As someone keenly interested in Geology, the Geoscience Education Academy seemed like a perfect opportunity to develop my knowledge of the subject outside of my school studies. Therefore, when I was offered a place as a student assistant, I simply had to accept.
The Geoscience Education Academy (GEA) is held annually at the Geological Society in London in July. It consists of a range of different teaching sessions and workshops aimed at helping teachers to learn more about the subject so they can start to offer it to their students.
I think this is really good as for me and many others, geology is not always available as a subject. Being 16 and having just finished my GCSEs, it was my job to give a student’s perspective on the ideas being taught and offer any other advice on how certain aspects could be taught to other people my age. As well as helping out in this way, I was able to benefit hugely from the teaching by Pete Loader, Ian Kenyon and Matt Loader. From Dinosaurs to Pavement Geology and with endless resources for me to use, they have really helped me to further my knowledge in just four days.
Day one of the GEA was all about getting to know each other and learning some fundamental ideas in geology that would help us all in the days to come. As the youngest person, this was a little daunting for me – my only knowledge was from GCSE Geography and a little additional reading I had carried out from my own interests. However, I was soon put at ease by chatting to the teachers and finding that some of them had only a little background in the subject too.
Our first learning sessions were an introduction to Earth Sciences and the ‘washing line of time’. However, my highlight of the day was the tour around the Geological Society’s beautiful building, viewing both libraries, the grand staircase and of course, ‘the map that changed the world’. This was fascinating as I had recently read all about the map in a book by Simon Winchester. It gave the history and told how the map had been constructed single handedly by one man. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone interested in Geology. It was interesting to see the map close up and compare it with modern geological maps, to see the great accuracy William Smith had achieved.
After a busy first afternoon and with a taste of what was to come, we all enjoyed dinner in the magnificent lower library within the Geological Society.
Day two was taken up with the urban fieldwork trip around London. The tour, organised by Matt Loader toured from Hyde Park all the way back to Green Park Tube Station and the shops on Old Bond Street (or at least the walls of them). At each locality, we noted the type of rock and learnt how to write about its features; colour, crystal structures and sediment sizes. We even managed to spot some fossilised corals and oysters in the paving stones of the Albert Memorial in Hyde Park. Whilst looking at the ooids on the walls of the Holy Trinity Church in South Kensington, we were joined by some curious policemen wondering what on earth a group of people were staring at the wall with such intent! After some quick explanations, they too joined in with our investigation.
For me, the most interesting part of the second day was seeing the walls of Green Park Tube Station. I had been here before but had never noticed the amazing collection of spiral holes left behind by hundreds of fossilised shells within the stone. I think to the amazement of many passers by, we all once again set about characterising the rock with our hand lenses and rulers.
This urban field work was really good because it showed how geology is all around us and it allowed us to discuss the rock formations in more detail by linking the different characteristics we had noted down with different formation conditions.
Day three was set to be even more fun packed than the previous day, with multiple lessons, workshops and an evening lecture. After a morning of lessons at the GeolSoc, we set off to the Natural History Museum for a microfossil workshop with Dr Adrian Rundle. He explained to us the importance of microfossils in geology as well as showing us how to look at some shell sand samples in order to create our own microscope slides to take away. I found it amazing to look at what seemed like grains of sand under a microscope to find that they were actually fossilised shells and plants formed over thousands of years. Dr Rundle’s knowledge of the microfossils seemed endless and this incredible workshop has inspired me to look at microfossils when planning my extended project (EPQ) in the future.
Back at the Geological Society, we were met by delegates from BP, who had generously sponsored the GEA. They talked to us about their backgrounds and how they each got involved in Earth Sciences. We then had to carry out a task where our teams explored and assessed possible oil fields for oil exploitation. I found this really interesting as we also had to take social matters into account before bidding on a particular oil field site. It showed how geology can have huge social affects in today’s world, as well as how it can be used to provide us with vital resources.
That evening, we were visited by Professor Monica Grady from the Open University who came to speak to us all about the recent Rosetta comet landing. It was a light hearted yet very informative talk covering everything from the naming of the space craft to the aptly timed switching off of the Philae lander which had occurred just days before on the 27th July 2016. Her lecture showed us all a completely new side to geology – the geology of outer space. It showed me how the things we learn about Earth could be key in working out the geology of other planets millions of lightyears away.
Day four, Saturday, was our last day and it came around all too quickly. Each teacher brought with them a new learning idea to use when teaching their subject. These ranged from tomato soup continental drift, toilet rolls of time and even Geobattleships. It was great for me to see the different approaches that can be used to make the learning of geology even more fun. I also shared a teaching idea that I once experienced and loved, using the one thing all students can’t resist – chocolate. I chose various different chocolate bars and compared them to the different rock types by pointing out their characteristics. This helped to learn about the classification of rocks, as well as having fun eating it afterwards! My favourite was comparing Granite to a crystalline Cadbury Daim bar.
Our time at the Geological Society was drawing to a close but it wouldn’t be complete without collecting our goodie bags, filled with resources – worksheets, shell sand samples, posters, pencils and badges.
I had enjoyed myself so much and learnt as huge amount that will be vital for my studies in the future. The teaching from Ian, Pete and Matt had been great and everyone at the Geological Society had made us all so welcome throughout the four days. It was truly inspiring and I know I will remember taking part in it for a long time come.