Earth Science in Your Backyard
Posted: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014
by Liz Colvard
For any student of science, one of the most difficult tasks is making the leap from the abstract to reality. Why should I care about learning this? How does it impact me? The beauty of living in California is that we’re surrounded by earth science in action every day, and we’re constantly faced with the importance of understanding the world immediately around us. Making the leap isn’t all that difficult. As the Nation’s largest earth science agency, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is a rich source of materials for both learning and teaching about topics like plate tectonics, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and landslides. Unlike federal agencies like NASA and NOAA, the USGS has never had an Education Program, so all of our education products are written by individual scientists who simply have a passion for education. That means that although USGS education resources are somewhat haphazard, they’re all backed by solid science. The USGS Education website compiles all the best USGS websites for use in the classroom. Organized by grade level and topic, it is designed for teachers.
California is no stranger to volcanic unrest. Prior to the 1980 activity at Mount St. Helens, the 1914-1917 eruptions at northern California’s Lassen Peak were the most recent eruptions in the Cascade Range (did you know that seven volcanoes in the Cascade Range have erupted since 1776?). The separate chain of Mono-Inyo Craters (east of Yosemite) last erupted just 300 years ago at Paoha Island in Mono Lake. And fairly recent unrest at Mammoth Mountain is thought to be related to an intrusion of magma deep below the volcano in 1989. The USGS has two excellent volcano teaching guides for locations outside California, but their contents can easily be applied to any volcano. Explore the many classroom activities in Alaska Volcanoes Guidebook for Teachers, like using bottles of soda to understand the role of dissolved gases in volcanic eruptions, or using breadcrumbs and water to examine the impacts of volcanic aerosols in the atmosphere. Living with a Volcano in your Backyard has more than 30 activities with a focus on the Cascade Range. Or demonstrate the forces that build a caldera (like Long Valley caldera) using flour and a bicycle pump.
There aren’t many places in the world where you can walk from one tectonic plate to another, but California’s 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault Zone offers the opportunity to do so. The fault zone marks the region where the North American plate and the Pacific plate are sliding past each other in a (mostly) horizontal motion. And right offshore from Cape Mendocino, those plates intersect with a third plate – the small Gorda plate – at the Mendocino Triple Point. Tectonic forces created by all three plates are the source of tens of thousands of earthquakes in California every year, many of which are large enough to be felt. Make sure your classroom participates in the annual Great California Shake Out, which offers classroom activities for learning about and preparing for earthquakes. Remind students of the power of a large earthquake by showing them amazing USGS ground shaking animations of actual and hypothetical earthquakes. The award-winning Shockwaves video has dramatic historical footage of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and shows what we’re learning about California earthquakes using modern technology.
When a significant earthquake does occur, have your students contribute to our USGS database by filling out a Did You Feel It? questionnaire, then check out the Earthquake Summary Poster for that event to get more information. The posters are a quick and easy way (with plenty of diagrams) to learn about an earthquake’s epicenter, the plate tectonic environment, the earthquake history of the area, and other information that helps you and your students put the earthquake in context.
Landslides occur in every state of the U.S., but California’s geography and climate make it an ideal setting for landslides. Learn more about the destructive nature of landslides and what causes them in the video Riding the Storm, about a 1982 storm that triggered over 18,000 landslides in the Bay Area. Another video, Debris Flow Dynamics, might be thirty years old, but it’s still the most popular film at the USGS Training Center. The USGS Landslide Handbook offers many illustrations and descriptions of different kinds of landslides.
If you just need help teaching basic geologic concepts, try using your own schoolyard and activities from Schoolyard Geology. That website was created by a USGS scientist who taught geology classes at San Quentin State Prison and needed a way to take his students on a virtual field trip. It uses simple features found on the street or in the playground to demonstrate geologic principles, and includes several classroom activities, like a “GeoSleuth” murder mystery. Another website, The Life Cycle of a Mineral Deposit is a teaching guide with ten activity-based learning exercises (many using foods like cookies and cupcakes) that educate students on basic geologic concepts, with an emphasis on minerals in our everyday lives. Make your own toothpaste using antacid tablets and baking soda.
Keep in mind that the USGS is one of the most accessible federal agencies. You and your students can always submit questions about our products and sciences by using the Web form, Web chat, and phone numbers listed on the Contact USGS website.
