Sunday, April 26, 2009
This is in honor of the end of the semester, which comes a bit early for us due to a misguided alteration of our schedule to "compressed" mode. The non-lab divisions love the extra two weeks each semester, but all lab sciences had our labs cut, to the detriment of science education. It was all supposed to give us a full summer schedule with complete course offerings, but the enrollments and state budget cuts made that impossible.
But few seem to listen to grouchy scientists...
The Ballad of Historical Geology by Vicki
Winding our way throu geologic time
Has been quite an experience
Learning about critters long ago dead
from fossil evidence
Crumping, crunching orogenies
Adventure beyond compare
Transgressions, regressions, climatic extremes
If we could only have been there!
Or better yet, time lapse photography
To show us what occurred
From way back when in the Cambrian
When life forms were so absurd
Our list for field trips has expanded
We're poised, rock hammers at our side
Let's go find that Burgess shale
And some giant trilobites
Let's go from A to Z
And collect all that we can carry
of every fossil family
Let's check out that iridium layer
In our search for ultimate truth
Or did the dinosaurs really die
From drinking tainted vermouth?
Now the semester has drawn to a close
We're all ready to go
But there is one thing we haven't addressed
That I'd still like to know
The text mentioned Lucy
But it did not discuss
Fred and Wilma, Barney and Betty
And their importance to us!
And where the heck is Bedrock
On Pangea I or II?
Could I get a map to go there?
If so I bid you adieu!
*a reference to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe, for those unenlightened, in which having poetry read was the worst possible form of torture....
Friday, April 24, 2009
A common discussion in my class:
The professor: "All earthquakes in California happen on the San Andreas fault. True or false?"
The class: "Uh, (suspicious pause) false?"
The professor: "Very good! Name another fault in California."
The class: ....(crickets chirping)....
Teachers of earth science have a daunting task: educating a public that is ignorant of the very real geologic hazards that surround them, in a time when a typical google search list is topped by Britney Spears and Obama's choice of dog.
One thing has certainly changed in two decades: television has made a difference. Cable channels like Discovery and National Geographic have in fact tapped into the very real curiousity people have about the world and geologic hazards that exist there. My students seem better informed about earthquakes and volcanoes and other topics than they used to be. It's a good thing, but there is a problem. But they also know more about sharks from "Shark Week" than they know about ocean ecosystems and the threat of over-fishing and ocean pollution. In other words, they know the flashy stuff, but their understanding of the underlying principles is still lacking. A television show cannot communicate that kind of deeper understanding. That's part of what we must do as teachers: adding the protein and vitamins to the empty calories of mass media presentations.
Want to learn more about teaching earth sciences? Check out the National Association of Geoscience Teachers (also here, and here) or the National Earth Science Teachers Association.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I was nervous. I begged my professor to let me copy his lecture notes and I did so thoroughly, practically memorizing them word for word. I held on to those notes like a security blanket during my lectures, hoping and praying the students wouldn't ask any questions. But somehow that first night I made it to 9:00 o'clock and told the students they could go. They looked at each other quizzically and got up and left. This went on for weeks. The last week of class, I looked at the grade sheet, and saw that the class was scheduled from 7:00 to 10:00! And not one student ever said anything about it!
I learned a lot about teaching that semester, but the most important thing I learned is that I could actually teach. Maybe not the most brilliant academic mind, but I could communicate the interest and excitement about the earth that I myself had. And I especially liked field tripping. The comic above was one of the two pieces of paper a student turned in at the end of the field trip along the San Andreas fault at Cajon Pass in southern California. No notes, just a pair of comics.
He passed, but barely.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
We are building a long-needed Community Science Center that will house the biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy and geology departments as well as a nice museum, a planetarium and an observatory. We are near the end of the architectural planning and the subject of office choices came up, and the idea of seniority was floated about. With the retirement of our astronomy professor this semester after 35 years of teaching, that senior person...was me. OMG.
I am finishing my 20th year of teaching at the college. TWENTY years! I don't know how that much time passed so quickly. I was the young kid in the department when I started, surrounded by veterans of 25 or 35 years or more. One by one they've retired, and new people arrived. I was once the one with the young kids at department functions, but now the young kids belong to others. My kids are pursuing their careers and degrees.
Well, at least I am not the division curmudgeon yet. There are still some math professors that have been there longer than me....
Today's comic is a picture of me drawn by one of my students back at the beginning: a thinner soul with wiry long hair, and a great attitude about the grading he had to finish. Just like the pile I should be working on right now.....
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
- insulation fiberglass, textile fiberglass and heat-resistant glass (43% of world demand)
- detergents, soaps and personal care products (17% of world demand)
- ceramic and enamel frits and glazes, ceramic tile bodies (12% of world demand)
- agricultural micronutrients (5% of world demand)
- Other uses including wood treatments, polymer additives and pest control products
Borate minerals never quite had the glamour of gold and silver mining, but they certainly had a colorful history in the Death Valley/Mojave Desert region. First discovered in Death Valley in the late 1800's, the minerals were transported by the iconic 20-mule teams (remember the powdered soap?) to the railroad at Barstow. The discovery of borate minerals in the Calico Mountains a short distance from Barstow caused the shutdown of the DV mines, but Calico played out a few years later. A farmer seeking irrigation water discovered a briny solution of borates at the site of the present-day mine, and mining began in the late 1920's.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Sunday, April 5, 2009
One more set of photos in the next post!
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Details are starting to emerge about the event, including seismic information. The rock mass fell some 1,800 feet, and more or less exploded on impact, causing an airblast that spread pulverized granite dust throughout the area. The rocks and blast knocked down hundreds of trees, according to a preliminary note from the park geologist, Greg Stock (from the park's daily report at http://www.nps.gov/yose/parknews/upload/daily.PDF). Thankfully, no one was injured.
More pictures soon!
I'm tired tonight, so I leave you with a view from the newly renovated Tunnel View Parking Lot below Inspiration Point. The snow covered peak on the left side is Cloud's Rest, the highest point visible from the valley floor at just over 9,900 feet, and of course the iconic Half Dome on the right. The unobtrusive outcrop in the lower center part of the photo was the site of a significant rock fall a week ago, and we made a reconnaissance trip to the vicinity of the impact. Pictures to follow in the next post!