A Class I’d Like to Teach: High School Geology

Continental divide.2
Visiting the Continental Divide with my sister and nephew.  At the time, we were mostly regretting the scarcity of oxygen at such a high altitude.  Eventually, we also appreciated what a cool geological feature we visited.

When I got to college,  I had almost no exposure to geology.  Sure, I’d taken Earth science in 8th grade but the sad truth is, my teacher that year was only a little more effective than a potted plant.  Fortunately my textbook was good, and reading it on my own was how I managed to do reasonably well on the regents.  It wasn’t exactly a revelatory education experience, though.  My high school had an excellent science department, but there weren’t any geology, Earth science, or environmental science offerings.  Thus, when I took my first college geology course I had no idea what to expect.

I was blown away.

Geology is fascinating.  The questions geologists have asked and answered are audacious.  Learning to look at landscapes through the lens of geology was perhaps the most profound intellectual experience of my university career.  (I considered changing my major, but decided not to because I was told that almost all jobs in the field are with energy and mineral extraction companies, and I didn’t see myself doing that work.)

So why do so many schools push geology into Earth science and send the whole package down to middle school?  I’m not really sure, but I suspect it is because much of science education at the high school level is ultimately oriented towards preparing students to enter medical careers.

I regularly teach some geology, in the context of Earth science classes, primarily to middle school students, and mostly geared towards the NYS regents.  These classes are great – my students generally love the material and do very well.  I’m glad I get to teach them, but I’d also like the opportunity to teach a more advanced high school class with a strong focus on geology (as opposed to stuffing atmospheric science, geology, and astronomy into a single class).

One of the challenges with geology is that it can be logistically hard to do experiments in the classroom.  Fortunately, there are resources that allow students to do investigations with professionally collected data, opportunities for local field trips, and thoughtfully designed case studies.  And of course, in New York City, we have the American Museum of Natural History, which is a world-class educational resource.

Here I’m gazing at a cove on the Harlem River and thinking about the inevitability of erosion and deposition.  This area is still underwater at high tide, but it was once navigable even at relatively low tides.




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