Thursday, December 31, 2009

Dr. Richard A. Smith Passes Away

Dr. Richard Smith, retired San Jose State University geology professor and longtime member of the Far Western Section of the NAGT has passed away:

From the Redlands Tribune:

Richard A. Smith, 85, died December 13, 2009, at his home in Oakland. He was the son of Howard and Marcella Smith, original owners of Smith's Jewelers.

Richard was raised in Redlands, graduating from Redlands High School in 1942. He served with the U.S. Army Air Corps for two years during World War II, then returned to Stanford, graduating in 1948. He received his master's degree from Stanford in 1950 and his doctorate in education from Colorado State University in 1956.

Dr. Smith joined the faculty at San Jose State University in 1955, served as a coordinator for the Peace Corps from 1964 to 1966 and retired from SJSU in 1987 as associate dean of the geology and natural sciences department.

Dr. Smith was predeceased by his parents and his wife, Jane. He is survived by his present wife, Delcye, of Oakland, his sister, Patti, four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

For those who might be interested, Dick's memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 16 at 1:00 pm at:

First Lutheran Church
600 Homer Ave.
Palo Alto, CA 94301

There is a map and directions on their web site at

More on Dick's life can be found here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Secondary Level Earth Science Classes and the University of California

From Wendy Van Norden, co-founder of CalESTA, California Earth Science Teachers Association (

California Earth Science educators:

Below you will find a petition to the Academic Council of the University of California. At this time, the "d" requirements for a lab science specifies only biology, chemistry and physics. If you are in favor of petitioning the UC Academic council to include Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences as a choice for a "d" lab science, please "sign" the following petition by sending the following to Wendy Van Norden at

I support the petition from the California Association of Earth Science Teachers to the Academic Council to include Earth, Environmental and Space Sciences as a choice for the "d" lab requirement for admission to the UC system.




Please forward this petition to any interested educators. Thank you.



We, the undersigned request that the UC High School “d” requirements for laboratory science be amended to include “Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences” as a choice for admission to the UC system:

I. Currently the UC High School area “d” requirement states that students shall take “two and preferably three courses from the following sciences: biology, chemistry, and physics.”

II. We, the undersigned, request that the “area d” requirements for laboratory science be amended to include “Earth, environmental, and space sciences” as an additional choice for admissions to the UC system. Earth, environmental, and space sciences broadly defined include content in astronomy, ecology, geology, meteorology, oceanography, Earth systems science, environmental science, planetary science, and other topics within the integrative study of all or parts of the Earth’s atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and lithosphere; of the solar system, and of the cosmos. The text of the UC Area-d requirement is proposed to then read:

“two and preferably three courses from the following sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, and Earth, environmental, and space sciences.”

III. To be considered for certification in the “d” subject area courses (in Earth, environmental, and space sciences) must meet the same requirements as biology, chemistry and physics, which is described in

• specify, at a minimum, elementary algebra as a prerequisite or co-requisite;

• take an approach consistent with the scientific method in relation to observing, forming hypotheses, testing hypotheses through experimentation and/or further observation, and forming objective conclusions; and

• include hands-on scientific activities that are directly related to and support the other classwork, and that involve inquiry, observation, analysis, and write-up. These hands-on activities should account for at least 20% of class time, and should be itemized and described in the course description.

IV. We make this request in consideration of the following points

a. We California educators want to teach rigorous Earth , Environmental, and Space Science content to college-bound students. However, because the UC system does not accept Earth Science as a “d” laboratory course, administrators are actively discouraging us from doing so. The removal of Earth science courses from the “d” laboratory status has encouraged schools to drop Earth science courses, or to drop the laboratory component of Earth science courses. Even if we are able to teach a rigorous Earth Science course, college-bound students are discouraged from enrolling. The addition of Earth, Environmental, and Space Science in the “d” requirements can reverse this process.

b. Earth, Environmental, and Space Science classes can be taught as rigorous, problem-solving curricula that can easily fit into the “d” requirement. There are many courses already available. The Earth sciences have benefited enormously from the explosion of online data that are available for analysis in demanding problem-solving exercises, and providing students with important 21st century skills.

c. Earth, environmental and space sciences are included in several national standards recommended by several prestigious agencies (e.g., National Academy of Science/National Research Council, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Council of Scientific Society Presidents, the College Board), and those of California. UC’s science admission requirements are not in compliance with either the national or the California state secondary school standards.

d. Topics in the Earth, environmental, and space sciences comprise 30% of the questions on the 12th grade National Assessment of Educational Progress test (Nation’s Report Card). The National Academy of Sciences, the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Council of Scientific Society Presidents all recommend that Earth and space science classes be included a part of standard high school curricula.

e. It would be difficult to find a state more in need of Earth science literacy than California. The topics of earthquakes, landslides, water supply, water quality, climate change, flood control, resource use (and depletion), air/water pollution, and plate tectonics, are extremely relevant to California residents. Unfortunately, these topics are rarely found in the curricula of biology, chemistry or physics.

f. The Earth, environmental and space sciences are intrinsically interesting, and are likely to entice more students into the sciences

Wendy Van Norden

Harvard-Westlake School

3700 Coldwater Canyon

No. Hollywood, CA 91604

818 487-6665

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Present a Short Course at CSTA: Deadline Looming!

Only 2 days remain to submit a proposal to present a Short Course at the 2010 California Science Education Conference.

CSTA is actively seeking classroom science teachers to present one-hour workshops and three- or six-hour Short Courses at the 2010 California Science Education Conference, October 22-24 in Sacramento, CA.

Visit for more information about proposals. There you will find submission guidelines, links to the standards, and links to the on-line proposal system. Presenting at the conference can be fun and earn you a complimentary registration (please see the website for details regarding complimentary registration).

Deadlines for Proposals:
Short Courses: December 18, 2009 (submission must be completed by 11:59 pm)
Workshops: February 1, 2009


California Science Teachers Association
3800 Watt Ave., Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95821
(916) 979-7004
Fax: (916) 979-7023

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

K-12 Tsunami Education from the California Geological Survey

California's northern coast, endangered during the 1964 Alaska tsunami

From the California Geological Survey:

With the fifth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami coming up on Dec. 26th, 2009, most of you recall the story of Tilly Smith, the 10-year-old credited with saving over 100 people on a beach in Thailand based on what she learned about tsunamis in school during a geography lesson.

The California Geological Survey (CGS) is looking for ways to best to educate and prepare California students about tsunamis, tsunami hazards, and what they should do if they are in an area at risk. Newly released statewide tsunami inundation maps produced by CGS, the California Emergency Management Agency, and the Tsunami Research Center at USC are now available (link below). The maps show the potential flooding hazard for all vulnerable populated areas based on some of the worst-case tsunami scenarios for California. In addition to the maps, the state is making available new tsunami education videos, a new CGS Tsunami Note, and other information that could be useful when teaching students about tsunamis and tsunami hazards in California. This information is posted at:

Several state agencies are working together to initiate a statewide tsunami education plan for March, during the proposed “National Tsunami Preparedness Week.” Your feedback on any aspect of using these new tsunami maps in the classroom over the next few weeks will be a great value to help us prepare for this new education campaign.

Rick Wilson

California Geological Survey

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Student Opportunity in Yellowstone National Park

From the National NAGT Newsletter:

Dear Colleagues,

Greetings from Montana! We would appreciate your help in advertising to your students an NSF/GEO site project we will be running this summer on Evolution of the Precambrian Rocks of Yellowstone National Park (Dave Mogk, Paul Mueller, Darrell Henry, and Dave Foster PIs). Please visit the project website for further details: . This project will be a comprehensive research experience that will include:.

