Teach the Earth > Rates and Time > Workshop 2012 > Participants and their Contributions > Pamela Nelson

Teaching about Time

Pam Nelson, Physical Science/Geology Department, Glendale Community College in Glendale, Arizona

It is my hope to learn from those who have done active research in temporal concepts and directly teaching of temporal concepts during this Workshop. I have no specific research background in the topic of time or temporal research; however, I have been teaching Historical Geology at GCC for 15 years. This course, as I teach it, is based on a progression through the Geologic Time Scale while examining the geologic and biologic change that occurs through the passage of time. My current teaching technique approaches the idea of the passage of time through a purely linear approach of what happens first, how it influences then next thing that happens, and so on. I know that there is a difficulty for the students in visualizing the concept of deep time, so my focus has been to focus on the processes and order rather than the numerical dates. I would like to find out ways to more appropriately teach, and have the students understand, the concept of the extreme depth of time and of the geologic rates of time that it takes for the processes we discuss to occur.

One tool I use is a series of 11x14 inch handouts that show the coinciding atmospheric, biologic and geologic changes that occur for a given time period. A co-worker and lab tech who was previously a student in my Historical Geology course created them by collating a number of external sources into single sheets. Since most, if not all, Historical Geology textbooks have separate chapters on geology vs. biology for each Era, having the information collated to a single source has been very helpful. The author of the sheets found the connections between the separate chapters some of the hardest things to put together mentally, and so she created the documents with my assistance. Many of the students have found them helpful in visualizing the correlation between the biologic and geologic changes that occur simultaneously. Further, the numerical lengths of the time periods are shown as well, but, again, my focus has been on process, order, and connections rather than rate. Methods of incorporating rate of coincident change would strengthen these presentations greatly.

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