Education

The 2017 Geoscience Education Academy

The 2018 Geoscience Education Academy will run from 24-27 July 2018. Find out more about the GEA and how to apply here!

A guest post from Declan Miller, who attended the 2017 Geoscience Education Academy as a student representative.

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Declan (left) competing in the National Schools Geology Challenge in May 2017 with his Aylesbury Grammar School team mates

Whilst competing in the 2017 National School’s Geology Challenge, I learnt about the opportunity to take part in work experience during the Geoscience Education Academy. With plans to go off to study geology at university in October 2017 it was a fantastic opportunity to refresh and build upon my geology knowledge. That opportunity, coupled with the chance to spend a week working in the historic building of the Geological Society, Burlington House, meant it was one I could not turn down!

The Geoscience Education Academy took place from the 25 – 28 of July 2017. It’s aim is to give secondary teachers the geoscience knowledge and resources they needed to teach students, like myself, who are fortunate enough to have the option of choosing geology for GCSE. However, the GEA is not only for geology teachers – any teacher looking to bring geoscience into their school through part of a club or in other related subjects such as geography and science, would have found it an incredible and valuable experience.

Day 1

Our first day began with a welcome address and some time to get to know all of the teachers on the course. Following a brief introduction on geology, there were talks focused on time and the incomprehensible lengths that we must go back in order to explore our geological past. Fun demonstrations using toilet paper visualized these lengths and a ‘washing line of time’ put major geological events in order. In the evening, we had a tour of the Geological Society, visiting the Upper Library and the Map Room as well as being told about the history of the society. We were given a talk about William Smith’s famous geological map by Ted Nield, Editor of GSL’s Geoscientist magazine.

Day 2

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Microfossil workshop at the Natural History Museum

On the second day, an early start began with talks on planetary geology and information on how Google Earth can be used as a valuable geological resource in lessons. Additionally, a talk on dinosaurs provided some activities to determine the length of a dinosaur and the speed at which it could move, from only footprints. In the afternoon, we all met at the Natural History Museum for a microfossil workshop. During the workshop we used microscopes to examine samples of different sediments to pick out microfossils and then made our own slides containing these fossils. It was incredible to see the fossils under the microscopes appearing from what looked like plain samples of beach sands and mud. Having made multiple microfossil slides, we were then allowed to explore the Natural History Museum. This now contains the fantastic specimen of Hope the whale, which may be slightly less geological than Dippy the Diplodocus, but was still equally as impressive. The vault within the museum was particularly interesting as it contained a selection of incredibly valuable and shiny mineral specimens which, along with the huge collection of rocks, makes a fantastic attraction for any geologist.

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Hope the whale in the Natural History Museum’s Hintze Hall

Day 3

The third day started with some ‘urban fieldwork’, which took us on a tour of the building stones of South Kensington and Piccadilly. We started our fieldwork at the Albert Memorial, exploring the crystalline base of the four corners. Here we began to make observations in our booklets on whether the rock was clastic, from which we would observe the size, shape, and sorting, or whether it was crystalline, from which we observed the size and orientation. Our next locality was the façade of the Holy Trinity with All Saints Church. Here we used our hand lenses to get right up close to the rock and observe the small ooids and fossil fragments within the rock. A short tube ride to Green park station brought us to the third site which was the station itself. The fossils within the station were magnificent and it was surprising how easily tourists and commuters could pass by without noticing. Finally, we stopped at Mappin & Webb to observe the crystalline columns. The variable size and euhedral shapes of crystals allowed us to interpret the many different conditions the rock (which turned out to be Shap Granite) must have formed in. The urban fieldwork taught us that through observations of building stones you can discover a rock’s geological history as well find out about the diversity of geology within our very own cities – there is plenty to see within plain sight!

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GEA teachers making observations of the Portland Stone limestone at Green Park tube station

After a busy morning, there was a series of lectures featuring some microscopes demonstrated by Zeiss who had generously helped sponsor the event. The microscopes were particularly impressive as they had the ability to cast the image from the microscope up on to the screen for everyone to see. The pairing of all the microscopes with a simple phone/tablet app was also demonstrated as an incredible classroom resource.

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GEA teachers enjoying the oil exploration game

Later on, we took part in an oil exploration game where, within our own groups, we evaluated evidence to decide which sites to explore and bid for oil. Once more this was a fantastic example of the variety of activities perfect for classrooms and ideal to encourage an interest in those wishing to study geology. In the evening, we were fortunate to have a pre-dinner lecture by Professor Joanna Morgan from Imperial College London. This focused on the evidence for an asteroid impact resulting in ‘the day the dinosaurs died’. Having spent years researching the evidence, it was fascinating to learn all about this extinction event and to appreciate how much we can learn from events that happened millions of years ago. A buffet dinner followed in the Lower Library with fantastic food provided by the Geological Society.

Day 4

Our final day featured more talks focusing on climate change, a particular interest of mine,  followed by many “freebies” and resources which were incredibly useful for all the teachers. A final geology quiz in teams concluded the 4-day long competition, with my team coming second. We were very pleased with this result but I believe everyone had had a fantastic time competing in all the activities as well as the talks. A final lunch to send us off concluded the event and further demonstrated the hospitality shown by the Geological Society who I would like to thank for everything they did over the four days. Being such a fantastic location in the centre of London added to the whole experience, providing the opportunity of learning in a place which has been key to geology for over 200 years. I would like to personally thank Ian Kenyon, Pete Loader and Matt Loader for their incredible teaching and running of the event as well as Liz and Amy for organizing the event. Without these people the event would not have been able to run and each provided a fantastic experience for everyone who attended. I am so grateful for being able to have the opportunity to study geology at my school and with events like these many others will be fortunate enough to do the same as I have.

Update: I now have my confirmed place to study Earth Sciences at University College, Oxford this October and I know that much of what I have learnt from the Geoscience Education Academy will be incredibly useful in my studies.

The 2018 Geoscience Education Academy, a free 4-day long workshop for secondary techers, will run from 24 – 27 July 2018. Applications are now open so make sure you register online to book your place!

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