Friday, August 21, 2009

Geoteaching Out of the Box

Followup, Saturday Aug. 29: This wedge is now up over at Dino Jim's Musings.

Criminy... almost forgot this. This month's Accretionary Wedge topic is geology teaching out of the box... lessons and methods different from (and perhaps improving upon) traditional approaches.

This is a topic that's near and dear to my heart. The traditional K-12 curriculum with respect to geology in particular is a mess... a pastiched-together set of activities that teachers (who often have never had a college-level geology class, let alone any broad knowledge of the field) perform by rote year after year, generation after generation, because that's what they've always done, and are they same lessons they had when they were in eighth-grade earth science. Following the Sputnik launch, there was a push toward more intense science education efforts in this country, to bring our technological achievement levels more in line with where we perceived the Soviet levels to be. Some really fine curricula, often referred to now as "the alphabet curricula," were developed as a result. The finest K-12 earth science textbook I've ever reviewed had its origins in that era, and I'm pretty certain it was still in print at least through the mid-90's.

As a group, these curricula emphasized what we would today call inquiry approaches over rote memorization. "Hands-on" approaches are fine as far as they go, but what we as teachers are trying to get at is "minds-on." We want students to be challenged enough that effort is required to solve a problem, but not so challenged that they see no point in trying. The problem with many of the alphabet curricula was that they were perceived by teachers, students and parents as being too challenging. It would be more accurate to say they were unconventional, new, different, and therefore threatening.

I have done educational work- consulting, reviewing, curriculum development and so on- for a number of groups, mostly in Oregon and California, and worked as a some-time instructor here at Oregon State University in the Department of Science Education. But I've always been a little frustrated that I haven't had more opportunity to do more geology material. One project I worked on was a teacher's guide and lesson plans for the ODP/JOIDES educational cd, Mountains to Monsoons (~225 Kb PDF; there is a short summary here if you don't want to mess with the PDF.). There are thousands and thousands of geology teaching ideas and activities out there, so one can't be certain that a particular idea is new, but I always took pride in developing teaching methods that were new to me. Here are a few from the manual:
  1. Use construction paper to more accurately depict the relationship between sediment layers' thickness vs. areal extent, while getting across the fundamental idea of stratigraphic superposition in a way that is intuitive to students. Use different colors to represent different kinds of events and periods of deposition.
  2. Create a 1:1,000,000 scale cross section of the earth and its core (13 meters in diameter) to talk about convection in the mantle (The ideas presented in this lesson are a little out of date now; convection is thought to be more chaotic than the old idea of organized cells. But that could be easily addressed) The crust in this model would range from 5 mm (5 dimes in thickness) to about the height of a dollar bill. The tallest buildings ever built would be about half a dime thick.
  3. Using iron filings, paper, contact plastic and a magnet to make a model illustrating how magnetic inclination can be used to determine paleolatitude.
  4. On pages 68 and 69, I have a summary lesson I had forgotten. Students read a paragraph summarizing global climatic conditions during the ice ages, then are assigned a hypothesis that they are supposed to (mentally) test using the analysis techniques developed in the unit. Students are asked to choose a small number of key techniques and identify differing results depending on whether the hypothesis is correct.
The manual has plenty of shortcomings, but it's still a piece of work I'm pretty proud of.

Happy Birthday, Hawaii!

50 wonderful years. Too bad you're still not enough of a state to qualify Obama as a "natural born citizen."

Circle Jerks

I've really been too angry with the political nonsense going on to pay attention over the last few days. The republicans want to stop anything from happening, and they're succeeding. The dems want to make up with and placate the republicans. Since the republicans are succeeding at their goal, I guess they're placated, which means the dems are succeeding too. Circular reasoning prevails all round.

Meanwhile, people are dying. The planet is overheating. The country is woefully at the mercy of oil-rich nations. And on, and on.

Thus, squirrels. Squirrel is getting old. I need a new distraction. I also need more politicians like Barney Frank. If you haven't watched it (it's been all over the place), here's your chance. If you have watched it, but haven't watched Stewart's discussion, the second vid clip is worth the three and a half minutes.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Barney Frank's Town Hall Snaps
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealthcare Protests
Later. I'm off to search out the next meme.

Smokey Scablands

There are a number of science image blogs to which I subscribe. I've noticed that there is a peculiar fascination with smoke and dust in many of them. I can't really understand why the editors find material that obscures views of earth so much more interesting than the planet itself. For example, below is a crop from an enormous image at RedOrbit Earth Image of the Day. (here's a direct link to the full image) There are three paragraphs about the fires in B.C., the resulting smoke and one about the landscape. What do they have to say about the incredible geology, beauty and human geography in the full image?
Besides a thick haze of smoke, this image also captures a dramatic change in land cover in Washington state, changing from densely vegetated near the Pacific Coast to sparsely vegetated on the Columbia River Plateau near the Idaho border.
Not much. (click for full-size)

Briefly, this crop extends from the eastern flank of the Washington Cascades on the west (left) edge to the Rocky Mountains of western Idaho on the east, and from northernmost Oregon to northern Washington, south and north respectively. The Snake River can be seen making an arc from the SE corner around the Wallowa Mountains to its confluence with the Columbia River in the southern middle of the image. Along the middle-western top edge, one can see the snake-shaped Lake Chelan, a glacially-carved and morain-dammed remnant of the ice ages.

