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« Teaching about Hazards Discussions
Teaching About Hazards
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I teach two sections of Natural Hazards of the Pacific Northwest for a total of 80 - 85 students each fall semester. This is a 100-level Gen Ed science course, so most students are not science majors. As this course title implies, there is a strong regional flavor with Cascadia earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes taking center stage. A major goal is for students to learn the basic physical processes that produce geologic hazards so they know how to avoid the most hazardous locations and what measures can mitigate hazards. "Don't be scared, be prepared." is a theme we visit many times. In addition to teaching natural hazards at the college level, I am heavily involved in K-12 Earth Science teacher professional development as a collaborator on Teachers on the Leading Edge - https://sites.up.edu/totle/ - I also work with IRIS Education and Public Outreach most notably as one of the developers of Recent Earthquakes Teachable Moments http://www.iris.edu/hq/retm .
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I once thought my introductory courses were an opportunity to interest students in geology and recruit geology majors. I never questioned that when I began teaching and actually had intense pressures from my department to do this. Somewhere, I made a radical change. I abandoned trying to use introductory courses to recruit geology majors and began to consider that practice self-serving and maybe a bit unethical.
Like others who have posted here, I like to make class topics relevant to the lives likely lived by laypersons who are the majority of students. So for a long time I've used homes/domestic dwellings as conceptual focus to serve the needs of students I have. In addition to the process based hazards that affect homes (earthquakes, volcanoes, landslides, and subsidence), materials based hazards such as radon, asbestos, expansive soils, domestic water supplies and hazards to the pocketbook that result from poor drainage and moisture and associated issues such as toxic mold, "sick building syndrome" can be realities that many will face. Even effects based on geographic latitude, such as light deprivation are pertinent to design and desirability of living. These make for a very interesting way to present introductory geology--both to students and to me.
It is not necessary that all the hazards be local to be relevant either. We have had a highly mobile population for decades now and students increasingly have an interest in knowing "what's out there."
I also have had students get copies of their parents homeowners insurance policies and draw up a table of what is covered in the policy alongside the local hazards that exist in the area where the home is sited. Many parents are surprised to learn what their policies exclude. I've even known geologists who were surprised by this.
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