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

Friday, May 1, 2009

1 year Astronomy Position in Modesto

Modesto Junior College in central California has an opening for a one-year appointment teaching astronomy. Details at I can provide information about teaching at MJC (well, sort of, I've only been here for two decades), so contact me (Geotripper) if you have questions.