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.