References and Resources for Teaching Early Earth Topics

Useful Resources for Teaching

Jack Hills zircon grains
Jack Hills zircon grains. Image courtesy of Aaron Cavosie

Early Earth Classroom Activities - materials used to teach about earth's history, evolution and extinction, geologic timelines, and methods used to date geologic events.

Ideas for Teaching about the Early Earth. These are outlines and ideas for how to teach various early earth topics. These materials are from collaborative brainstorming sessions at the 2007 Early Earth workshop.

Microbial Life - Educational Resources
This site contains a variety of educational and supporting materials for students and teachers of microbiology. You will find information about microorganisms, extremophiles and extreme habitats, as well as links to online resources, teaching and learning activities.

Using an Earth History Approach
This module is designed to help instructors who are developing or modifying courses or units on Earth history/historical geology or on contemporary topics that benefit from a historical perspective. The site provides annotated lists of online and print resources that are useful for teaching, and contains a unit on the Precambrian and a section on Addressing creationism

Deep Time - the Geologic Time Scale
This module from the Teaching Quantitative Skills in the Geosciences project provides a variety of examples, analogies and classroom activities for teaching about geologic time, the age of the Earth, evolution and types of dating.

Geologic Time and Creationism
References, examples and activities for teaching evolution, from the Cutting Edge Workshop about the The Affective Domain in Teaching Geosciences.
A section on addressing creationism, from the 'Using an Earth History approach' (described above).

Zircon Images and References
Up to 4.4 billion years old, zircon grains are the oldest earth materials discovered. Here are some resources that can be used to teach about the implications of these mineral grains.

Images from Aaron Cavosie at the University of Puerto Rico, useful for teaching about zircons:
A PowerPoint file of images from the Jack Hills zircons (PowerPoint 17.1MB Apr23 07)
A low resolution version of the same file (PowerPoint 1.1MB Apr23 07)
Zircons are Forever, by John W. Valley, William H. Peck, Elizabeth M. King (1999). This is a reprint of a 1999 article from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Geology Alumni Newsletter, with links to extensive references and images.
Images from a Cool Early Earth, by John W. Valley, William H. Peck, Elizabeth M.King, and Simon A. Wilde, 2002, Geology, v. 30 p. 351-354.
A Cool Early Earth? by John W. Valley, October 2005, Scientific American, p. 58-65

Daisyworld Activities
Daisyworld is a very simple planet that has only two species of life on its surface - white and black daisies, and bare ground. Daisyworld is a good example of homeostasis and was first proposed by James Lovelock as a plausible example of his Gaia hypothesis.
Two Starting Point activities have been created using Daisyworld:

Cover image from the Journal of Geoscience Education showing a Lower Proterozoic migmatite

Articles from the Journal of Geoscience Education

A Student-Centered Project for Earth System History
Rebecca Teed, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College 
This project is intended to replace some of the lectures that would ordinarily be necessary in a survey of Earth history over geologic time. The students will be taking the lecturer's place in front of the class, presenting some of the material to their colleagues. Students will work in groups on a single era or period, and each student role-plays an expert (such as an oceanographer) and works with teammates playing other sorts of experts (a biologist, a geologist, an atmospheric scientist).

Students' Beliefs About the Role of Atoms in Radioactive Decay and Half-life
Edward Prather, Department of Astronomy, University of Arizona
This paper uncovers the common difficulties that students experience when trying to learn about radiation and radioactivity. Research results show that students are often unable to differentiate between the ideas of irradiation and contamination, and that many of these students' reasoning difficulties about radioactive decay and half-life stem from their inaccurate mental models regarding the atom.

Uses of Zeno's "Achilles Paradox" in Historical Geology
Thomas J. Rossbach, Department of Geological, Environmental and Marine Sciences, Elizabeth City State University
The Achilles paradox is an example of the summation of an infinite series that always approaches, but never reaches, unity. While the mathematical solution to the paradox is simple enough, the concept of the paradox plays a role in comparing gradual and punctuated modes of evolution. The Achilles paradox has other applications in historical geology, such as radiometric decay. Showing how the paradox relates to several aspects of science may encourage better critical thinking on the part of students.

Understanding the Origin and Meaning of the Radioactive Decay Equation
Stephen P. Huestis, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of New Mexico
This article explains the steps to the derivation and use of the radioactive decay equation.

What is Deep Time and Why Should Anyone Care?
E-an Zen, Department of Geology, University of Maryland
The concept of deep time resulted directly from observations of nature and forms a cornerstone of the scientific description of nature. Being observation based, deep time is readily taught to students using local features, and its validity follows simply from the premise that natural phenomena contain real information. Appreciation of deep time helps us to define the limits to human consumption of Earth resources, as well as to provide a framework for debates among those who hold different views on the domains of validity for science and religion and on the meaning of scientific inferences.

Regional Geology as a Unifying Theme and Springboard to Deep Time
Martin G. Miller, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Oregon
This article describes a teaching approach that ties together regional geologic features, radiometric dating and the concept of deep time to pull together a comprehensive history of a region and to provide tangible and convincing evidence for deep time.

Learning Geologic Time in the Field
Robert C. Thomas, Department of Environmental Sciences, Western Montana College of the University of Montana, Dillon, MT
This article describes an inquiry-based field project that includes a service-learning component. Students do hands-on field work to learn their regional geologic history. This geologic history provides the context and incentive for learning the nomenclature and dates of the geologic time scale.


Teaching the Mathematics of Radiometric Dating
James H. Shea, Geology Department, University of Wisconsin-Parkside
This article provides a review of common techniques to teach radiometric dating. The author notes that the overwhelming majority (about 90%) of modern introductory geoscience textbooks and laboratory manuals do not use a mathematical approach. Only a small fraction (about 5%) of books include a graph showing the exponential increase of daughter/parent ratio with age, and that relatively few (only about 20%) present the fundamental equation for dating.


Geologic Time Scales, Maps, and the Chronoscalimeter
Jorge Nieto-Obregon, Division de Ingenieria en Ciencias de la Tierra, UNAM. Ciudad Universitaria
This article describes a circular device to compare any span of time to an interval of 24 hours. The age of the earth (4,500 Ma), when compared with a 24 hour scale, allows the users to evaluate the duration of major aeons, the evolution of life, and other events in Earth's history.


An Interactive Game Approach to Learning in Historical Geology and Paleontology
Robert Reuss and Anne Gardulski, Department of Geology, Tufts University
An interactive game used in conjunction with traditional laboratory work, group discussions, student presentations, and writing exercises, provides an enjoyable and motivating dimension to a university seminar/lab course in Historical Geology and Paleontology.

A Formative Assessment of Geologic Time for High School Earth Science Students
Ron Hermann and Bradford Lewis, Morgan State University, Baltimore, MD
Here students create a geologic time scale based on an older adult's life complete with relative and absolute dates for the events in their lives. Students write a reflective paper about the process of constructing the time scale and compare their scales to the geologic time scale. The project is used as a formative assessment which serves to inform instruction, rather than assess students on the project.