Faculty teach about hazards for a variety of reasons, from eliciting behavior change to developing disaster preparedness. Hazards are also complex, integrative phenomena influenced by many factors and they can have far-reaching physical and social effects. There are opportunities and challenges in helping students learn about these important aspects of the Earth system.


Hazard events in the news provide an excellent "hook" to get students interested in geoscience topics. There is a window of opportunity after an event when the attention of students and the general public is attuned to learn as much as possible about what happened and why. Integrating current events into class activities or connecting the content you're covering to an emergent disaster can take advantage of that interest and also provide your students with example of how the geosciences are relevant to their lives.

  • Teaching about the 2004 Tsunami
    Following the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami, a call was put out for educators to share what they were doing in the classroom to address this historic event with their students. Respondents reported a wide variety of classroom, campus, and community activities that they undertook to try and help not only their students but the general public come to grips with what they were seeing in news coverage.

Since hazards result from the interaction of multiple processes or systems, teaching about them is naturally an integrative activity. They can be a useful tool in helping students draw connections between geoscience concepts and understand the potential feedbacks between interacting systems. They can also show how science can be of service to society by examining potential risks in particular areas and focusing on preventative steps to address those risks.

Land surface elevation in the area surrounding Wells G & H Superfund Site, Woburn, Massachusetts Details
  • Science on the Connecticut Coast: Investigations of an Urbanized Coast
    Science on the Connecticut Coast is course that fulfills the laboratory science requirement for non-science majors in the Honors College at Southern Connecticut State University. The course addresses key environmental questions, including: How have past harbor sediment contamination affected the quality of New Haven Harbor ecosystems? How can we assess hurricane preparedness and potential impact? What are the potential consequences of climate change on Connecticut residents and how can the emission of greenhouse gasses be minimized?
  • Science, Society, and Global Catastrophes
    Science, Society, and Global Catastrophes is a team-taught, interdisciplinary course that aims to convey the nature, excitement, and role of scientific inquiry as a means of solving real-world problems. It is organized around the exploration of past and possible future catastrophes that did and can affect our environment.

Teaching about hazards can also be at least in part to a form of disaster preparedness education, especially in areas that see frequent events of one or more types of hazards. Access to accurate information about hazards they may personally face combined with a realistic understanding of the risk and some ways to prepare for them can do a great deal to help students avoid feeling helpless in the face of powerful disasters.

  • Natural Disaster Risk at Home
    This teaching activity has students research the potential risks from natural disasters in the area where they grew up.


Teaching students about hazards is more than just helping them learn the processes. Students deal with hazards and disasters in emotional ways and based on preconceived ideas. So learning about them is more than simply a cognitive exercise. Understanding possible affective responses to learning about hazards can help you foster students' positive reactions and rather than generating resistance or "gloom and doom."

The effects of hazards also reach beyond the physical sciences and impact real people and communities. To fully understand any particular hazard, students need to be able to take into consideration how the physical event sends ripples out through the social fabric of the community that is affected. This helps students put what they learn about the science into a context they can relate to.

  • Science in the Courtroom: Teaching the Woburn Toxic Trial
    This website was developed by E. Scott Bair of The Ohio State University based on a successful course he developed [Bair, 2000]. The course develops students' knowledge of the famous pollution case with the aim of conducting a mock trial of the case as a capstone experience at the end of the term. Students look at the geology of the area, the science behind cancer clusters, and learn how the science and society intertwined in this instance.

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