• Field mapping and sampling in Yellowstone National Park to contribute to a new geologic map of the basement rocks of YNP; students will work in small groups in the context of the larger project to define and address specific research topics in their area of interest; Dates: June 27-July 25, 2010;

• Direct experience in modern analytical studies including sample preparation, training on modern instrumentation petrologic, geochemical and geochronological; visits to analytical labs will be scheduled for fall semester 2010, and

• Presentation of research results, by submitting an abstract for a poster presentation at the Rocky Mountain Section meeting of the Geological Society of America, and participating in a group reunion meeting to contribute to a peer-reviewed journal article. Dates: Spring 2011, to be determined; Logan, Utah.

We are looking for a group of students (12) with diverse interests in geology to contribute to the research group. To unravel the geologic history of these Archean rocks, our research team will need students with interests in igneous and metamorphic petrology, sedimentology, geochemistry, geochronology and structural geology and tectonics. Students who have taken most of their geology “core” courses and have had a field camp (or other field experience) will be preferred. This experience will provide a great foundation for follow-on senior thesis/research projects at their home institutions. Please note that this will be a true back country experience in Yellowstone National Park, so students need to know that the daily routine will be physically challenging in this rugged terrain.

How to Apply:

Please send: a) Your letter of interest, stating what you hope to learn, what you can offer to this project, b) two letters of support from faculty or work supervisors, and c) your academic transcript . These materials can be submitted to (e-mail or mail):

David Mogk

Dept of Earth Sciences (406) 994 6916

Montana State University

Bozeman, MT 59717

The deadline for applications is: January 30, 2010

Thanks in advance, and please, encourage your best, field-oriented students to apply!

Best to all,

Dave Mogk

Friday, November 13, 2009

On the Cutting Edge Opportunities

From Cathy Manduca, Executive Director of NAGT

We would like to draw your attention to two upcoming opportunities for Virtual Workshops offered by On the Cutting Edge:

--Teaching Geoscience with Service Learning will take place Feb 3-9 and has an application deadline of December 1. Conveners: Dave Mogk, Ed Laine, Suzanne O'Connell, and Cathy Manduca. For more info and application forms visit:

--Understanding the Deep Earth will take place Feb 17-24 and has an application deadline of Dec 20. Conveners: Dave Mogk, Cathy Manduca, and Mike Williams. For more info and application forms visit:

In both cases the workshops are planned to require 2.5 days of effort spread across the scheduled time. This will include synchronous and asynchronous sessions, with presentations and discussions, supporting development of new materials for your teaching.

Application deadlines are fast approaching, so please visit the workshop websites and submit your application on-line. The full schedule of On the Cutting Edge workshops can be viewed at:

Thanks in advance for your consideration, and we'll hope to "see" you at these events.

Dave Mogk and Cathy Manduca, on behalf of the co-conveners

Friday, November 6, 2009

Building Strong Geoscience Departments Visiting Workshop Program

From our executive director, Cathryn Manduca:

Building Strong Geoscience Departments Visiting Workshop Program
Application Deadline, November 16

Greetings colleagues--

It is not too late to bring the Building Strong Geoscience Departments program to your campus. Would you like to know more about how other departments are facing today's challenges by building a stronger profile for their department, addressing assessment, redesigning curricula, or recruiting students? The Building Strong Geoscience Department visiting workshop program can bring this information to you. Visiting workshops involve one or two days of programming led by a team of two geoscientists drawn from our national program . The workshop program will feature concrete examples drawn from the leaders' experience and from the collective experiences of the geoscience community, and will provide online resources for further information.

Funds are available for five institutions to take advantage of this program -- the application deadline is November 16. The project pays for leader travel and stipends, the local host is responsible for local accommodations.

For more information about the workshops, see

To have a Visiting Workshop come to your department, apply online by Monday, November 16:

We hope this looks like an exciting opportunity to you!

Cathy Manduca, Heather Macdonald, Geoff Feiss, Randy Richardson, Carol Ormand

Cathryn A Manduca
Director, Science Education Resource Center
Executive Director, National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Carleton College
1 N College Street
Northfield, MN 55057
507 222 7096

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Note from NESTA (National Earth Science Teachers Association)

A note from Roberta Johnson at our sister organization NESTA (National Earth Science Teachers Association):

As you know, there is a crisis in Earth and Space Science education today in the US. NESTA is working hard to provide support for Earth and Space Science teachers across the country through our programs, communications, resources, and website, as well as through advocacy for Earth and Space Science education at the national level collaboration with partner organizations. Through these activities, we reach thousands of teachers across the country annually, and through them, hundreds of thousands of students.

As we approach the end of the year, we would like to encourage you to consider a donation to NESTA to help support our programs. As a non-profit and volunteer run 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization, we work hard to keep our costs down, and avoid increases in membership fees - particularly in these difficult economic times. Please visit our donation campaign web page at, where we offer information about our need for financial support, and specific activities you might be interesting in supporting. Alternatively, you can go straight to our online donations form at to make your donation. If you would rather do this using a form that you can fill out and mail, you can find that form (and the mailing address for the form) at

NESTA is excited to announce that the American Geophysical Union has agreed to match up to the first $10,000 of donations raised in this fund-raising campaign. This is a great way to double the impact of your donation! Your donation will go straight to NESTA, and will be used as you designate with your donation.

Thank you for your consideration!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Light a Candle in the Darkness: Volunteering for Science in Your Community

Photo Source: Modesto Bee

(Posted originally at Geotripper)
Here in California, K-12 education is in pretty much a chaotic mess, and our children are being shortchanged in the worst way. Class size is growing, budgets are getting slashed, and some of our best teachers are being fired. These are bleak times, and our community college system is no better off. But I am proud of what my colleagues at Modesto Junior College are doing. You can read the story here, but in short we are bringing fifth graders onto our campus every other Friday to give them an experience in science and to introduce them to our college campus. Most of our division (biology, chemistry, physics and earth sciences) is volunteering to make the program a success. From the article:

About 60 students watched and performed experiments as part of MJC's Science Educational Encounters for Kids. Every second and fourth Friday of the month, fifth-graders converge on campus for a science lecture and then two 45-minute labs.

"We are drawing members of the community into the college. Some of these students maybe don't think college is a possibility, and we want to show them this is their community college," said Brian Sanders, dean of MJC's science, math and engineering division."Activities are a blend of fun and interest with real science," Sanders said.

"We're not just playing with bubbles. We're matching the labs with the state's fifth-grade science standards."

And...these kids are a lot of fun, too. Full of energy and enthusiasm! Contact me if you would like more info on how we set up the program (hayesg at mjc dot edu).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Far Western Section Spring Meeting: Tentative Announcement

Plans are afoot for the spring conference of the Far Western Section of the NAGT. The tentative plans call for a May meeting centered in Bishop, California, on the east side of the Sierra Nevada. More information will be posted as it becomes available....

Friday, October 2, 2009

NAGT e-Newsletter out...

The latest issue of the e-Newsletter of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers is available here. This issue is loaded with great links to new teaching resources on the web. Check it out! The photo, from the newsletter, is by Ron Wirgart.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

No Child Left Inside! Our National Parks (from Geotripper)

First published at Geotripper...

Long complex ramble today with four seemingly unrelated random thoughts. But they are...

  • Devilstower, over at, has a great post today about Little Giants , wondering what would happen if the estimated 5,000 to 7,000 tigers in the United States were all released at once.

  • I had a great meeting with 60 fifth-graders in my lab this week, introducing them to the world of the geologist.

  • I led a field studies class last week to the Cascades, studying the role of volcanism in three different national parks and monuments: Lassen Volcanic, Crater Lake and Lava Beds.

