Take Geology Field Trips Right to the Schoolyard

Curriculum Review, May 2006 | Go to article overview

Take Geology Field Trips Right to the Schoolyard


Schoolyard Geology, a new U.S. Geological Survey Web site at http://education.usgs.gov/schoolyard, got its start in San Quentin State Prison when USGS scientist Matthew d'Alessio taught Geology 101 to inmates there. He quickly found that with geology field trips limited to ones taken behind the prison walls, finding a field site was rather challenging.

But d'Alessio improvised, and before long he and his students were using the prison yard as their geological field site. From there, it didn't take the scientist long to realize that if a prison yard in San Quentin could be a good geologic field site, then so could any backyard or schoolyard. The resulting curriculum can be adapted to students at any grade level.

Lessons and activities include mapping a schoolyard using USGS's The National Map; locating and identifying rocks; and learning geologic concepts such as glacial striations, layers and sinkholes. There's even a "GeoSleuth Murder Mystery" capping the unit. The site shows teachers how they can use building materials and urban landscapes to introduce students to geologic processes while opening up and expanding their curiosity about the world around them.

"My hope is that the Schoolyard Geology Web site will have the same success with students around the country that I feel it did with my students at San Quentin," d'Alessio says. Here's a sample activity:

Find the Rocks

Overview: Rocks are all around us. Even in urban areas or built up areas around schools, geologic materials are present--even if they are not in their natural form. This exercise is targeted towards younger students (grades 1-4), but could serve as a short introductory/reconnaissance activity for further schoolyard mapping activities for older students. Students place the location of rocks on a map of their schoolyard, which could be combined with another activity, Navigate Your Schoolyard.

Learning Outcomes: Students gain appreciation for the fact that geology is all around them. Practice the skill of navigating using a map.

Materials: Pre-drawn maps of schoolyard. (From the Schoolyard Mapping Activity, or teachers can make the map for students. You might want to photocopy students' original maps so that they don't mess them up during this exercise.) Pencil. A "clipboard" for each student (something sturdy to write on while outside--textbooks, binders, etc. all work well).

Time Requirements: 10 minutes (older students); 30 minutes (younger students)

Introducing the Activity: Rocks are all around us, and they play an important part in our lives. Who knows what people use rocks for'? (Examples include making cement for buildings, copper for electronic wiring, gold for jewelry, metal for cars, petroleum for fuel, and many more.) Lead students to make sure that they include gold. Why is gold so expensive? Because it's rare--that means it's hard to find. …

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