Another ice age feature of particular interest is the scarring from the Missoula floods in the area north of the Snake and to the east of the Columbia Rivers. The darker channels are underlain by very raw, unweathered basalt; basically all soil was removed by the flood events. Lower ground near water sources can be irrigated, and lower elevations to the west have more rain and a longer growing season, allowing a variety of crops to be grown. Central Washington is known for its orchards (apples, pears, cherries, apricots, etc.). Farther to the east, the dissected, incised loess plains are very fertile, but are too dry for many crops. Wheat, however, grows quite well. Much of the wheat grown in this area is shipped via the Columbia River (or transported by rail to Portland, Or. and transferred to ships) and exported to Asian markets.

There's an awful lot to say about these sorts of images beyond "Oooo, Looky! Smoke!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Squirrel Meme Lives!

The squirrel has not run its course... apparently CNN picked it up today. America's most trusted name in trivia.
But the video above, apparently a serious advertisement, is the one I like.

Dewey Decimal Numerology

Lockwood's Dewey Decimal Section:

442 French etymology

Lockwood = 25313554 = 253+135+54 = 442

400 Language

Linguistics and language books.

What it says about you:
You value communication, even with people who are different from you. You like trying new things don't mind being exposed to unfamiliar territory. You get bored with routines that never change.

Find your Dewey Decimal Section at
Finally! A post without squirrel! Actually, if I remember correctly, my number should be about 581 or 582...

Squirrel is Getting Around

To Abby and Howard, the terriers.
Katie is dubious.
Lydia takes a look at the big picture.
Maddy and Gwen share their table.
Celina and squirrel on a sunny day.
Helping Iris in the kitchen. Dunno if squirrel has a food handler's permit.
Ben and Nicholas are fascinated by the squirrel phenomenon.
A visit with Martha's dog.
Outdoor refreshments with Teresa.
Keeping an eye on Sabrina.
Michael and friend. And Squirrel.
Ingrid catches squirrel, but undaunted, he keeps visiting people.
Almost caught again by Kevin!
Clyde (Claudia) and squirrel share a pensive moment.

And the saga continues...

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Forecast: Continued Hot and Squirrelly

More IZ people...Todd
Kyle S.
Kyle M.
Connor, Theresa and Chelsea; I don't recognize the fourth guy.
Chelsea, who is going to Greece, and can't take this squirrel off my hands.

More Squirrelly Friends

Crasher Squirrel has been busy!Serena, whose art graced my favorite coffee shop last month
Rawley and Teresa
Maddy, a barista here, and whose photos are this month's decorations
Ben and Lydia (from last Halloween... recognize the characters?)
Cassidy, Sam and Justin
Justin and Caitlin
and Andrew.

Have I worked this meme out of my system yet? I think not.


I have them:
My Political Views
I am a left moderate social libertarian
Left: 6.42, Libertarian: 1.96

Political Spectrum Quiz This is pretty much where I fall each time I take one of these quizzes... slighly to the left of liberal, slightly below the middle in the authoritarian-libertarian spectrum. This one is longer than most though, with 50 questions, and asking the testee to rate the importance of each, which really means 100 questions.
My Foreign Policy Views
Score: -3.52

Political Spectrum Quiz

My Culture War Stance
Score: -5.89

Political Spectrum Quiz

I Have Squirrelly Friends

Crasher squirrel has been making the rounds, and has become a powerful meme... I've been visiting various people's facebook albums, swiping photos and squirrelizing them. Following are some of my squirrelly friends and acquaintances.Theresa, a regular here at the coffee shop.
Robin (left), another IZ person, out and about in the western Cascades.
Sam, a barrista here, up on Marys Peak on July 4, with my little burg nearly invisible in the background.
JD (lower right), who now works in tech support near Salem, so I don't see him too often anymore.
Callan Bently, Assistant Professor of geology at Northern Virginia Community College; his blog is here.
Katie, another IZP, shortly after her recent bike crash, is startled by squirrel.
And Ben, who finished an MS in math at the end of spring term, and is now residing in sunny Arizona. Expect some more squirrel appearances.

75 Years Ago Today

On Aug. 19, 1934, a plebiscite in Germany approved the vesting of sole executive power in Adolf Hitler as Fuhrer.
Thanks to the NYT for bringing this to my attention.