  • Ken Burns and PBS are offering a six part documentary on "America's Best Idea", the story of the National Parks of America.

America's national parks are indeed one of the greatest ideas ever conceived by a society. The choice of overrunning a landscape and stripping it of resources to the point of ruination is a story that has been repeated over and over in human history. The idea that we might actually preserve a portion of our land in some condition approaching the primeval, for the benefit of all of its citizens, was an extraordinary leap that advanced civilization. If nothing else, the parks give us a focus point to understand how much we truly have changed our lands, and how far removed from our heritage we truly are. I am eagerly awaiting the Ken Burns documentary; the bits and pieces I've seen already are encouraging. Be sure to check it out.

My journey over the last week drove home the point of just how geological our national parks are. While acknowledging the historical nature of many parks in the system, such as Civil War battlefields and the like, most people think of places like Yosemite, Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon when they think of national parks. Although many people think of the national park experience as seeing wildlife, the bears, the moose, the buffalo, the deer and chipmunks, it is the rock that makes a place like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite Valley, it is the volcanism that has built the Hawaii Volcanoes, Haleakala, Rainier, Crater Lake, and Yellowstone, it is the movement of ice that sculpted the Grand Tetons, Glacier or the North Cascades. To truly understand a national park is to have an education, a true hands-on education, in geology. And yet: as Lee Alison of Arizona Geology points out, there are only 20 geologists employed in the Geologic Resources in the national park system, compared to 800 biologists.

The power of the national parks to move us is rooted in the common experience that many Americans have had while visiting our national parks, sometimes as adults, but especially as children. How many of us have that memory of playing in a river, camping out in the dark listening for the snuffling of bears, hiking a steep trail, or even conquering our first mountain? I remember as a young child climbing to the top of some small hill in Sequoia National Park on the Heather Lake trail, and giving it a name; I also remember the terror of being lost in a campground, having tried to find my own way to the bathroom in the dark as a five-year old. Terror at the time, and yet one of my most cherished memories, along with my first face to face meeting with a bear at Seqouia.

My visit with the fifth-graders this week was a startling reminder of something I already knew. Too many, way too many kids are not getting even a chance to experience their heritage as Americans. I live less than a two hour drive from one of the crown jewels of the national park system, Yosemite National Park, and almost none of these kids have been there! There are many reasons, of course, perfectly logical reasons. Even a twenty dollar entrance fee is too much for many struggling families, not to mention the cost of gasoline (we have 17% unemployment in our county right now). There is less and less of a cultural appreciation for simple forms of recreation: electronic games are very alluring to the short-term attention span of so many of our kids. And our kids, fed on a steady diet of junk food, and lacking any kind of exercise in their schools, just aren't healthy enough to appreciate hiking a trail or running away from a bear or snake.

And yet: these kids were excited just to see images of their national heritage. And I swear their eyes lit up when they came to the realization that these experiences were out there, and they could take part in them if they chose to. They could see an erupting volcano if they chose to. They could find a dinosaur bone in the ground. They want to see and experience these places, if we found a way to get them there.

It is we as a society who are robbing the youth of our country of their heritage. Every time we cut the budgets of our schools to the bare minimum of math and English classes, we take away the most valuable part of education. English is probably important, but what use is it if these kids have nothing to write about? An education is all about experience, not just knowledge.

And what about the Devilstower blog entry on little giants? In the last twelve thousand years, our continent has lost a huge part of our ecosystem: the megafauna. The North American continent once played host to mammoths, mastodons, giant elk, bison, camels, horses, sloths, and many other huge creatures. Most of them are gone, although, as Devilstower points out, some survived much longer by evolving into smaller forms (dwarf mammoths survived on the Channel Islands off California thousands of years longer than their bigger mainland relatives). What's left? The bison and elk and grizzly bears of places like Yellowstone National Park. For now, these creatures are managed as if they were in a zoo rather than part of an ecosystem, but there is a growing recognition that if we are going to choose to have these grand animals in our care, we have to see our land not as a few isolated protected havens like Yellowstone, but as a continuous habitat extending beyond park boundaries where these large animals and humans can coexist. It is a contentious topic to be sure: look at the controversy over the de-listing of the wolf from the Endangered Species Act.

One more note on the topic: this month's Accretionary Wedge, hosted by Tuff Cookie at Magma Cum Laude, is based on the following question: What kind of Earth Science outreach have you participated in? Have you hosted a geology day at your department, given a field trip, gone to your child's/niece's/nephew's/cousin's school to do a demonstration, or sponsored an event for Earth Science Week? To this I would add: You don't sponsor outreach? What do you plan on doing to change that?

Our pictures today? An Oak Tree in Yosemite Valley, and a black bear in Sequoia National Park. Something that every child should have a chance to see.

Friday, September 11, 2009

National Association of Geoscience Teachers: Fall Resources and Workshops

From Cathy Manduca, Executive Director, NAGT:


As the academic year gets underway, I am writing to call your attention to new online resources, workshops (for faculty and departments), and other upcoming opportunities. Happy Fall!

New Resources:

- The On the Cutting Edge website includes several new topical modules, about topics including Teaching about Energy, the Hurricane-Climate Connection, the Role of Metacognition in Teaching Geoscience (how an awareness of the learning process can dramatically improve learning), and Teaching Paleontology:

- Our large collection of pedagogic resources on the Pedagogy in Action website includes six new modules, on ConcepTests, Jigsaws, Lecture Tutorials, Structured Academic Controversy, Teaching the Process of Science, and Teaching Urban Students. Each module includes an introduction to the pedagogic method, information on why it is effective, how to use it in your classroom, and examples of teaching activities using the method:

- The Building Strong Geoscience Departments website includes new and expanded resources, particularly related to Curriculum Development and Program Assessment:

Workshops for Individuals and Departments:

- The 2010 On the Cutting Edge Workshop series includes 5 face-to-face workshops, 4 virtual workshops, and 10 partnership workshops (offered in association with other meetings or organizations -- this includes the Follow-on Workshop on Teaching About Energy, to be held in conjunction with the GSA meeting in Portland, application deadline Sept 25):

- The Building Strong Geoscience Departments project is initiating a Visiting Workshop Program. Two of our leaders will come to your campus to deliver a workshop for your department, on topics we offer that are of high interest to you. There are two application deadlines Sept 16 and Nov 16:

Other Opportunities:

- Lead a Follow-On Workshop: Cutting Edge seeks proposals for one-half or one-day follow-on workshops on topics that have been offered through the "On the Cutting Edge" program in the past. If you would like to bring one of these workshops to a new audience, submit a request for proposal before the Sept 22 deadline:

- Propose a Cutting Edge workshop topic: Cutting Edge is seeking recommendations for workshop topics, submit your ideas before Oct 30 :

Cathryn A Manduca
Director, Science Education Resource Center
Executive Director, National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Carleton College
1 N College Street
Northfield, MN 55057
507 222 7096

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Survey Request from the Smithsonian

Via Julie Genyuk at NESTA


The Smithsonian Museum of National History's Sant Ocean Hall has been working with the design production company Funny Garbage in the development of an online resource dedicated to scientific information about the ocean. A portion of The Ocean Portal site will serve as a resource where K-12 educators can visit for assistance in developing curricula about ocean related topics.To ensure we develop a useful tool, we are recruiting educators who teach life and earth sciences to take an online survey on how they use teachers' resources on the Internet.

We hope to reach as many teachers as possible in as many geographic locations as possible. The survey should take between 10 and 15 minutes to complete and is available now through September 4th. Feedback from your community would be the very group that we hope to serve with rich and useful resources. Please help circulate this email to educators who would be interested in using this type of resource.