Liz Colvard is with USGS Science Information Services
Posted: Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
by Jessica Sawko
In June 2016 California submitted a waiver application to discontinue using the old CST (based on 1998 standards) and conduct two years of pilot and field tests (in spring 2017 and 2018, respectively) of the new science assessment designed to support our state’s current science standards (California Next Generation Science Standards (CA-NGSS) adopted in 2013). The waiver was requested because no student scores will be provided as a part of the pilot and field tests. The CDE received a response from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) on September 30, 2016, which provides the CDE the opportunity to resubmit a revised waiver request within 60 days. The CDE will be revising the waiver request and resubmitting as ED suggested.
At its October 2016 North/South Assessment meetings CDE confirmed that there will be no administration of the old CST in the spring of 2017. (An archive of the meeting is available at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/ai/infomeeting.asp.) Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
by Carol Peterson
1) To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, Google has put together a collection of virtual tours combining 360-degree video, panoramic photos and expert narration. It’s called “The Hidden Worlds of the National Parks” and is accessible right from the browser. You can choose from one of five different locales, including the Kenai Fjords in Alaska and Bryce Canyon in Utah, and get a guided “tour” from a local park ranger. Each one has a few virtual vistas to explore, with documentary-style voiceovers and extra media hidden behind clickable thumbnails. Ideas are included for use in classrooms. https://www.engadget.com/2016/08/25/google-offers-360-degree-tours-of-us-national-parks/. Learn More…
Posted: Thursday, September 22nd, 2016
CSTA is pleased to announce the winners of the 2016 CSTA Awards for Distinguished Contributions, Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, 2014 and 2015 PAEMST-Science recipients from California, and the 2016 California PAEMST Finalists. The following individuals and organizations will be honored during the 2016 California Science Education Conference on October 21- 23 in Palm Springs. This year’s group of awardees are truly outstanding. Please join us in congratulating them!
Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award
The Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award honors an individual who has made a significant contribution to science education in the state and who, through years of leadership and service, has truly made a positive impact on the quality of science teaching. This year’s recipient is John Keller, Ph.D. Dr. Keller is Associate Professor, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Co-Director, Center for Engineering, Science, and Mathematics Education, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. In her letter of recommendation, SDSU science education faculty and former CSTA board member Donna Ross wrote: “He brings people together who share the desire to make a difference in the development and implementation of programs for science teaching. Examples of these projects include the Math and Science Teaching Initiative (MSTI), Noyce Scholars Program, Western Regional Noyce Initiative, and the Science Teacher and Researcher (STAR) program.” Through his work, he has had a dramatic impact on science teacher education, both preservice and in-service, in California, the region, and the country. He developed and implemented the STEM Teacher and Researcher Program which aims to produce excellent K-12 STEM teachers by providing aspiring teachers with opportunities to do authentic research while helping them translate their research experience into classroom practice. SFSU faculty member Larry Horvath said it best in his letter:“John Keller exemplifies the best aspects of a scientist, science educator, and mentor. His contributions to science education in the state of California are varied, significant, and I am sure will continue well into the future.” Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Peter A’hearn
NGSS is a big shift. Teachers need to learn new content, figure out how this whole engineering thing relates to science, and develop new unit and lesson plans. How could NGSS possibly make life easier?
The idea that NGSS could make our lives easier came to me during the California State NGSS Rollout #1 Classroom Example lesson on chromatography. I have since done this lesson with high school chemistry students and it made me think back to having my own students do chromatography. I spent lots of time preparing to make sure the experiment went well and achieved the “correct” result. I pre-prepared the solutions and organized and prepped the materials. I re-wrote and re-wrote again the procedure so there was no way a kid could get it wrong. I spent 20 minutes before the lab modeling all of the steps in class, so there was no way to do it wrong. Except that it turns out there were many. Learn More…
Posted: Tuesday, September 20th, 2016
by Robert C. Victor. Twilight sky maps by Robert D. Miller. Graph of evening planet setting times by Dr. Jeffrey L. Hunt
Our evening twilight chart for September, depicting the sky about 40 minutes after sunset from SoCal, shows brilliant Venus remaining low, creeping from W to WSW and gaining a little altitude as the month progresses. Its close encounter within 2.5° N of Spica on Sept. 18 is best seen with binoculars to catch the star low in bright twilight. The brightest stars in the evening sky are golden Arcturus descending in the west, and blue-white Vega passing just north of overhead. Look for Altair and Deneb completing the Summer Triangle with Vega. The triangle of Mars-Saturn-Antares expands as Mars seems to hold nearly stationary in SSW as the month progresses, while Saturn and Antares slink off to the SW. Learn More…