The 2015 Geoscience Education Academy

A guest post from Natasha Cowie. Natasha has just finished her GCSEs and plans to read geology at University, and hopefully enter the field afterwards.

Natasha Cowie 3

Natasha (foreground) with some participants of the Geoscience Education Academy

I was probably around 8 years old when I began to make a small collection of different rocks that I found when my family and I went on our summer holiday to Pembrokeshire, Wales. Back then, I didn’t realise what I was doing, but as I grew older and learned more I discovered my love of rocks.

My interest continued during my Geography GCSE, where I learned more specifics, and how to tell the difference between different rock types. It wasn’t until I had to choose my A-levels that I realised geology was what I really wanted to pursue.

The Geoscience Education Academy

29 Selfie_460x280

Participants of the 2015 Geoscience Education Academy










After completing my GCSEs I was giving an opportunity to help out as an assistant at the Geological Society’s Geoscience Education Academy. This is a course to help secondary school teachers with their geology teaching, aimed particularly at those who have no background in the subject.

It was a little daunting to be the only 16 year old – I think all the teachers were a little confused as to why I was there! They made me feel very welcome, though, and having just finished my GCSEs, I was able to act as their target teaching pupil. This meant they could ask me whether I liked the activities we were doing and whether they would be suitable in class. And having just finished my exams, I was able to follow the geological concepts fairly well.

Day 1

2 Pete Intro_460x280On the first day, we listened to talks about plate tectonics, how to teach geology, and geological time. To demonstrate the Earth’s timeline, the instructors used loo roll which showed when the major events happened. It put into perspective how much has happened in such a small space of time more recently, compared to the beginning of time. (A downside was that my job was to roll up two loo rolls – not something I plan on doing again…)

Natasha Cowie 1Later on, we went to the Natural History Museum to look at the different fossils found in sand samples from Ireland, France and Sweden. Looking at fossils through a microscope was a new skill for me. It was amazing to see the different shapes and pick out those unique to each sample.

Having grown up in London, I’ve been to the Natural History Museum many times on school trips and for recreational visits, but it was the first time that I had been ‘behind the scenes.’ I was able to see the diversity of people who worked there, how they were so passionate about researching their specific areas and so keen to help us learn more.

Day 2

13 Urban Fieldtrip_460x280We went on an urban geology field trip which started in South Kensington at the Albert Memorial, looking at the granite used to make it.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of 30 teachers pressed up against a monument, using magnifying glasses to look at the formation of the different crystals that make up the granite. A few tourists were very confused – one American woman even asked me what was happening!

We then moved on to look at the limestone used to build Holy Trinity Church, just around the corner from the Albert Memorial. Using a magnifying glass I was able to see layers of fossils that I would never normally notice, and we could tell that the rock had been formed in a marine environment.

15 Urban Fieldtrip Green Park_460x280Our next stop was Green Park Tube Station, to look at the fossil moulds left in the limestone. It looks like a modern design (actually, a modern artwork representing the fossils has also been carved into the rock!) but the limestone is actually 150 million years old. The moulds are the impression of creatures which had once lived in the Jurassic seas in which the sediments which form the limestone were laid down.

Our final destination was a diamond store opposite the Ritz Hotel, to look at the granite used to decorate its exterior. Comparing this to the Albert Memorial granite showed that the rock can come in many different forms, and can be formed by many different minerals.

19 bp_460x280We then returned to Burlington House, to meet some representatives from BP. They explained how they look for oil and gas reserves, and how they determine which site would be the most beneficial to the company by looking carefully at the rock and its surrounding area. This was particularly interesting, as it showed me what I really want to do in the future.

23 Iain Stewart_460x280To close the day, Professor Iain Stewart came to talk about Istanbul – this made me realise how broad a subject geology can  be. He talked about how to raise awareness amongst the citizens of Istanbul of the magnitude of the overdue earthquake there, and what its effects would be. How modern blocks of flats are being built that can potentially home up to 4,000 people, but are not reinforced securely. If an earthquake did hit, they would become instant death traps.

The subject of Istanbul brought up many questions, both ethical and scientific, and proved how dangerous our world can be.

The future

8 Magnetic Balls_460x280Being in a geological environment showed me how much I want to be a geologist. Everyone was so welcoming and interested in what I was doing, and why I was so interested in the subject. I will always remember how chilled out everyone was, but also how passionate they were about their subject.

It also made me realise how much I don’t want to be in an office every day, but out in the field discovering new things. I found out a lot more about using geology after University, and how I could get to where I want to be. I took on lots of different advice, which I will be referring to when I look for University places.

18 Walking with dinos_460x280After my two days at the Geological Society, I was more aware that geology is not just about fracking and looking at rocks – its about so many different things; dinosaurs, mining and minerals, fossils, earthquakes and more. And so, during the summer I was able to return to Pembrokeshire with a geological map of Britain, pick out a rock and distinguish not only what kind of rock it was, but also when it was likely to have been formed, and how it got there.

I really had a wonderful time, and encourage anyone who is interested to get involved with geology and learn more about the subject – those few days have made me want to study and explore even more.

Geology rocks!

  • The 2015 Geoscience Education Academy ran from 23-26 July – visit our website to find out more.


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