Elizabeth J. Ban
COSEE/Ocean Science Education Specialist
Smithsonian Institution

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Arctic Circle 2009 Education and Outreach Opportunity

From Roberta Johnston at NESTA (National Earth Science Teachers Association):

The Arctic Circle program, a series of artist and scientist-led expeditions to remote and fascinating destinations, seeks expressions of interest from educators, at the high school level, to participate in the Educational & Outreach component of The Arctic Circle 2009 (expedition Oct 5th- 22nd, 2009). Science and art educators may join this pilot project where their classrooms will correspond with the expedition crew comprising 18 international artists, architects, and scientists. The program procedure will involve email/ blog correspondence (questions and comments from classrooms) to be published on The Arctic Circle Blog, leading up to and during the expedition, and responded to by our crew so we may explore, together, many topics of interest. Ideally, The Arctic Circle program will look to communicate with collaborating art and science classrooms from the same school. Correspondence will be accomplished during the expedition via satellite communication. The Arctic Circle Edu-Blog will be updated daily for classroom interaction.

Educators interested to become involved are asked to email a brief letter of interest and introduction (~150-300 words) to before Sept 10, 2009. Selection will be made Sept. 15, 2009. Those selected to participate in this pilot project will be given a full set of participation guidelines. There will be a network of ~30 educators selected for this project from North America, the EU, and Asia.

Questions may be directed to Program details may be seen at

The Arctic Circle 2009 Education & Outreach program aims to encourage a discourse between the student--the educator--the artist--and the scientist.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spotlight on California Geology: Geology of Sequoia and Kings Canyon

The southern Sierra Nevada is somewhat less familiar to most travelers than the heavily visited Yosemite/Lake Tahoe region, but contains some incredible scenery and fascinating geology. The Far West Section conducted a series of field trips there in the fall of 2005.

Two national parks grace the region: Sequoia and Kings Canyon. Sequoia is the oldest of the two, having been established in 1890, with Kings Canyon following in 1940. They are administered as a single unit by the park service.

Sequoia preserves the Giant Forest and other groves of the Giant Sequoia trees, the largest living things in the world. Within the park boundaries one finds the highest point in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney and the other alpine peaks of the Whitney Crest, the deep trough of the upper Kern River, and the high peaks of the Great Western Divide. Exposures of the granitic rocks of the Sierra Nevada Batholith dominate the park, but numerous roof pendants are scattered across the park providing evidence of events in the early Mesozoic and Paleozoic time. Some of the pendants contain marble, which has weathered to form numerous caverns in the Sierra Foothills. One of these, Crystal Cave, is open for conducted tours.

Kings Canyon preserves the upper reaches of, well, Kings Canyon, which has the distinction of being considerably deeper than the Grand Canyon. At one point just outside the park, the gorge is over 8,000 feet deep (see the top photo). The eastern boundary of the park includes the Palisades Crest, with several peaks exceeding 14,000 feet in elevation. As with Sequoia, much of the park is dominated by batholithic intrusions, but a huge metamorphic roof pendant is traversed by highway 180 on the way to Cedar Grove in the heart of the park (see the second picture). Boyden Cave lies just west of the park entrance, and offers guided tours. Lilburn cave, in the Grant Grove/Redwood Canyon area, has more than 20 miles of mapped passageways, making it one of the longer cavern systems in the country. Several unique ice caves can be found in the Mineral King region.

Both parks provide plentiful evidence of Pleistocene ice age glaciations. The southern limit of Sierra glaciations is just south of the Sequoia boundary. Numerous exfoliation domes lie scattered throughout both parks. The summit of Moro Rock is a popular short hike in the Giant Forest area of Sequoia.

The Far West Section guidebook from the 2005 meeting has five field trips that tour the two national parks and surrounding countryside, and also includes a unique fossil-hunting expedition in the Kettleman Hills on the west side of the Central Valley (bottom photo). The Kettleman Hills are an actively growing anticline composed of Plio-Pleistocene marine sediments, and are an important oil drilling region. The specific chapters include:
  • A Teacher's Guide to the Kaweah River Canyon, Sierra Roof Pendants, and Crystal Cave by Mike Martin and Richard Goode
  • A Teacher's Guide to the Tule River Basin, Dome Rock, and California Hot Springs, by Mike Martin and Richard Goode
  • A Teacher's Guide to the Roadside Geology of Kings Canyon National Park and Giant Sequoia National Monument by Garry Hayes
  • A Teacher's Guide to the Fusegates at Terminus Dam and Kaweah Reservoir by Mike Martin and Richard Goode
  • A Teacher's Guide to Fossil Collecting along Interstate 5 in the Kettleman Hills Area, by Mike Martin and Richard Goode

Sales of the guidebook "A Teacher's Guidebook to the Southern Sierra: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park, the Great Western Divide, and the Sierra Nevada Foothills" support the Far West Section scholarships for earth science students,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

GSA Statement on Teaching Evolution

Photo by Garry Hayes

Position Statement on Teaching Evolution, from the Geological Society of America. There is a great deal of good info in this short statement. Scientific ignorance is increasing in our society (and indeed has always been there), and earth scientists need to take a more active stance in combating the efforts to inject ID and Creation-Science into public school instruction.

Position Statement:

The Geological Society of America strongly supports teaching evolution and the directly related concept of deep time as part of science curricula. GSA opposes teaching creationism alongside evolution in any science classroom. The evolution of life on Earth stands as one of the central concepts of modern science. During the past two centuries, research in geology, paleontology, and biology has produced an increasingly detailed and consistent picture of how life on Earth has evolved.

Science, by definition, is a method of learning about the natural universe by asking questions in such a way that they can be answered empirically and verifiably. If a question cannot be framed so that the answer can be tested, and the test results can be reproduced by others, then it is not science. Creationism, whether in its earlier form as creation “science” or its more recent guise of intelligent design, attempts to explain complicated phenomena of the natural world by invoking a creator or designer. Creationism is not science because it invokes supernatural phenomena that cannot be tested. It therefore has no place in a science curriculum. Because science is limited to explaining natural phenomena through the use of empirical evidence, it cannot provide religious or ultimate explanations. Science teachers should not advocate any religions interpretations of nature and should be nonjudgmental about the personal beliefs of students.


This position statement (1) summarizes GSA’s views regarding the teaching of evolution; (2) defines evolution and discusses the physical and biological evidence for evolution; (3) describes the concepts of intelligent design and creation science, and why they are not science; and (4) provides a communications tool for GSA member use.


The rock record provides a treasure trove of fossils, and by the early 1800s, geologists had used physical relationships among rocks to establish the basis for the geologic time scale. They understood that the fossil record shows major changes in life forms over time. In 1859, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species showed that these changes can be explained by natural selection operating on random variations in organisms – the process we now know as biological evolution. Since then, we have continued to uncover details of life’s history, and biologists have elucidated the genetic and molecular basis for evolution. Evolution is not a static idea but a growing concept added to by scientific observation, testing, and debate. Scientific discoveries in these fields and related disciplines have progressively sharpened our understanding of evolution, which is now well established as a well‐tested fact. Evolution is accepted by the scientific community because all available evidence supports the central conclusions of evolutionary science: that life on Earth has evolved and species share common ancestors and genomes.

The discovery of radioactivity in the twentieth century and its use for measuring ages of rocks has made it possible to quantify the age of Earth and to estimate rates of many geologic processes. Many rocks of over a billion years in age can now be dated with great precision. The ages of many rocks have been confirmed by repeated tests in multiple laboratories, often using different isotopic decay schemes. The results are consistent with the processes that uplift the land and cause the erosion and deposition of sediments. Geologists can now identify rocks that record hundreds of millions of years of sedimentation by the slow layer‐by‐layer accumulation of mud, the rhythmic rise and fall of tides on ancient continental margins, or the slow back‐and‐forth meandering of rivers in ancient valleys. Organisms that grow only a few millimeters each year have formed reefs hundreds of meters thick. Additionally, techniques that date more recent deposits have been repeatedly and accurately compared to known historical events.

