the urban environment does not provide an ideal setting with respect to the availability of appropriate field sites and safety. A field-based inquiry project focusing on Earth systems and system interactions overcomes the obstacles imposed by the urban environment by permitting teachers to focus on student observations and student initiated research questions rather than solely being limited to the use of text and laboratory activities. Using a problem based learning model, students make observations in the field to compile a matrix addressing "What do I know?", "What do I need to know?", and "How or where do I get this information?" This latter question guides student activities for subsequent visits to the field. This approach is not limited to specific field sites and enables teachers to utilize local community facilities such as neighborhood parks. Qualitative data support the conclusion that a field-based Earth systems inquiry approach is a valid pedagogical strategy in an urban setting, one that engages students and instills more positive student attitudes.
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Urban Watershed Studies - An off-campus Site in the Built Environment, Northern New Jersey
Richard R. Pardi Department of Environmental Science and Geography, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ
Michael J. Sebetich Biology Department, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ
Karen Swanson Department of Environmental Science and Geography, William Paterson University, Wayne, NJ
The donation of a relatively large tract of essentially open space surrounded by urban and suburban development at a short distance from the main campus of William Paterson University has created an opportunity for the development of courses and research focusing on the urban watershed. We have been in the process of developing new courses and modifying old ones to fully exploit the potential of this site for hands-on inquiry based instruction. The laboratory facilities will serve as a focal center for urban watershed studies involving university students, environmental groups, and local K-12 teachers.
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Placing Urban Schools at the Forefront of the Revolution in Earth Science Education
Daniel Barstow Center for Earth and Space Science Education, TERC, Cambridge, MA
Harvey Z. Yazijian Center for Earth and Space Science Education, TERC, Cambridge, MA
Space-age technologies have revolutionized Earth science, but this revolution has yet to extend to Earth science education. Urban schools, however, can be at the forefront of reform because cities offer a wealth of opportunities and resources for study. By relying on publicly-available aerial and satellite perspectives of urban areas and tapping into ground and historical data and easily used visualization tools, students can understand their cities as dynamic, interconnected systems of human and environmental forces. Using the powerful views of astronaut and satellite imagery to study Los Angeles, for example, students can acquire skills of inquiry, analysis and problem solving as they learn how the city is shaped by its environment, climate and geography. Themes for urban Earth science studies include regional ecology, climate, water resources and transportation. In engaging students in Earth science studies of their metropolitan areas, schools can meet critical goals of state frameworks as well as of the National Science Education Standards and the National Geography Education Standards. Educators can present Earth science in a way that is relevant and accessible to students, helping to forge a science-literate public and placing urban school districts in the vanguard of Earth science education.
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Models of Inquiry-based Science Outreach to Urban Schools
Paul G. Harnik Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY
Robert M. Ross Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY
A primary obstacle to urban precollege geoscience education is limited access to inquiry-based geoscience experiences that are engaging and relevant to students' lives. Opportunities are reduced by the common misconception that the geosciences are less relevant to urban audiences and by the financial limitations of many urban school districts. The Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) developed two outreach programs for urban elementary school classrooms. Collections Connections engaged students in the natural sciences through the collection, curation, and exhibition of natural objects found in a local urban park. Devonian Seas involved students in authentic paleontological research through data collection and analysis of fossil samples. Grant-supported outreach programming reduces financial obstacles to participation and allowed the PRI to reach diverse audiences that may not otherwise have contact with museum educators. Evaluations of the PRI educational programs have identified four pedagogical approaches integral to successful outreach in urban elementary schools, and precollege classrooms more broadly: 1) providing students with opportunities to observe real fossil specimens catalyzes learning; 2) local examples connect classroom content to students' everyday lives; 3) interdisciplinary topics are a springboard for teaching across curricula; and 4) authentic research experiences teach students that science is something they can do.
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Overcoming Challenges of Teaching Earth History Classes for Teachers in a Rock-free, Urban Environment
Douglas W. Haywick Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL
Lee S. Yokel Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL
Memory Wedgeworth Flomaton Middle School, Flomaton, AL
Instructing university-level Earth history to future teachers is made all the more difficult when it is being done in an urban environment devoid of any local rock outcroppings. At the University of South Alabama, which is located along the rock-free central Gulf Coast, we have attempted to improve Earth history instruction to education majors by using a three-pronged approach: (1) designing a course specifically for students intending to become science teachers; (2) encouraging students to think "locally" when designing geological teaching activities and (3) offering future teachers relevant field excursions and directed research opportunities. Our main objective is to demonstrate to new science teachers that geology is all around them, regardless of their location. It is this philosophy that we wish them to communicate to their students in the public school system.
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Urban Earth Science In Milwaukee Wisconsin
William F. Kean Geosciences Department, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee WI
Tracy J. Posnanski Department of Curriculum and Instruction, School of Education, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee WI
Jane J. Wisniewski Trowbridge Elementary School, Milwaukee WI
Todd C. Lundberg English Department, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee WI

