My most memorable outreach activity yet

Sarah is right – I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since GK-12 ended for me 😦 Time really flies! Instead of talking about how I’ve changed, I’m going to tell you a story that I think is significant that happened to me recently.  

I recently put together a geology field trip for a school outside Lawrence. What was interesting about this was that the school is actually within a church (so they don’t teach evolution). I guess I should start from the beginning so it makes some more sense – so here goes:

Last semester our department received an email from an elementary school teacher asking if there was anyone available to come out and teach their kids about geology. They told us that they did not have much training in the field, and their kids were so excited about science. I responded and said that we would love to come out and help, and as communications continued they did have one request that we do not talk about millions of years with the students. I thought about it and said okay, we’ll just teach lessons on areas of geology that don’t delve into long time spans like fossils or the geologic time scale. This spurred a pretty intense debate among some people about whether or not we should still go, after all we are geologists and we believe that the earth was created 4.6 billion years ago, etc etc, how could we possibly not talk about millions of years? One particularly annoying comment was how we shouldn’t associate ourselves with people or schools who don’t teach evolution because they will just use it to add fuel to the debate and associate us with them.

Maybe it’s a generational thing, maybe I’m just different. But I don’t see things that way. Yes, I believe in evolution. But do I think that we should discriminate against elementary kids and not teach them about geology because of where they go to school? No. That’s silly. ESPECIALLY if their group reached out to US. So me and a large group of students went to that school, and we taught them about all SORTS of geology like rocks, minerals, plate tectonics, water and pollution, volcanoes, layers of the earth, erosion – and none of those topics required us to talk about millions of years. But they are still important and FUN areas of geology to learn about. And let me tell you, it was the best morning ever. I have done geology demos like this several times before, and I have yet to see a group of students more excited, or teachers who were more excited, than this group. All of the geology students who helped out had a blast as well, they all said how happy they were to participate. It was a great day. And I am so glad that I didn’t listen to the naysayers, because seeing the excitement on those kids and teachers faces reminds ME of why I love geology so much.

I am NOT hoping to stir up some intense comments about whether or not we should teach evolution in all schools or stuff like that by this post. That is not the point of this. The point is maybe as scientists we should be more willing to make compromises with outreach activities – instead of just automatically deferring to “no we won’t go if they don’t think the EXACT same way we do”.


About benson3

I am in my second year as a PhD student at the University of Kansas. My degree is in geophysics with a focus on near-surface geoarcheology applications.
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