Studies of Earth’s history, including the evolution of life on Earth, aid not only in the search for natural resources, but also in the quest to understand how the Earth‐life system functions. The geologic record reveals how forms of life have responded to past environmental change, sometimes migrating, sometimes evolving, and sometimes becoming extinct. Understanding evolution has made possible many of the medical advances that save human lives and has furthered agricultural developments that feed the world.

The short‐term adaptive evolution demonstrated by the ability of viruses to evolve and adapt to new vaccines, or simply to new environmental conditions, is readily comparable to longer‐termed evolution of more advanced species.

From before the time of Darwin, some people have objected to and challenged those findings of science that were considered to conflict with certain traditional religious beliefs about creation. Creation “science” and intelligent design have emerged from religious thought, and because they invoke supernatural phenomena, they cannot frame questions that can be tested scientifically. Therefore, by definition, the notions of creation “science” and intelligent design are not science. The immensity of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species are concepts that pervade modern geology, biology, and other sciences that support human life. These concepts must therefore be treated as central themes of science courses. Without an adequate knowledge of geologic time and the evolutionary origin of species, students will not understand the processes that shape the natural environment in which they live. As a result, they will lack the understanding that is essential for making wise decisions regarding the environment upon which our survival depends.


The Geological Society of America encourages use of this position statement in dialogue about teaching evolution in schools. GSA members may want also want to refer to a GSA publication entitled The Nature of Science and the Scientific Method (

Evolution and the directly related concept of deep time must be part of science curricula at all levels, including K‐12, college, and post‐graduate education.

Creationism, whether in its earlier form as creation “science” or its more recent guise of intelligent design, has no place in a science curriculum and should not be taught alongside evolution in any science classroom.


To facilitate implementation of the goals of this position statement, the Geological Society of America recommends the following action:

When discussing the importance of teaching evolution and geologic time with school boards, legislative committees, and other groups likely to include individuals with strong fundamental religious conviction, it may be necessary to argue that literal interpretations of creation stories do not constitute science, but we must respect the differing viewpoints and interests of others.

Remember that:

1. The separation of science and religion that we advocate does not mean that science and religion are incompatible. Many scientists who study evolution are religious; several major religions accept the importance of evolution; and some religious scholars find evolution fertile ground for the development of theological and spiritual understanding.

2. Scientists do not and cannot claim to prove or disprove the existence of God or other major tenets of religious traditions.

3. The core concepts of evolution are firmly established, but our understanding of evolution is itself changing and, as with any field of active research, there will be debate about unresolved issues at the frontiers of evolutionary science. Our understanding of the relationships between the evolution of species and the ecological systems that sustain them is progressing. But instead of weakening the case for evolution, scientific debate on these topics shows how science advances. As those controversies are resolved, the answers enrich our understanding of evolutionary processes.

4. Some of the arguments used to support the idea of an intelligent design focus on issues that are not well understood and claim that some action by a creator is needed to explain gaps in our understanding. Scientists find that it is generally wiser to admit that the gap exists and to work to understand how to fill it. For example, Darwin had no way of explaining how traits were transmitted from generation to generation, but Mendel’s later discovery of genes paved the way for one of the most robust pillars of modern evolutionary understanding.

5. The ability of future generations to cope with mounting environmental, agricultural and human health challenges will depend upon how effectively they can master the scientific method and utilize the vast body of knowledge we now call science. The science taught in our schools must be the best the scientific community can offer. Science must not be confused with religious claims, no matter how well intended the latter may be.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


(from a post on Geotripper)

Did you ever go to one of those summer camps where they gave you a piece of string, a straw, a stick, a rubber band, and then told you to make a can opener out of it? Or have you ever been an astronaut stranded in space who had to make a carbon dioxide scrubber out of duct tape and technical manuals? If so, I have a question for you at the end of the post.

What happens to community science knowledge in times like this where there is no money for science teaching, none for field trips, no resources? Well, in our case we (my community college science division professors) are putting together a program for local fifth graders in which they will come onto our campus for their "field trip" to see real live scientists who will be giving them demonstrations and hands-on lab experiences. We don't have grants or really any other resources, and the presenters are all volunteers. We are calling the program SEEK, for Science Encounters for Elementary Kids, and I could use some ideas.

Here's the question: you are given one standard geology lab, with the usual maps, fossils, rocks and minerals (oh, and a working seismometer), and you have 35 fifth-graders for 45 minutes. What would YOU do to open up the world of the earth sciences to these kids? I have some ideas, but I would sure like to hear from folks out in the geoblogosphere and elsewhere.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Target targets field trip grants for K-12

"Target is accepting applications starting today for 5,000 grants of up to $800 each for the upcoming school year to run field trips at the K-12 level. This is a great opportunity for local teachers to get their students out to learn about Earth science. So pass this along to teachers you know and help them submit an application online anytime between Aug. 5 and Nov. 3, 2009."

Thanks to Arizona Geology and for the tip

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Subaru Minority Student Scholarship Program Deadline Approaching

The deadline is a few days away and they have received few applicants thus far ...

From GSA Education Division:

Dear GSA Campus Representative,

We are pleased to announce that Subaru of America, Inc., in partnership with GSA, has funded a scholarship program to benefit undergraduate minorities considering a degree in the geosciences. The Subaru Minority Student Scholarship Program will provide $1,000 to a student at an accredited university or college in each of the six GSA Regional Sections. The purpose of the award is to encourage minority students to continue studies in the geosciences as a possible degree choice. We would like campus reps to nominate one student whom they believe will benefit and be encouraged to continue in the geosciences by receiving this award.

The eligible student must be a member of a minority group, must have taken at least two introductory (first year) geoscience courses, be enrolled in additional geoscience courses in his/her upcoming school year, and be a student member of GSA. The campus rep must verify that the student has been and is currently enrolled in the geoscience classes, and that the student is a minority. A ‘minority’ is described as being of Hispanic, African-American or Black, Asian, American-Indian, Alaskan Native, or Hawaiian Native/Pacific Islander ethnicity/race. Each campus rep will be allowed and encouraged to electronically submit one completed student nomination form (see the Word document below) from their school for the Subaru scholarship by 15 August 2009. The student will need to countersign the nomination. Please email the completed one-page application to Jennifer Nocerino at You will receive an email confirming receipt of the form. Campus reps will be notified of the winners in early September, which should allow time for the student to make plans to attend the Annual Meeting if possible. There will be no stipulations on the use of the $1,000.00 award money, although they should be encouraged to use it to support their studies.

This year’s recipients will also receive a free student registration to the 2009 GSA Annual Meeting in Portland, OR, 18-21 October. We would suggest encouraging students to also apply for travel grants (including the minority travel grant) in the event that they are chosen for the Subaru scholarship and wish to attend the Annual Meeting. Any recipients of the scholarship who can attend the Annual Meeting will be publicly awarded the scholarship by Subaru.

Please contact Jennifer Nocerino at for further information or questions. We hope you will take advantage of this exciting new opportunity for minority students sponsored by Subaru of America, Inc.