Earth science topics are always in the news and are ever present in our life. Yet earth science is frequently given poor or uninviting coverage in K-12 schools because of lack of expertise and/or for an apparent lack of local importance. With this in mind, individuals from the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee (UWM), the Urban Tree House Project (UTH) and Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) have collaborated to provide earth science materials for pre-service and in-service teachers that center on the earth science resources of Southeastern Wisconsin. These include field guides to local parks (particularly the Lake Michigan shoreline), web based virtual field trips, instructional videos, information on the local geologic environments and soils studies.

The collaboration allows for similar instructional strategies and content presentation for both in-service and pre-service teachers through programs sponsored by UWM. The collaboration is being well received by all the stakeholders involved. The MPS teachers are energized by the newly discovered resources in their own urban backyard. MPS students are exposed to real-life applications of earth science. Pre-service teaching students appreciate the field experiences they have in class and the connection to MPS curriculum standards that helps make the learning experiences more meaningful.

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Teacher Workshops Using Geoantiquities: Case History of Modern Great Salt Lake and Pleistocene Lake Bonneville Shorelines, Utah
Genevieve Atwood Earth Science Education, Salt Lake City, UT
Alisa Felton Park City High School, Park City, UT
Marjorie A. Chan Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

A teacher workshop uses the shorelines of Utah's Wasatch Front to teach concepts of shore processes and climate change, and incorporates the concept of geoantiquities in the teaching approach. Geoantiquities are precious archives of Earth systems history. Modern shorelines of Great Salt Lake and Pleistocene shorelines of Lake Bonneville record changes of climate and environment. Urban development can obscure or destroy important shoreline evidence. During the workshop of outdoor learning, teachers observe shoreline evidence, first at Antelope Island State Park and then in urban neighborhoods. Field experiences alternately expose teachers to obvious and subtle shoreline evidence; modern and Pleistocene shorelines; and pristine and urban shoreline exposures. Teachers tie concepts of shore processes and climate change to curricula they already teach. These include themes of change and constancy, and science concepts of the water cycle. Teachers summarize the past 35,000 year history of climate change at their school as content-based literacy projects.

The concept of geoantiquities influences the workshop by calling attention to the scientific, historical, and educational value of geologically young landforms, and illustrates how the present is a key to explaining the past.

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Geoantiquites: Concepts and Applications for Education in the Urban Landscape
Marjorie A. Chan Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Holly S. Godsey Department of Geology & Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

A geoantiquity is a natural record of Earth history that documents environmental change. Geoantiquities are typically expressed as classic geomorphic landscapes shaped by surficial processes such as moving wind and water, erosion, and deposition. The geoantiquity concept is patterned after the model of cultural antiquities and involves developing and implementing strategies to identify, evaluate, and conserve threatened geologic landscape features. The case study is an area of rapid urban growth along Utah's Wasatch Front, where geoantiquities associated with Pleistocene Lake Bonneville are in danger of being removed, covered, and/or altered. The geoantiquities are either a part of the urban landscape or are in close proximity to urban areas, and can thus serve to educate the community on Earth processes and how to balance the natural systems with the urban environment.

