GEOLOGY IN THE NEWS
David W. Mogk
Dept. of Earth Sciences
Montana State University
Bozeman, MT 59717
Level: Grades 5 and above
Estimated time required:
Variable; it is recommended that time be regularly scheduled
on a weekly basis during an entire academic year, or on a daily basis during
the course of an earth science unit, to demonstrate the close relationship
between geology and our society.
Anticipated Learning Outcomes
- Students will discover the underlying scientific principles
in common, daily events.
- Demonstration of the connections between geology and
society. The earth is at work all around us. We don't have to look too
far to see its impacts on society and in our personal lives.
- Demonstration of ways in which nature (hazards, resources,
etc.) impacts our society, and ways in which our society impacts natural
systems (e.g., waste disposal, groundwater quality, etc.).
- Demonstration of the need to understand fundamental scientific
principles to protect our health, safety, and economic security, and to
generally become better citizens.
Recent publications from the American Association for the
Advancement of Science, Project 2061 Science for All Americans (1989) and
The Liberal Art of Science (1990), address the problem of scientific illiteracy
in America by proposing some specific recommendations for reform:
- start with questions about nature;
- concentrate on the collection and use of evidence;
- provide an historical perspective, and, I would add,
economic, and political perspectives as well;
- acquire scientific knowledge and scientific habits of
- insist on clear expression;
- use a team approach; and
- engage students actively.
These recommendations contain inherent scientific and human
significance in terms of the utility of scientific knowledge, the need for
social responsibility, the intrinsic value of knowledge, and the overall
enrichment of students through education. There is no better place to discover
the relationship between natural science and our society than through the
news media. Every day news items report events or occurrences in natural
systems that impact personal lives, communities, and planetary systems.
This provides a very convenient format to explore the scientific basis for
the event, cause and effect, and the direct relationship between science
and the community-at-large.
- Newspapers, magazines, other printed material
- News reports from TV or radio.
Students should be assigned (or encouraged) to read the
newspaper on a daily basis, listen to news on the radio, or watch on TV,
to acquire material related to the earth sciences. Natural hazards (earthquakes,
volcanoes, landslides, hurricanes, etc.), human-made hazards (urbanization,
other compromised engineering projects, etc.), environmental issues, resource
extraction issues all appear in the news with great frequency and are easily
accessible to students. For lower grades, teachers or parents can contribute
these news items. Global events may be of general interest, but there is
sure to be a wealth of information on the local level as well (water quality,
solid waste management, development issues, etc.). The news items may then
be presented to the class as a) "show-and-tell" exercises, with
follow-up discussion by the class, b) a bulletin board that could be dedicated
to posting the geologic events of the week, c) scrapbooks of events, either
chronologically or category of events compiled by individuals or classes.
If you do this over the course of a year you will be amazed at how much
newsworthy information is earth-related.
Results and Discussion
Acquisition of this informational database serves many
- Discussion of the news articles is inquiry-based. It
may be sufficient to simply ask the question, "What's wrong with this
picture?" to start a discussion that will lead to a whole series of
subsequent questions by the students.
- Understanding of the news articles is discovery-based.
Students should be encouraged to ask questions about the circumstances
surrounding the event to understand the nature of the event, and its impact
on personal lives and/or community. These articles (and pictures) provide
graphic means to help students discover underlying scientific principles.
- Cause and effect is amply demonstrated. The scientific
method can be applied towards interpreting the circumstances. Hypotheses
can be formulated and tests proposed based on the information available.
- Critical thinking is fostered through the acquisition,
prioritization, and interpretation of information. A dose of Cartesian
"hyperbolic skepticism" is warranted, and students should be
encouraged to ask who is telling the story, to what audience, and for what
purposes; are there alternate interpretations?
- The collection of news items can serve to make connections
to other academic subjects. Numbers in the articles can be evaluated in
terms of order of magnitude and scale of observation, and practical application
of mathematics can be extracted from the articles (e.g. what is a part
per million?). These articles can be the basis of short writing assignments,
or art projects. Locations of the events can be related to geography, and
the historical perspectives can be explored.
- Connections to personal lives should be emphasized to
demonstrate that science is important, interesting, and even fun.
- Encourage diversity in relating to the news stories.
Students from different cultures, economic classes, and geographic locations
all have an important contribution to make towards the understanding of
news stories. Rely on these different life experiences to explore the meaning
of the stories. Accept the diversity of cognitive processes that lead to
understanding. This does not mean that all offerings by the students need
to be accepted uncritically; misconceptions, falsehoods, and prejudice
must be addressed directly during class discussions. However, students
must be secure in knowing that they all have access to the material, and
that they can all make valuable contributions towards understanding the
material at hand.
- Develop exercises that allow students to describe the
news events, and to explain the circumstances and consequences. Clear articulation
of the situation, related questions, and possible solutions is essential.
Let students work together to understand the issues and to formulate solutions.
- Instruction around topical issues is "open-ended";
there is no way to predict the type of material that might be submitted.
And there is not necessarily a "right" answer to many complex
issues as reported in the news. Don't be afraid to say "I don't know";
but also be willing and prepared to say "But here's how we can find
out." Offer this as a challenge to the student to teach you something
(i.e. acquire new information). This is the early workings of the scientific
method through questioning, testing, and trying new approaches, and is
an important step towards "acquiring scientific habits of the mind".
- This "open-ended" approach does put the teacher
somewhat at risk with respect to exposure to material that may not be familiar,
and perhaps during discussions of controversial news items. But in this
risk there are also great opportunities in making science accessible and
relevant to all students.
Follow the development of local Earth-related issues with
invited presentations from business people, city or county government officers,
local activists, etc. to explain their involvement with the issues. If possible,
schedule field trips to visit specific sites related to the news items:
country landfill, watersheds, sanitation department, etc.
American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1990,
The Liberal Art of Science Agenda For Action: AAAS, Washington D. C., 121
RUTHERFORD, F.J., AND AHLGREN, A., 1990, Science for All Americans: Oxford
University Press, New York, 246 pp. (This is the "popular" version
of the Project 2061 report).