Friday, October 30, 2009

Accretionary Wedge #21: Geological Outreach

Note: This wedge has been accreted at Magma Cum Laude. Head over to learn how other geo-types help people get down to Earth.

This month's AW topic is geological outreach: communicating geologic knowledge and understanding to the broader public. I've been having a hard time with this one; it's hard to find an organization and/or theme. Here's the issue: I have done a lot of stuff that would qualify as outreach. And I mean a Lot.

The first field trip I led was in spring of 1982, to look at the sea-floor basalt, subsequent turbidites, and a gabbro sill, on nearby Marys Peak, for a local Sierra Club group. The weather, predictably, was lousy, and after a dozen or so stops, we were near the summit parking lot, looking at a hornfels outcrop above the gabbro. There was literally 3 inches of snow on the southern side of the Noble Fir trunks... but it wasn't sticking to the ground.

And the four-year old son of the woman who had organized the trip and drafted me to lead it (also my boss at the time), tugged her hand, looked up at her and said, "Mommy, when I grow up, I want to be a Lockwood."
That was one of the proudest moments of my life. That he could find interest in what we were doing, when all of us were so physically miserable, was very moving. And cute as the dickens... not a geologist, but a Lockwood.

At the time OSU had an organization called Experimental College, not-for credit courses taught and taken by people with interest in... whatever. It was purely volunteer; instructors could charge for materials, but not for monetary compensation. So I developed a class called Geology of the Corvallis Area, which was basically an introductory geology course using examples from this area. It ended up being pretty popular, and I typically had 15-20 students each term. The Marys Peak trip became a standard option for people who were interested, and I also used the opportunity to develop a couple of coast trips, and a field trip to Quartzville (which I have mentioned in a previous AW post).
Due to interest and student requests, I started offering a follow-up class called More Geology. I didn't get as many students, but I got a lot of returns. I would pick some topic for the first class, then brainstorm with the students and come to a consensus on topics for the rest of the term's subjects. I tried several times to get them to let me do a class on geophysics, to no avail. I do think that topic could be approached without heavy math.

In 1992 I finished my MAT (Master of Arts, Teaching) in Science Education.

Quartzville ended up being a mainstay for field tripping. I've done in the neighborhood of 30 trips with groups ranging from middle school, to families, to elderly. It's not the best place to communicate basic geology, though it's not bad, but due to all the fun minerals, and dramatic changes in degree of alteration, it's a great place to spur interest and excitement- what's called "affect" in the education biz.

Of particular note was a double summer-session series where middle school teachers received science certification by attending over the two summers. The second year, we spent a week in the middle of the term camping near Yellowbottom, and teams carried out group research projects. Some brought their families along, and one family had never been camping before; I'm pleased to report they had a great time, and planned to make camping a regular part of their summer.

The majority of the trips to Quartzville have been with middle-school-aged groups through and organization called Saturday Academy. Saturday Academy also provided the means to do extended trips- 4 to 5 days- with high school students. The one I've done most often is to Central Oregon, to look at volcanic landforms and geology-ecology interactions. Stops typically included Newberry Volcano and the obsidian flow, Lava Butte, Lava Cast Forest, Lava River Cave, Hole-in-the Ground (a maar, below), Fort Rock (another maar, below), Table Rock (a tuff cone), Picture Rock Pass (site of some neat petroglyphs and the edge of Basin and Range), Crack-in-the-Ground (a structural fissure that extends about six miles), Lost Forest (an expanse of ponderosa pines in an anomoulsy dry environment, surviving on a perched water table), The Dunes (prevailing westerlies have piled up a dune field of- mostly- Mazama ash), and Derrick Cave (another lava tube). And of course, a few stops in transit from the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon.

I also twice led trips to SW Oregon and northern Nevada to look at Basin and Range structure, rocks, landforms, and again, interactions between geology and the biosphere. Those are probably my favorite trips. There is a misperception in much of the world that Oregon is all lush temperate rain forest; the reality is that the eastern two thirds of the state is arid to semi-arid. In Western Oregon, there is a misperception that Eastern Oregon is a desolate wasteland. The fact is, the ranges catch a fair amount of rain, which then flows down into the basins, creating creeks and lakes that have a tremendous amount of life around them. The Malheur Wildlife Refuge is famous among birders. A vast, swampy wetland, it is a crucial link in the western migratory flyway. Just to the south, the majestic Steens Mountain (below, looking westward from the Alvord Desert), and the source of most of the water, rises to just under 10, 000 feet.
I've focused mostly on volunteer or underpaid teaching in this post, but I've done quite a bit of other work with outreach that I don't feel like bothering with. However, there is one more example that mustn't be overlooked: all the participants in this carnival are bloggers. I regularly get comments on my geology-oriented posts saying, in effect, "I learned so much," or "way cool!" I expect many, if not most, of my fellow geobloggers get similar comments, and feel a little glow of pleasure in knowing that we quietly provide an informal source of understanding and knowledge about this amazing and beautiful planet.


pygalgia said...

Wow. If I'm ever up in Oregon, I'd love taking one of your field trips. Sounds like a fun way to learn.
On my most recent trips on the San Juan river, I've been sharing a boat with a geology professor from the local university, and I've learned a ton of fun facts about the layers of San Juan canyon. Maybe you could join us next spring...

Charlie said...

Me too! Let me know when they are.

Soooo...that 4 year old would be 31 now....did he become a Lockwood uhm, I mean a geologist?