Best Regards,

Jennifer Nocerino
Jennifer Nocerino
Education and Outreach
The Geological Society of America
3300 Penrose Place, Boulder, CO 80301; 303-357-1036; Fax 303-357-1073

Subaru Minority Student Scholarship Program
Nomination Form – Deadline: 15 August 2009
GSA Section? ____Cord ____RM ____ NC ____ SC ____ NE ____ SE
Campus Rep: Name: ____________________________________________
School: _________________________________________________
Address: ________________________________________________
City/St/Zip: ______________________________________________
Phone: _______________ email: ____________________________________________
Nominated Student: Name: ______________________________________ GSA #: _________
Address: ________________________________________________
City/St/Zip: ______________________________________________
Phone: _______________ email: ____________________________________________

The above nominated student is deserving of the Subaru Minority Student Scholarship Award because:

I, the GSA Campus Representative, do hereby certify that the above student nominee has taken geoscience courses for one year and is enrolled in additional geoscience courses in his/her upcoming school year.
Campus Rep

I, the above nominated student, do hereby certify that I am a member of a minority group as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Student Nominee

Please email form to: or fax to: 303-357-1073. ATTN: Jennifer Nocerino.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Teacher Advocate Program at GSA

Teacher Advocate Program (TAP)
The Geological Society of America is dedicated to increasing the appreciation of the Earth's history, processes, and resources through Earth science education. Recognizing that the future of geology rests in the hands of our nations' school teachers is the fundamental building block of the TAP program.

Developed as a means to support Earth science educators, the Teacher Advocate Program provides the following resources for teachers:
  • Explore Geoscience CD-ROMs for teachers, with background materials and student activities, diagrams, images and 3-D models. Our Geoscience CDs are easy-to-use, curriculum-linked geoscience teaching resources in a variety of topics for educators across the USA and beyond, developed by educators with classroom teaching experience.

  • Lesson plans, resource links, and materials at teachers' fingertips via our Education Web page

  • Field experiences in geologically dynamic locations for teachers only through GSA's Teacher GeoVenture trips

  • Workshops supplying educators with activities and resources to use in the earth science classroom

  • GSA's Distinguished Earth Science Teacher in Residence, who develops resources, maintains the Education Web page, and assists teachers in need of ideas or geoscience career information who contact GSA.
Considering Support of TAP ?
If you are considering supporting the Teacher Advocate Program but would like more detailed information about our successes and goals, please download this file for additional information (pdf format). We thank you for your interest and support of this program.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Science Dies Ugly Death! Only 4 in 10 Americans Believe in Continental Drift! (wait a minute...)

(This post is stolen almost verbatim from Geotripper, but since he is me, it is ok)

Check out a poll and excellent discussion by Devilstower in which Research 2000 asked about plate tectonics (for DailyKos). Worded like similar polls by Gallup about evolution, they asked whether the respondents "believed" Africa and America were once connected ("Do you believe that America and Africa were once part of the same continent?"). If this sounds like a poorly worded question, it was, and they did it on purpose. First, look at the results:


ALL 42% 26% 32%
DEM 51% 16% 33%
REP 24% 47% 29%
IND 44% 23% 33%
OTH/REF 42% 25% 33%
NON VOTERS 46% 22% 32%

WHITE 35% 30% 35%
BLACK 63% 13% 24%
LATINO 55% 19% 26%
OTHER/REF 56% 19% 25%

18-29 48% 20% 32%
30-44 40% 28% 32%
45-59 43% 24% 33%
60+ 39% 30% 31%

NORTHEAST 50% 18% 32%
SOUTH 32% 37% 31%
MIDWEST 46% 22% 32%
WEST 43% 24% 33%

Wording in a poll is everything, and for a long time major polling organizations have been asking badly designed questions about science, especially those on evolution, by wording their questions poorly, and then reporting the results with a misleading emphasis. Following the point made by Devilstower, a headline may very well read "Only 4 in 10 people believe..." but this ignores that fact that a full third of the respondents understood that they didn't have enough knowledge in the subject to give an informed answer. The real news in this poll is that only a quarter of the respondents were wrong in their perception of the science and that their ignorance was influenced by region, political affiliation and race (the interesting point in this poll result is how poorly whites did in comparison to blacks and hispanics, if you want to interpret the results literally).

Devilstower does a great job of explaining the inflammatory nature of the use of Africa in the question. Other questions in the poll were highly political ones, including an approval poll for congress and the president. It helps to explain the disparity of the findings in regards to the Southern states. Would the disparity still apply if Europe were substituted for Africa in the question?

The big problem with the poll is the use of the word "believe". People believe in deities. People hold opinions that animal testing is wrong. People believe it's wrong to torture prisoners. But does one believe in gravity? Can a person believe they don't need oxygen to live? They can choose not to believe these things, but it doesn't change the fundamental fact that they will fall if they jump off a cliff, or suffocate if they try breathing water. In the most proper sense scientists don't deal with beliefs. They deal with experimentation and confirmation of physical facts. Hypotheses can't be believed in, they have to undergo testing. They will usually be confirmed or disproven, and it doesn't fall to a vote about belief, whether by the scientists themselves, or by the public at large.

This misunderstanding about being able to pick and choose what science to "believe" is at the heart of issues like human-induced global warming or evolution. I have a lot of respect for the people who responded in this poll by saying they didn't know. I just hope they take the next step and try to learn something about it. Education is everything in facing the complex problems of our society.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Big Ideas in Earth Science

Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams in Washington State

Courtesy of David Curtiss at the AAPG:

"The U.S. National Science Foundation has launched an Earth Science Literacy Initiative and developed a 14-page color brochure that outlines nine “Big Ideas” in earth science that all informed members of society should understand.

Big Idea #1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
Big Idea #2: Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
Big Idea #3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
Big Idea #4: Earth is continuously changing.
Big Idea #5: Earth is the water planet.
Big Idea #6: Life evolves on a dynamic Earth and continuously modifies Earth.
Big Idea #7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
Big Idea #8: Natural hazards pose risks to humans.
Big Idea #9: Humans significantly alter the Earth.

As described in the background to the document, “In a frighteningly ironic dichotomy, America has one of the most advanced and educated scientific communities in the world but one of the most scientifically ignorant populations. A document of the basic “Big Ideas” of Earth science, created by the Earth science community and supported and endorsed by the major Earth science organizations, would be extremely powerful in combating these destructive elements. Again, it is not enough that the Earth science communities carry out good research. These discoveries need to be communicated to the American people, and the people need to have sufficient literacy in the geosciences to understand those discoveries.”

For this initiative, NSF partnered with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geological Institute, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, National Earth Science Teacher Association, Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Geological Survey. "

Friday, July 17, 2009

NAGT Statement on Climate Change

From the July 2009 National Newsletter


The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) recognizes: (1) that Earth's climate is changing, (2) that present warming trends are largely the result of human activities, and (3) that teaching climate change science is a fundamental and integral part of earth science education. The core mission of NAGT is to "foster improvement in the teaching of the earth sciences at all levels of formal and informal instruction, to emphasize the cultural significance of the earth sciences and to disseminate knowledge in this field to the general public." The National Science Education Standards call for a populace that understands how scientific knowledge is both generated and verified, and how complex interactions between human activities and the environment can impact the Earth system. Climate is clearly an integral part of the Earth system connecting the physical, chemical and biological components and playing an essential role in how the Earth's environment interacts with human culture and societal development. Thus, climate change science is an essential part of Earth Science education and is fundamental to the mission set forth by NAGT. In recognition of these imperatives, NAGT strongly supports and will work to promote education in the science of climate change, the causes and effects of current global warming, and the immediate need for policies and actions that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

NAGT further recognizes that climate, climate systems and climate change are best taught in an interdisciplinary manner, integrating the many relevant sciences into a holistic curriculum approach; that climate-change topics provide exceptional opportunities for students to learn how geoscientists study past, present, and future climate systems, including the essential role of computer models in the assessment of global climate change scenarios; and that a current and comprehensive level of understanding of the science and teaching of climate change is essential to effective education. In support of these goals, NAGT sponsors professional development programs for geoscience educators, including workshops, seminars, and teacher-scientist cooperatives, and disseminates "best teaching" practices for climate change in the Journal of Geoscience Education.

