Teenage students are not always ready to assimilate abstract ideas like globalization, sustainability or conservation. Really. Part of it is neurological. As explained in an NPR
article, a “crucial part of the [teenage] brain — the frontal lobes — are not fully connected.” But during adolescence, the body and the brain are developing quickly, which makes it an ideal time to foster growth through fun activities.
Student-run clubs offer a collaborative forum in which its members can voluntarily engage in abstract subjects. With some guidance and a concrete subject like geology, your students can come to grips with big ideas in a safe space. As participants of a geological society, students will, believe it or not, take their first steps toward tackling questions and making difficult decisions as soon-to-be adults of the 21st century global community.
Mining for Ideas in a Geological Society
A club organized around a broad topic like geology gives students a chance to discover various related topics like economics, social studies and environmental sciences. Broad topics are also bound to attract diverse students with varying interests and academic strengths.
Depending on the academic level of your students and their interest in participation, you may want to suggest the following geology-related topics, or allow them to do the discovery work.
- Space Sciences:
NASA’s Curiosity rover continues to reveal geological connections between Earth and Mars. It has recently discovered evidence of water in sedimentary rocks, and even in the planet’s volcanic sand, which resembles sand found in Hawaii’s Mauna Kea volcano.
We know that solar flares affect Earth’s weather patterns, which, in turn, change the landscape. Industrial pollution has, and continues to, contribute to global warming.
- Environmental Sciences:
Global climate change is a hot topic today. Students may be interested in researching alternative energies like biodiesel fuel or carbon sequestration. Climate change is a great catalyst for other topics such as poverty, globalization and industrialization.
They may want to look into hydraulic fracking, a method of extracting natural gas from the ground. Students could analyze the theories that claim fracking causes environmental harm and increases earthquakes. Plate tectonics and seismology may be of special interest to students living near fault lines or to anyone who has lived through an earthquake.
- Social Studies:
Point out that geology is not just the study of rocks and minerals, land formations and erosion. Throughout history, land has been fought over, exploited for its resources and idealized in art and literature. Students may be interested in looking at local land from a historical perspective. They may be interested in uncovering how the landscape has changed prior to their city’s establishment and revealing how the landscape has changed and why. Still others interested in the arts may want to create art pieces inspired by landscapes or write essays in response to novels in which landscape plays a significant role.
The methods we use to extract resources from the land are intricately linked to economics. Students interested in this subject and/or politics may find interest in researching the factors that create the world’s reliance on crude oil, natural gas, and coal.
Geological Group Projects
1. Visit your town dump, recycling facility, or wastewater treatment center
Before you let your students run wild through the town dump, be sure to frame the trip according to their interests. Students might, for example, want to know which materials biodegrade and which won’t in their lifetime. Ask them to bring notebooks so that they can record their findings. Here are a few ideas for follow-up projects: compile a resource for the school on how to decrease the amount of non-recyclable waste the school produces, document how local biodiversity is affected.
For more information on wastewater treatment facilities, refer to the EPA.
- Trip may be fully funded by the city
- Appropriate for all grade levels
2. Visit a local organic farm
Many farms are happy to have volunteers, even for a few hours. Ask the owners if they are willing to give the students a tour of the farm, explain why it was started, and how it gives back to nature and improves the local environment.
- Trip may be fully funded by the city
- Lunch may be provided
- Appropriate for all grade levels
3. Team up with local university
Contact the geology department at your local university or community college. More likely than not, they have already developed community education resources. If your club is focusing on oil and the economy, for example, you may be able to contact a graduate student in the field who will be be happy to meet with your students, educate them, and propose an appropriate angle for their project.
Just checking the department’s website may provide ideas. The Earth and Space Sciences department at the University of Washington, for example, has developed a global monitor that tracks 1,500 volcanoes worldwide for ash cloud lightning. The findings can be viewed at: World Wide Lightning Location Network.
Furthermore, you may find that a local geology professor or visiting lecturer in the field is giving a lecture, or publishing a book. Keep your students up to date!
- Appropriate for junior high and high school students
4. Build a compost bin and club garden
This project will take a lot of planning, but you can find valuable resources on the web, through your city and at the local garden store. In fact, your city may offer free training on how to build a proper compost bin. Be sure to contact them as many of these resources are free. You can begin researching for brief overviews on how to make a compost bin.
Students will learn about soil such as gravel, sand, silt and clay. They will have to know what types of soil they’re dealing with depending on the garden site and how compositing can help enrich it. Students gain awareness of the climate, which types of plants will thrive in their region, harvesting times, and countless other lessons.
- An excellent opportunity for all ages
- Cost is variable. Again, be sure to research your options
For more advanced students, the U.S. Geological Society offers educational opportunities, many of which are oriented for college students. However, the website also showcases intern profiles that may inspire students and prepare them for the steps they need to take toward an academic career.
The U.S. Geological Society website, Science Topics, displays a myriad of topics like Hydrologic Processes with links to subtopics like glaciation. This resource is valuable for students and teachers alike.
Likewise, The Geological Society of America provides plentiful information for educators on how to build a geology lesson plan, as well as opportunities for students to participate in projects like the Mars Student Imaging Project (MSIP).
- Kids.gov Geology for Teens provides links to valuable websites like the U.S. Geological Society, the Smithsonian, and the U.S. Department of Energy
- National Geographic’s Education Beta website includes fantastic resources for teachers of students Grade 1-12
- BBCs Bitesize Education is a great starting point for educators of students approximately Grades 5-9
- PBS’ NOVA Beta offers multimedia educational experiences on storms, space and geology
- “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carlson
- “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations” by David R. Montgomery
- “Geology in Art” by Andrea Baucon