An Insider Speaks Out

There's a very good op-ed in today's CS Monitor by an insurance industry lawyer who, while he supports the industry and defends its right to a share of health care profits, is appalled at the rhetoric and fear-mongering it has been using to shape our current debate:

The final fear tactic: rationing. If, as the naysayers contend, a public option does someday lead to a single-payer system (though if insurance companies are right that they are less wasteful than the government, I can't see why it should), then care will potentially be rationed.

What the opponents of the public option fail to mention is that health care is already rationed in our country. We ration care based on who can afford it.

Individuals who are neither rich nor have government- or employer-provided coverage are left out. While they may eventually receive care in an emergency room or community-based clinic, they may not. For those who do, the costs are high and usually borne by others. For those who don't, the results are often tragic.

Because the majority of us benefit from the current system, the injustice of it rarely hits home.

This is a pretty quick read, and it's interesting to hear the voice of an insider who is both supportive yet critical of his industry.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Corporate Coffee

Bill and Iris will like this.

Rest In Peace, ****head

Stolen from the incredible Dr. Zaius, this is old news now. But the picture above perfectly sums up my attitude toward the man. I wish pain, suffering and death on no one, but that doesn't mean I have to mourn when someone I dislike intensely kicks the bucket. Rest in Peace, Novack. I'm sure you felt it was a real accomplishment to leave the world a much worse place through your efforts.

Tin Foil Hats

No, not the townhall tea baggers, not Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachman, not even Glenn Beck. This is actually a pretty cool idea (pun intentional) to beat the heat... yes, we poor left coasters are facing another three days of upper 90's to lower 100's. I've acclimated to the summer heat better by this point, but it's still unpleasant.From OregonLive.

Solar Eclipse Two Days Ago

Bet you missed it, didn't you? Unless you're Superman, you most certainly did: it was on Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter. Io moved between that moon and the sun casting a distinct shadow. I wonder in the great scheme of nomenclature if, as viewed from earth, this would be called a lunar eclipse? Probably best called an Ionian (Ionic?) eclipse. Whatever, very cool GIF animation from SpaceWeather.

Such a Pretty Picture

Abstract art? Nope. Algae? Nope, though that was the first thing that went through my head when I saw it. Maybe one of those crystal rock gardens that were so popular when I was a kid... but again, nope.

It's a sonar image of methane bubbles rising from newly decomposing methane hydrates on the Arctic Sea floor.
Scientists say they have evidence that the powerful greenhouse gas methane is escaping from the Arctic sea bed.

Researchers say this could be evidence of a predicted positive feedback effect of climate change.

As temperatures rise, the sea bed grows warmer and frozen water crystals in the sediment break down, allowing methane trapped inside them to escape.

The research team found that more than 250 plumes of methane bubbles are rising from the sea bed off Norway.


As temperatures rise, the hydrate breaks down. So this new evidence shows that methane is stable at water depths greater than 400m off Spitsbergen.

However data collected over 30 years shows it was then stable at water depths as shallow as 360m.

These plumes of bubbles were reported a couple of months ago, but the latter revelation, that the decomposition depth has increased by as much as 40 meters (125-130 feet) over the last few decades, is new to me. According to Wikipedia, methane has 72 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2:

Carbon dioxide has a variable atmospheric lifetime, and cannot be specified precisely. Recent work indicates that recovery from a large input of atmospheric CO2 from burning fossil fuels will result in an effective lifetime of tens of thousands of years. Carbon dioxide is defined to have a GWP of 1 over all time periods.

Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of 12 ± 3 years and a GWP of 72 over 20 years, 25 over 100 years and 7.6 over 500 years. The decrease in GWP at longer times is because methane is degraded to water and CO2 through chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
So an increasing depth and rate of methane release is kind of scary. On the plus side, the article states that all the observed plumes are dissolving in the water column before they reach the surface. This leaves the possibility that marine bacteria may metabolize most or all of the methane before it reaches the atmosphere. That's a good thing, but will also use up dissolved oxygen, which creates a whole 'nother set of problems.

In short, when I first read about the plumes of bubbles, I sort of figured it might be a steady-state kind of thing- that over the long term, there would be regions where the hydrates were forming, and regions where they were decomposing, with little net gain or loss overall. That appears to be mistaken.

A Quick Poll

Actually, maybe not all that quick. I don't know how to embed it, so the above is just a dead old screen capture, and not the poll at all. However, your intrepid blogger will give you the link to the actual poll and the story that goes with it. When I clicked on the obvious answer a moment ago, 15% of respondents claimed they had their heads up their asses.

Fallen Soldier

Another in the "Iconic Photos" series, this was supposedly shot during the Spanish Civil war. A soldier coming across a hilltop was captured at the moment of his death. This was one I was planning on posting eventually, but it is particularly timely today: an article in the NYT claims that recent research suggests the photograph was staged.

Staged or not, it still presents a riveting image of humanity and its strange predispositions.

Followup: Comment on the importance of this photo, photojournalism generally, and hopes that the photo is authentic, NYT, Thurs. August 20.