A Note from the President of the National NAGT

From the July 2009 NAGT Newsletter

How will the current financial turmoil affect geoscience education? This is certainly a question on all of our minds as we watch the majority of states grapple with budget deficits, see massive losses in endowments and find our own net worth shrinking in frozen real estate markets. While such developments are troubling, they are occurring in a political environment that is favorable to science education and one where the Federal government is injecting massive amounts of capital into the system. What trends should we as geoscience educators monitor and how should we position ourselves during this period to strengthen our profession? In this President's Corner I summarize what I view as important factors related to budgets and enrollment. I encourage those of you with more expertise in these areas to voice your views using the editorial option of this newsletter.

Pay attention to budget discussions both on- and off-campus. Clearly we are entering a period of unprecedented fiscal austerity that will affect us all. Most economic experts agree this recession is deeper and will last longer than any in the post-war era. Current state reports show deficits in 48 states that total approximately 24% of state budgets; this despite Federal stimulus aid. The projections for 2011 are even worse. Most private endowments suffered similar losses. Looming budget cuts will likely have both immediate and long-term impacts. While many academics pride themselves on being altruistic, we must remain cognizant that wages (both real and indirect) affect job satisfaction. If the education community follows industry, we could face wage freezes, cuts and even retrenchment. Likewise, departments will likely be required to additionally reduce operating expenses; those reductions could impact field, lab and classroom experiences. It is incumbent on us, as educators and mentors, to remain positive about our profession during these difficult financial times. One way to do this is to build new research collaborations and seek additional support through increased funding available as part of the stimulus package. You could also monitor state budget discussions, consider becoming politically involved and find other ways to streamline operations to preserve those educational opportunities you most value.

Watch enrollment trends over the next 12-36 months. Demographic data are positive as they suggest enrollments should increase over the next two years, peaking in 2011. The same data suggest these students will be more diverse than ever before. Data from the last two significant recessions also show enrollment increased during those difficult economic times, even when graduation rates were flat. Therefore, we can expect to see more non-traditional students in our classrooms due to widespread unemployment and the growth of federally funded retraining and veterans programs. This provides an excellent opportunity for the geosciences to become a more inclusive profession. While enrollment trends appear positive for the near term, the affects of unemployment coupled with dropping home values and tight credit are unknown. Also, about the time economic experts project a rebound in the economy, enrollments are projected to fall as the number of graduating high-school students drops. As such, geoscience educators should redouble their efforts to strengthen their departments to both take advantage of and prepare for changes to enrollment trends. An excellent source of information for building a strong geoscience department can be found at

Clearly we, as a community, are in the midst of challenging times. The NAGT community needs to face these challenges together, provide support and encouragement where needed and share ideas for success when possible. Please contact me if you have ideas to share (

Dave Steer


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nominate an OEST!

A what?

An OEST: Outstanding Earth Science Teacher of the year! There are a lot of teachers out there in California, Nevada and Arizona who are in the trenches of warfare against ignorance and apathy. If you are a teacher, you know the feeling of frustration that can come with students who don't seem to care, and yet you do all you can to make the sciences come alive. And once in a while you find you made a difference. Sometimes it may be years before you find out, but there are always the students who couldn't look like they were interested, but later on, inspired to go to college, they get back to the geological sciences, because of the interest you sparked. Or even better, they become teachers of the geosciences. And sometimes you even hear about it, and sometimes they will come back to thank you.

It's wonderful when that happens, but that also can be a rare event.

If you know a teacher of the earth sciences who tries to go that extra mile to bring the sciences alive, there is another way to grant him or her the recognition that they deserve. You can nominate them to be the Far West Section's Outstanding Earth Science Teacher of the year. We can never know who the single best teacher is. We can only recognize the ones who deserve a bit of extra attention because they are the ones who put their heart into their work every day.

It is a straightforward process to nominate an OEST. The information can be found here. We don't have a large number of nominees, and would like to, so the deadline is extended. Give it some thought: someone you know is a truly excellent teacher, and they deserve to know it.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Thirty three years ago, I was a gawky teenager at Chaffey College in Southern California looking for a physical science class to meet the general education requirement. I somehow landed in a physical geology course.

I took a field trip with my class to the Mojave Desert. I explored lava tubes at Pisgah Crater, saw the San Andreas fault for the first time, and began to think that I might want to follow geology as a career. One semester later I hiked into the Grand Canyon with my instructor and seven other students. Six days later I hiked out, exhausted, but convinced that I wanted to be a geologist, and that I wanted to teach. I subsequently was able to achieve those goals, but as my career moved along, I sort of lost touch with my fellow geology/earth science teachers, buried in grading, curriculum, and deadlines.

Many years later in 1996, I attended my first conference of the NAGT. The University of the Pacific sponsored a field trip into the Mother Lode of the Sierra Nevada. For me, Far West Section conferences were an exciting discovery. Within a few years, I had experienced a wealth of adventures including a journey through a giant open-pit gold mine in Nevada, a trip on a research boat in San Pedro Bay, a walk through a gemstone mine in San Diego County, explorations along the San Andreas fault in numerous places, and tours of some of the most spectacular geologic localities to be found in California and Nevada. I’ve met and traveled with fellow teachers, students, authors, and many other fascinating people. The adventures have been inexpensive, well-organized, and well-run by a wonderful group of hard-working volunteers at colleges all across Nevada, California, and Hawaii. Looking back on these great experiences, I’ve realized that I cannot think of a better way to build on the inspiration that brought me into the teaching business in the first place.

Check out the Far Western Section website for information about joining. If you live in other parts of North America, there are other sections with their own unique activities. They can be accessed from the national NAGT website.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Get Involved: Secondary Level Earth Science Classes and the University of California

From Wendy Van Norden, director of the Far West Section of the National Earth Science Teacher Association (our sister organization for teaching the earth sciences):

"a letter writing campaign (has been) initiated by Eldridge Moores, of University of California, Davis, who has been working tirelessly to get the BOARS committee of the University of California to include the Earth Sciences as part of the UC “d” requirements for admission to UC schools. Very few of us have obtained “d” status for our high school earth science classes, and as you probably know, school administrators strongly discourage teachers from offering a science class to college prep students if it doesn’t meet the “d” requirement. We need to let the academic council of UC hear our concern about the future of earth science education in California. Without the “d” status, high school earth science courses are doomed to be the “rocks for jocks” courses if they are offered at all. Please take a look at the sample letter and talking points for ideas and send out some emails or letters. This is a critical time in the decision process and your letters can make a difference. Also, please forward this email to anyone who may be interested in helping this important cause.

Thank you so much."