Education is an important venue for implementing geoantiquity conservation because people are more likely to want to preserve what they can understand. Our approach to education includes: a) community involvement and outreach; b) field-oriented teacher workshops; and c) hands-on classroom demonstration kits. In all three of these educational efforts, individuals learn what geoantiquities are, how to recognize them, and their societal and scientific value.

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Geoscience Education for Realtors, Appraisers, Home Inspectors, and Homeowners
Edward B. Nuhfer Center for Teaching and Learning, Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID
As urban development encroaches onto less suitable sites, knowledge of the connection between the ground beneath one's home and the home itself becomes increasingly critical to the homebuyer. General geology courses usually fail to teach application or the information retrieval skills needed to make the connection. In Colorado, a focused course to inform Realtors and their related professionals of the value of geology proved also to reach their clients. Course organization conveys concepts through a hierarchical framework of reasoning, starting with science and its methods, then geology as a science of materials, process, and change-through-time, then geology as a profession with an information system and public service sector, and thereafter selected content. Realtors and their allied professions want to understand pertinent geology. Through experiencing the connection between land and structures in their work, the resulting curiosity makes Realtors ideal students for the instructor who can impart practical application to lay professionals. The National Association of Realtors is the largest professional society in the world, and it has more political influence than any geoscience society. Educating these professionals is a way to bring the value of geology to a wider spectrum of citizens and public officials.
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Connecting Urban Students with their Rivers Generates Interest and Skills in the Geosciences
Suzanne O'Connell Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
Joseph Ortiz Department of Geology, Kent State University, Kent, OH
Janet Morrison Department of Chemistry, Trinity College, Hartford, CT

Two different enrichment programs for urban high school students from the Greater Hartford Area of Connecticut were conducted during the summer of 2002. They were designed to expose students entering the tenth grade to Earth Science as a problem solving science in a challenging and supportive atmosphere. This was done by focusing on understanding watersheds and water quality using primarily chemical techniques on samples collected from the Connecticut River, it's two Hartford area tributaries (the Hockanum and Park Rivers) and coves and ponds adjacent to or feeding into these rivers. Students worked in groups of one to three and all gave presentations of their results (data and interpretation) on the last day. Student faculty ratios that did not exceed three to one provided close supervision and individual attention.

The majority of the students found the programs a positive experience. Students stated that they had developed a greater appreciation for science, the rivers in the Hartford area, and the issue of pollution and how it relates to them. The majority indicated that the program would help them in subsequent science classes and that they would like to continue to participate in the program the following year. All of the students said they would recommend the program to another student interested in science.

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A Student-centered Regional Planning Group Activity for Non-science Majors
Mark Abolins Department of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, TN
An authentic regional planning public workshop activity was modified and used to introduce the Earth surface portion of an Earth Science lecture course. Undergraduate non-science majors completed the activity during the Spring 2003 semester at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. Most activity participants lived within incorporated areas in one of America's most rapidly urbanizing metropolitan statistical areas (Nashville, TN). Participants completed the activity during three fifty-minute lecture periods and a small part of a fourth lecture-period, and worked in eight-student groups during two-thirds of the activity. They applied map-reading skills and learned about the local environment while forming opinions about how the region should grow, exploring the potential consequences of their preferences (for both developers and the environment), and making judgments about the relative importance of various environmental challenges and hazards. A participant survey showed that most supported the continued development and re-use of the activity, as well as the development of one to three additional three-lecture-period activities. Activities like this one may better-serve students who like to learn through face-to-face interactions with peers and teachers.
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