Education / Events

The 2018 Geoscience Education Academy

The Geoscience Education Academy is a four-day CPD workshop for UK secondary teachers which ran from the 24-27 July 2018. Work experience student Dion George tells us about his time helping out at the GEA…

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Geology as a standalone subject is unfortunately becoming quite a rare occurrence in schools. Many of today’s students only have the opportunity to learn about geology during geography classes where they might learn about plate tectonics, sedimentary processes and climate change. The Geoscience Education Academy (GEA) is a place where teachers can get up to speed with their knowledge of geological principles. They can then return to their schools as experts with the confidence to teach geology in an engaging, relevant and interactive manner, igniting the interest of students and hopefully motivating them to study geology when they leave school.

The GEA four-day workshop is an opportunity for geography and science teachers to consolidate their geological knowledge and stock up with teaching resources, classroom activities, presentations and ideas. This year had all the ingredients for an exciting and inspiring GEA; a ‘washing line of time’, an urban geology fieldtrip around South Kensington and Piccadilly, a microfossil session at the Natural History Museum and many informative talks ranging from outer space rocks to the Earth’s core and much besides.

IMG_1258[1]The week started off with an introduction to the study of the Earth and a date matching exercise, the ‘washing line of time’. In this activity teachers were tasked with matching key evolutionary events to the geological timescale. The teachers then went on to enjoy a tour of the Geological Society’s 200 year old premises, viewing the famous ‘map that changed the world’ and the magnificent library. Do you know your Cambrian from your Carboniferous? Pete Loader, Chair of the Education Committee at the Geological Society, gave the day’s final talk on geochronology; the dating of rock formations and geological events.

The following day brought the excitement of an urban geology field trip. Hats and sunglasses donned, we set off for our first stop at the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Here we classified the granite bases and found coral remains in the flagstones. Then it was onward to the Holy Trinity with All Saints Church where sedimentary stones yielded tiny ooliths and fossils, visible through the teachers’ hand lenses. The next stop on our fieldtrip was Green Park Underground Station. Built using Portland roach, the station facade is awash with trace fossils including the famous Portland Screw that is over 150 million years old – I’ll never see that station the same way again! Mappin & Webb Jewellers shop on Piccadilly was our final trip destination. Teachers used their hand lenses once again to inspect the granite columns, finding large crystals of feldspar and veins of pyrite, or fool’s gold. Some teachers couldn’t wait to do their own urban field trip when they got back to school!

After the fieldtrip, Pete Loader illustrated the melting of rocks in the lithosphere with a nice hot cuppa, and Matt Loader gave a talk on climate change; the science behind the theory and the role of of geology in keeping global temperature rise under 2°C. An important talk that will help the teachers present this serious topic to students in a holistic and factual manner.

‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ may be an entertaining movie but it is fraught with geological errors! These myths, and others relating to mistakes made by examination boards, were debunked by Pete Loader on the Thursday morning of the GEA. His presentation on plate tectonics gave us a better understanding of earthquakes, how they occur and the types of waves that are initiated by them. Students are always excited when it comes to dinosaurs and Ian Kenyon’s dinosaur footprint activity made sure teachers could take that topic well within their stride!

After our morning session we headed to the Natural History Museum where we discovered the amazing world of microfossils. Under the supervision of Adrian Rundle we quickly became highly skilled micropalaeontologists – able to deftly isolate the tiny shells into our own microfossil slides. This practice, we learnt, is important in fossil fuel exploration, where microfossils are used to relatively date rocks from drill cores. After our workshop we headed back to the Geological Society for an evening lecture. Dr Caroline Smith, Principle Curator of Meteorites at the Natural History Museum, gave us a spellbinding talk on ‘rocks, rockets and robots’ that left teachers lamenting on the relatively small topic of outer space in their respective syllabi.

The final morning came around all too quickly, but you could have forgotten the time with Matt Loader’s mineral exploration game. In this activity Matt guided us through how to select multi-million dollar potential copper mining sites using various geological mapping data.

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At the end of the four days, the teachers left the GEA feeling enthused about geology. They were now feeling confident about teaching geology to their students thanks to all the talks, classroom activities and the wealth of resources given to them in their resource pack. I would like to thank Matt, Pete and Ian for their unbounded enthusiasm and inspiring presentations that energised us and increased our understanding of the importance and relevance of geology. Their wealth of knowledge and dedication to the discipline of geology was certainly an inspiration to us all. Amy, the event organiser, deserves special mention for her coordination of the four-day workshop, it is safe to say that without her the GEA would not have been the success it was. I also extend my gratitude to all at the Geological Society for making it a welcoming and hospitable environment, and thank them for rubbing off their passion for rocks on the rest of us!

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