Please get involved! This has been a point of frustration for earth science teachers in the region for years, and this inequality needs to change. Here are the main contacts and talking points for your letters:


Academic Council:

Chair: Professor Mary Croughan, 1111 Franklin St., 12th Fl., University of California, Oakland CA 95607-5200. Email

Vice Chair: Professor Henry C. Powell, 1111 Franklin St., 12th Fl., University of California, Oakland CA 95607-5200. Email

Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS)

Chair: Professor Sylvia Hurtado, Department of Education, 3005 Moore Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1521. Email

Vice Chair: Professor William Jacob, Department of Mathematics, South Hall 6607, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA 93106. Email

SUGGESTED "WRITING" POINTS (in no particular order):

· We teachers are concerned, because we want to be able to prepare our students for the environmental challenges that they will face in this century.
· We high school teachers think that teaching of Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences (EESS) is very important. We need you to take the step of specifying EESS in the "d" Laboratory Science requirement.
· The National Research Council National Standards were published in 1996, specifying Earth and Space Sciences as one of the three fields to be covered in K-12 education, particularly in 9-12 education.
· We are astonished that the UC System has not modified its "d" laboratory science requirement before now in order to conform to the national standards.
· Education in the EESS is essential for all citizens in a democracy, in order for them to be knowledgeable citizens in this century, in which the issues of climate change, water, and energy will be paramount. All these issues deeply involve the Earth Sciences.
· There are excellent course preparation materials of college-prep level in this area (give examples).
· These curricula use accessible subject matter that allows students to learn basic concepts upon which they may build difficult ideas, and to develop analytic and synthetic integrative thinking.
· Specific UC requirements determine in large part high school curricula. Thus in order for high schools to be able to justify offering these courses, they need to by specified in UC's "d" requirement.
· There are national and state examinations in EESS (e.g. California STAR exams).
· Thus we request that the UC system modernize its "d" laboratory science requirement to include the words "Earth, environmental, and space sciences".

A sample letter follows:

Dear ( )

I write as a professional geologist (or other discipline) concerned about the coverage of Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences (EESS) in California high school curricula. I believe that the University of California needs to recognize the Earth Sciences as an important part of the education of students entering the colleges and universities of the state. As the National Earth Science Literacy Initiative states,

From the perspective of future civilizations, the 21st century will be defined by three things: climate change, water availability, and energy resources. The fate of humanity will rest on how these three—all deeply rooted in the Earth Sciences--are handled in the next century.

If we are to prepare our high school students for challenges of this century, we need to encourage our California high schools to offer classes in the Earth Sciences.
  1. Currently, the California State Board of Education standards for high school science education includes the Earth Sciences, and Earth Science knowledge is tested on Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test on Earth Science,
  2. However, the University of California does not include the subject for fulfillment of the “d” requirement for university admission. Students, have to petition the University for permission to use EESS classes to meet the “d” requirement.
  3. In the 2004 school year, only 13% of California Grade 9 students took Earth Science (American Geological Institute). Only 20% of recent UC applicants, admits, and enrollees, received "d" credit for EESS, in contrast to 96% for biology, 93% chemistry, and 60% physics (BOARS; Minutes of March 6, 2009).
  4. There are excellent curricula available for EESS classes that meet the general UC requirements for laboratory sciences. The curricula use accessible subject matter that provide tangible problems appropriate for teaching the scientific method and evidence-based reasoning, and develops analytic and synthetic integrative thinking in students.

Therefore, we need the Academic Senate to change the UC "d" requirement to add the words "Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences" to the list of specified courses (biology, chemistry, and physics) that would satisfy the requirement. In this way, UC will signal to high schools that they value these courses, and thus encourage the institution of high quality Earth, Environmental, and Space Sciences.

I understand that the UC Academic Council is preparing a document on this issue for circulation to the various Campus Divisions for comment. I urge you to contact your Campus Academic Senate representatives when this issue comes before the Campus committees and to support the needed change in the wording of the "d" requirement.


Current Community College Openings in California

Adjunct Geology Instructor Posted On: April 17, 2009 Closing Date: Until Filled Santa Clarita Community College Dist., SANTA CLARITA $52.77/hour

Adjunct Geology Instructor Posted On: December 9, 2008 Closing Date: Continuous Long Beach Community College District, LONG BEACH $47.43 - $62.16 per hour

Geology Instructor Posted On: March 10, 2009 Closing Date: Until Filled Feather River Community College District, Quincy DOE

Geology Instructor - Cypress College -Part-Time # CCX-B30 Posted On: March 25, 2008 Closing Date: Continuous. North Orange County Community College District, Anaheim DOE

Geology/Geography Instructor, #0090010 Posted On: February 3, 2009 Closing Date: February 1, 2011. San Francisco Community College District, San Francisco $75.11 to $96.46/hr

Meteorology Instructor, #PT105 Posted On: March 2, 2009 Closing Date: Continuous Foothill - De Anza Community College District, Los Altos Hills DOE

Part-Time Geology Instructor Posted On: December 5, 2008 Closing Date: November 20, 2009 Cerritos Community College District, NORWALK $48.83 per hour

Earth Science -Adjunct Instructor Posted On: November 25, 2008 Closing Date: Continuous
San Bernardino Community College District, SAN BERNARDINO $40.91 - $52.59 /hr

Part-Time Earth Science Instructor Posted On: December 5, 2008 Closing Date: November 20, 2009 Cerritos Community College District, NORWALK $48.83 per hour

Positions are listed with the California Community Colleges Registry, using keywords Geology and Earth Science. A large number of astronomy positions are currently open as well.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spotlight on California Geology: the Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley is one of the unique geological corners of a unique geological state. The northern extension of the Gulf of California, it is a great place to observe a diverging plate boundary on land. The valley is a deep fault graben that is traversed by the south end of the San Andreas fault and the highly active San Jacinto fault. High mountain ranges, the Little San Bernardino and San Jacinto Mountains, flank the valley. The north slope of San Jacinto Peak is one of the steepest mountain slopes to be found anywhere in the country, dropping from the summit at 10,834 to the floor of the valley at close to sea level. The spectacular mountain and desert country includes lands protected by the establishment of Joshua Tree National Park and San Jacinto National Monument.

The Salton Sea is a strange landscape that resulted originally by an engineering mistake. In 1905, an irrigation canal diversion was overwhelmed by high spring runoff and the Colorado River flowed into the salt flats unimpeded for two years, ultimately producing the biggest lake in California. Lake level is maintained by irrigation runoff, but faces multiple environmental problems due to the high evaporation rates and chemical accumulations.

The Coachella Valley was the site of the Spring 2007 meeting of the Far West Section, hosted by Fullerton College, California State University San Bernardino and the College of the Desert. The guide was edited by Jeanette Frank, Richard Lozinsky and Marc Willis, and includes the following road and trail guides:
  • Orocopia-Cottonwood Spring-Mastodon Mine by Dee Trent and Andy Barth
  • Hiking along the San Andreas Fault Zone at Painted Canyon by Mike Rymers
  • Driving along the Salton Sea by Nancy Moll
  • Palms to Pines Highway Tour by Alan Schoenherr and Richard Lozinsky
  • Coachella Valley Preserve Thousand Palms Canyon Tour by Marc Willis
  • Colmac Renewable Energy Generation Plant and San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm Tours by Gary Frank
  • Palm Springs Aerial Tramway by Richard Lozinsky
  • Living Desert Zoo and Gardens by Alan Schoenherr
  • The Rand Schist and Associated Rocks of the Southwestern United States by Dee Trent

You can follow the field trips with the roadguide developed for the event here. Sales of the guidebook support the Far West Section scholarships for earth science students. Check it out!

The photos (by Garry Hayes) include a view of the spheroidally weathered granite boulders near the Mastodon Mine (tour number 1), and the view from the summit of Santa Rosa Peak into the southern unit of San Jacinto National Monument (tour number 4).

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Geology News around the Far West Section

Photo by Garry Hayes

The largest rockfall in Yosemite Valley in two decades thundered off Ahwiyah Point in late March of this year, setting off seismometers in Berkeley, which recorded a magnitude 2.4 quake from the impact. My alter ego blogger Geotripper posted a number of pictures and descriptions at the time. Now the Modesto (and Fresno) Bee has run a front page article detailing some of the research being done on the slide by Berkeley graduate student Valerie Zimmer (details here).

It's great to see some good geology on the cover of the local news.

Feel free to forward other news of note for posting on the Far West Section blog! We have some great geology field guides for the California-Nevada region you might want to check out, including a geologic tour of Yosemite Valley. Part of the Yosemite tour is posted at