Care and Feeding of Geology Teachers

Sunken entrances of this San Francisco house attest to geological subsidence. A free excursion for geology teachers during Earth Science Week helps teachers see the unnoticed. Photo courtesy Ray Sullivan.

Sunken entrances of this San Francisco house attest to geological subsidence. A free excursion for geology teachers during Earth Science Week helps teachers see the unnoticed. Photo courtesy Ray Sullivan.

California, once upon a time, set great store by geologists. They were visionaries who could forecast promising sites for gold and silver mines, helpful specialists for keeping infrastructure soundly built, canny mappers of earthquake faults. Today geoscience does not have many friends, probably because it tends to bring unrealistic schemes down to Earth. When money raises its voice, the countervailing facts of geology are often inconvenient truths.

Geology is not a science of easy answers; it doesn’t fit the current climate of jobs-centered projects and test-oriented curricula. It rewards lateral thinking, tentative conclusions, multiple working hypotheses. It also requires field trips. And in California high schools, geology doesn’t qualify as a science lab course for college prep. For these and other reasons, teaching geology is a challenge. If you know (or are!) an Earth science teacher, they could probably use some help.

The Northern California Geological Society has an unusual degree of dedication to teachers of geology. The NCGS not only takes part in a national geology teachers’ contest, but it also has its own cash grants for local Earth science teachers reaching out to kids.

The national contest for the K-12 Earth Science Teacher of the Year Award, run by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, culminates in a $5,000 prize, but the NCGS gives $750 to its local winner. That person goes on to the regional AAPG contest in Long Beach, with its own $500 prize, before reaching the national level. It rewards well-established Earth science programs and requires 3 years of teaching experience. The application form is on the NCGS website.

The other pair of NCGS prizes, the $500 Geoscience Teaching Awards, go to a Northern California geology teacher regardless of experience—one for grades K–8 and one for grades 9–12—for “excellence in the teaching of earth or environmental sciences.”

Another society that gives cash prizes to geology teachers is the Far West chapter of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. And there are other state groups, like the California Science Teachers Association, and even the White House’s Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, that may single out a geoscience teacher if they think them worthy.

Although these prizes are great, they reward only a few winners, and that’s not the true teacher’s way. The California societies I’ve mentioned do a lot more for teachers by offering them group learning experiences. The NCGS has several field trips a year, open to all comers and run by scientists. The Far West NAGT holds field conferences each spring and fall. And the CSTA meets every fall in a different California city. What could be better than hanging out with geologists and teachers together?

Every year in October there’s a nationwide festival of geology called Earth Science Week; this year it officially runs from October 9 to 15. The NCGS will take part by offering a walk around San Francisco’s landmarks of the 1906 earthquake, including lunch in Chinatown, that’s free to 30 geoscience teachers. It’s on Saturday the 15th, and leading it will be the irrepressible Ray Sullivan, emeritus professor of geoscience at San Francisco State University. The PDF from the NCGS has the details. Let your friendly neighborhood geology teacher know about it.

Care and Feeding of Geology Teachers 5 October,2011Andrew Alden


Andrew Alden

Andrew Alden earned his geology degree at the University of New Hampshire and moved back to the Bay Area to work at the U.S. Geological Survey for six years. He has written on geology for since its founding in 1997. In 2007, he started the Oakland Geology blog, which won recognition as "Best of the East Bay" from the East Bay Express in 2010. In writing about geology in the Bay Area and surroundings, he hopes to share some of the useful and pleasurable insights that geologists give us—not just facts about the deep past, but an attitude that might be called the deep present.

Read his previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor