Workshop on Teaching about the Early Earth: Evolution of Tectonics, Life, and the Early Atmosphere

April 12-14, 2007, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

colorful algae mats surround a hot spring pool
Algae pattern in hot spring run off, Yellowstone National Park. NPS photo by JR Douglass
Many a geology professor has told their students "the present is the key to the past," but what about the deep past? What do we know about the formation of the continents, oceans and atmosphere and the emergence of life? How are these early developments related to modern processes? Recent research about the early earth has not only shed light on some of the formative processes at work but has also provided new ideas and hypotheses to use in undergraduate teaching.

This workshop brought together experts in early earth research and geoscience education to explore opportunities to bring this exciting research into undergraduate classrooms.

Goals of the workshop were to:

  • Learn about new research on the early Earth
  • Understand the early Earth as a system that incorporates the solid earth, ocean/atmosphere/climate, and early life. This is an excellent opportunity to engage the earth systems approach and extend it to modern processes.
  • Consider how to move exciting new ideas about the early Earth into teaching geoscience
  • Produce ideas, activities and resources for teaching about the early Earth

Catalyst Speakers

Lynn Margulis , University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
James Kasting , The Pennsylvania State University
Stanley Awramik , University of California, Santa Barbara


Cathryn Manduca, Carleton College
David Mogk, Montana State University
Michael Williams, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

This workshop is one of the 2006-07 On the Cutting Edge Emerging Theme Workshops, which are designed to move critical ideas and concepts into the main-stream of geoscience education. This workshop was built upon prior workshops such as Teaching Public Policy in the Earth Sciences, Observing and Assessing Student Learning and Teaching Geoscience with Visualizations: Using Images, Animations and Models Effectively.

This workshop is part of the On the Cutting Edge professional development program for current and future geoscience faculty, sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers with funding provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation - Division of Undergraduate Education . We are part of the Digital Library for Earth System Education (DLESE).