Your Planet Earth - An Outreach Initiative - (Back)
Mike Benton President of the Geologists’ Association (2006-8)
2008 is the UN Year of Planet Earth, and one key theme is education. The Geologists’ Association and the Geological Society have just launched an initiative that we hope will contribute to getting the message across. Across the country, hundreds of people go out to schools to talk about dinosaurs, volcanoes, mineral resources, climate change, and many other topics in the earth sciences. And kids love these talks – maybe because of the novelty of the subject matter, or perhaps because they are bored with their regular teachers!
The new resource is aimed at students, teachers, and others who want to present talks on key earth sciences themes, and it is called Your Planet Earth <http://www.earth4567.com/>. Note the web address: 4567 is the current best estimate of the age of the Earth, in millions of years.
‘Your Planet Earth’ is an integrated campaign that offers school children interesting talks on topics from dinosaurs to volcanoes, posters that captivate and inform, and a portal that provides links to teaching material and information on the jobs and careers that relate to the Earth, its resources and stewardship.
The key aims of the Your Planet Earth programme are to:
- Promote informed debate among children and their parents.
- Use the Earth and environmental sciences as a means to demonstrate the application of maths and basic sciences to real problems.
- Make teachers aware of existing organisations (e.g. ESEU) that provide support to improve teaching and learning in science, particularly within Earth and environmental science.
- Provide accurate and current information on geoscience careers
The programme is funded so far by Shell, and its sponsors are the Geologists’ Association, the Geological Society of London, and the Earth Science Education Unit.
The website is just the beginning. In its initial form, we offer five talks, aimed at 14-15-year olds, on Volcanoes, Dinosaurs, Natural hazards, Plate tectonics, and Climate change. These talks were put together by Dr Jess Trofimovs, a volcanologist, at the University of Bristol (now at the University of Southampton), and they are available for anyone to use as they are, or to edit in any way.
The talks are standard Powerpoint talks, designed to last for 45 to 50 minutes. Each is divided into three segments – an introduction, with striking observations, and two additional themes. The two pauses in each talk allow the presenter to insert discussion topics. For some of the talks, we offer simple calculations or puzzles that the children can think about and discuss in groups, before the talk resumes.
We have made sure the talks are copyright-free, so they can be used freely by anyone, in any form. The photographs have all come from public sources, or from individuals and organisations that are happy to share their images freely. Most of the diagrams have been prepared specially for the talks, so we simply donate them to the world. This means that educators and others are free to edit the talks, personalise them with their own logos or additions, or even translate them into another language.
The talks were carefully quality-controlled. They have been read by Dr Danielle Schreve of Royal Holloway, University of London, a keen speaker in schools with interests in Quaternary geology and fossil mammals, and Professor Chris King of Keele University, Director of the Earth Science Education Unit. Together, Jess and her reviewers made sure the talks were scientifically accurate and would work with the target age group, namely 14- and 15-year-olds.
We have contacted the heads of all geology departments in universities and colleges, to encourage them to use the talks. Many departments run ‘science ambassador’ schemes, where final-year students and postgraduates sign up to go into schools. Others have slightly less formal arrangements, but staff and students in all universities commonly go into schools to give talks. We have offered the YPE talks as a basis for these locally-based activities throughout the country.
In addition, there is a training module. If an Outreach/ Engagement Coordinator wants to train a group of students to give effective talks in schools, we offer a short Powerpoint talk, with exercises, that can be used for training. This training module is based on the combined experience of people who have delivered geology talks in schools for many years. It reminds students of the need to prepare, to be engaging, and to pitch the talk appropriately. There’s nothing worse than a poorly presented talk: the children are keyed up and excited about the visiting speaker, and then they can be badly let down if it is not well done. Universities and colleges can help their students acquire valuable communication skills through such a scheme.
The next steps
The five talks on the website and the training module are just the beginning. Our grant from Shell will cover the development of further talks through the early months of 2008. In addition, we will translate each talk into a form suitable for 8-9-year-olds (at the moment they are pitched at 14-15-year-olds). As each major addition is made, we will contact interested parties.
We will then develop a careers section on the YPE website, using existing resources, and adding personal stories – young people who have completed degrees in geology and related topics, and who have gone on to interesting careers in the public and private sector. These personal stories will encourage school kids to see the fascination of earth sciences as a career for themselves, and they will stress the need for the kids to stick with science subjects to A-level.
A further step, providing we can secure additional funding, will be to send out posters to as many schools in the UK as we can. The posters will illustrate exciting and interesting themes such as geological time, origin of life, dinosaurs, plate tectonics, how a volcano works, geology and landscape, climate change, geohazards, finding oil, finding diamonds. These all relate to key-stage specifications in Geography, Chemistry, and other science GCSE syllabuses. They will present factual information and, in the case of controversial topics, a balanced presentation of the evidence.
The posters will be designed to demand attention from teachers, with arresting digital artwork that tells the whole story, and with quiz questions and startling facts to attract children. The posters will contain a postcard-sized inset box with a web link and a different careers story.
After 2008, and these developmental steps, we will seek ongoing funding to keep updating the selection of talks. We will hope to respond to suggestions about additional themes, and these might range quite widely over the area of geology and the earth sciences. We will work with ESEU to make sure we contact the appropriate cohorts of interested persons: the schools that want to book talks, and the providers of enthusiastic talk-presenters.
We are so lucky in this endeavour that the earth sciences offer so many fascinating topics, and that these themes are well developed in TV programmes, even if sometimes rather luridly. But these TV programmes turn children onto volcanoes, the weather, dinosaurs, the planets, the history of life, field work in exotic parts of the world, and many other such themes. The employers of geologists are crying out for young recruits now, and the government recognises the disturbing trend in schools away from the physical sciences. These are all excellent reasons to build on the huge amount of schools engagement that is currently happening. If you have been put off giving a talk in a school because of the effort required to prepare a talk – then look no further than http://www.earth4567.com!
President of the Geologists’ Association (2006-8)
The first slide of the training module, designed to be delivered by any instructor to train students and others to give effective talks in schools.
Volcanoes - These show the vivid illustrations, both original diagrams and copyright-free photographs. Important points are made throughout about the science and about the human impacts.
Dinosaursproblem.png: A snapshot from one of the problem examples. We provide scripts for each talk, as well as problem examples that may be included in the talk, to get the kids thinking and working, or these may be run after the talk, in order to construct an afternoon’s activity.