Teaching Earth Science – Its Challenges and Rewards

Introduction

Knowledge in earth science is very vital in nation building. Almost everything we do each day is connected in some way to Earth: to its land, oceans, atmosphere, plants, and animals. The food we eat, the water we drink, our homes and offices, the clothes we wear, the energy we use, and the air we breathe are all grown in, taken from, surround, or move through the planet. According to American Geological Institute (AGI) Foundation, by 2025, eight billion people will live on Earth. This number of people will undoubtedly continue extracting resources to maintain a high quality of life. As we benefit from all the resources we get from the Earth, then we, as individuals and citizens, need to know more about our planet – its processes, its resources, and its environment. And only through Earth Science education can students understand and appreciate our complex planet. In this present time, the old and the young must join hands and help one another in the serious task of nation-building, the young to learn from the wisdom and experience of the elders, the elders to recognize the impatience of the youth. In contrast, not all young students are willing to cooperate in order to acquire the needed knowledge, attitudes and skills essential for a secure future. It is then a burgeoning task for the teacher to facilitate learning so that quality education will be acquired by the students. This paper will discuss the different challenges faced by the teacher in imparting knowledge about Earth Science in public secondary school, likewise it will also discuss the positive aspects in learning the subject.

THE CHALLENGES

Motivation

My first experience in teaching earth science was on September 2005 in one of the public secondary schools in Davao Oriental, specifically in District 1. I can still remember the first day when I entered the class of more than fifty (50) students crowded in a classroom. Some of them were busy chatting with their classmates, some were busy doing different tasks in their seats, etc. The first question that popped into my mind during that moment was: how can I get the attention of the students? As I introduced myself to them as their new science teacher, I saw different emotions reflecting on their faces. There were emotions of excitement, worries, anxieties, happiness, etc. I am not really sure if they were prepared to take new lessons in earth science. What I did was to let them get a piece of paper and let them write in there: their names, favorite subject, subject they hate most and why they love/hate a certain subject, and their expectation/s of the subject. I did this just to know whether they have interest in the subject or to know what subjects they liked best and the reasons why they love the subject. From that, I learned that out of more than fifty (50) students, only four (4) said that they like science subject. When I asked them why they do not like science as a subject, the common answer was: “Science is a difficult subject”. From that experience alone, I got an insight that students will have difficulty in learning a subject if they do not like the subject. Indeed, teaching Earth Science to undergraduates or high school students could be difficult “if the students are not motivated or if they are not interested in the subject”.

There are several ways of motivating the students to be interested in Earth Science. In my own experience, I used songs as part of my lessons – songs which are easy to learn and frequently heard by the students. I used the tune of a particular song and changed the lyrics so that it will fit with the topic I am discussing. There are also songs introduced to us during seminars that are very helpful because students would find it easier to memorize certain science concepts by just singing the songs over and over again. Example of these songs are: “We’re the Scientist” – in the tune of “Ako’y Isang Pinoy”; “Sistemang Harana” – in the tune of “Harana” as popularized by Parokya ni Edgar, this emphasizes the importance of scientific method in solving problem; “Super Science” – in the tune of “Superman”, stressed on the contributions of science in enhancing our lives; and a jolly song – “Youngsters Love Science”. After introducing these songs, I found them useful in memorizing scientific terms, concepts, and processes. With this, I feel happy when I heard some of my students singing those songs and sharing them with their friends.

There are different ways of motivating students to learn Earth Science. Teachers should bear in their mind that flexible approaches and connections to other subjects is the key to success in a classroom for motivating student interest. It was proven true with my personal teaching experiences. One should not stick to one option if it doesn’t work. Here are the motivating techniques which have been proven to work well with most students:

1. Relate local or national or international news items to some aspect of Earth Science. One may choose from a variety of items from the news. Some of the older news items and their impact on social/political life may also be of interest to students. Any news items relating to the following are generally welcomed by most students for class discussion: Earthquakes; Volcanoes; Tsunamis; Floods; Meteor Showers; and news items related to disasters – present or from past.

2. Pick a topic of common interest to most of the students, such as social or political problem that they are familiar with: nuclear power plants, illegal logging, global warming, consequences of urbanization; and mining. In my case, I used illegal logging, illegal fishing and mining as my point of focus because these issues are really happening in our locality.

3. Historical or biblical or religious locations and the geology associated with it: the Chasm at Delphi and the Apollo Temple in Greece and the vapors that emanates from the location; the geology of biblical areas such as the ones in Middle East; the Taj Mahal in India; the Pyramids in Egypt; the Great Wall of China; Niagara Falls and Grand Canyon in USA; Stories of Precious stones and gems; and any other similar ones.

4. Anecdotes from the scientific discoveries/contributions of great men/women of the past and present: Aristotle; Eratosthenes (measurement of the circumference of the earth); Ptolemy; Copernicus; Tycho Brahe; Johannes Kepler; Archimedes; Newton; Einstein; James Hutton; Charles Lyell; N. L. Bowen; Alfred Wegener; Harry Hess; and many more names that are worth mentioning in Earth Sciences.

5. Space exploration always fascinates students: anecdotes of Lunar exploration; Mars missions and life on Mars; Jupiter and its clouds and moons; discovery of new stars and other galaxies outside our own; and other similar explorations.

6. There are several facts that intrigue and fascinate most Earth Science students: a. Deepest mine in the world b. Deepest bore hole in the world c. Comparison of the above numbers with the radius of the Earth This can show them how little we know about the earth through direct observation. d. Compare these distances with the distance to the Moon These numbers can raise questions like “how come we did not go too far down inside the earth” and “how come we went almost quarter of a million miles to the moon”. e. Latitude and longitude and their use in navigation and the time zones f. Deep sea drilling and the mid-fifties project to drill past Moho into the mantle g. The election of President John F. Kennedy and his pledge to land a man on the moon h. The theory of continental drift and the evidence for it i. The fascinating new theory of Plate Tectonics and its development

I used some of the items stated above and they worked for me in classrooms. Good general knowledge coupled with interest and knowledge of a variety of items in Earth Sciences “can help the teacher in getting the students enthused in the subject”. As teacher, we should always bear in mind that Earth Science poses questions that are exciting as well as practical to children and adults alike.

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