The use of field experience and anecdotes in teachingJoel S Aquino, PhD, STEM, Gainesville State College
"Teaching geology without a fieldtrip is blasphemy"
Joel S. Aquino
My experience in teaching the methods of geoscience or science in general comes from my 30 years of combined mineral/exploration industry, research, tertiary and 9-12 public education background. This experience has been fortified by global travels in Asia, Europe, Australia and North America and had been recognized for being a part of a team that discovered a $13 billion dollar Cu-Au mine in Laos and several teaching awards. As a full-time high school science teacher, I am also trained in differentiated, gifted and ESOL instructions. Thus, my pedagogical skills transgress across real-world application, multi-disciplinary fields, cross-cultural borders and 9-16 education. In particular, my combined HS and college teaching backgrounds give me a complete spectrum of the learners' profile and related adaptable teaching strategies.
As a part-time college instructor, I handle the evening classes (Physical or Historical Geology) where majority of the students graduated more than 5 years ago and have day time jobs. Most of the time, the students who take these courses are non-science majors whose math skills are generally limited to algebra. Thus, it is a challenge for me on how to make the course engaging to the students without losing its integrity. Here is where my mining/ exploration industry experience becomes helpful.
My decade stint as an exploration geologist gave me a wonderful opportunity to practice my major in economic/resource geology where I was involved in different stages of exploration from grassroots activities to bankable feasibility studies. Each stage involves different critical thinking skills from detailed field observations, conceptual modeling, drill testing, metallurgical characterization and recovery, mining strategies, resource calculation and modeling, environmental impact assessment, and economic analysis. Equally important is the non-technical side of field management such as personnel, community, government and media relations. An added challenge is the transition from a geologically-driven project to an engineering-driven project where the role of a geologist drastically shifts from a project leader to a consulting support role.
This industry experience heavily influences the way I run my geology courses that focuses on exploratory labs first and a follow-up summary lecture later. These labs are focused on fundamental physics and chemistry concepts and its real world application in geosciences. This way, I emphasize more on the PROCESS OF SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION rather than the numerous geological terminologies that students barely remember after taking the course. A process-oriented lab is an enriching discovery experience for students that can be carried on in many other fields. I have created several labs that mimic each stage of exploration and can be a full-guided inquiry to a design lab that only involves a prompt question. These labs are inexpensive (< $5/group), manipulative and conceptual that can be differentiated up to the middle-school level. Each lab requires a written report that focuses on the 6 levels of Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning and improving their writing skills. The lower levels of knowledge, comprehension and application are used as a rubric for discussion of objectives, summary of literature review, methodology and data processing/ presentation (table, graphs, photos/ sketches). Meanwhile, the higher levels of analysis, synthesis and evaluation are used in the sections of analysis/conclusion (pattern recognition, cross-correlation and implications with underlying geologic process and literature readings), evaluation of weaknesses and practical suggestions for improvement. Non-technical aspects of the lab report that are also assessed include group dynamics (inter-personal skills), punctuality and manipulative skills (use of instruments and lab safety procedures).
As an off-shoot of my industry experience and global travels, my lectures are also reinforced, if not, interrupted by my field anecdotes and slide collections. I notice that students prefer this "personal" touch as the class will either burst with laughter or looks aghast with the differences in cultural perspectives of one nation to another.
In summary, I teach my introductory geology classes with the necessary scientific concepts and skills that they will carry not only in the understanding of the earth's processes but also applicable to other disciplines. Connecting these lessons to real-world experience gives it more meaning and incorporating design labs give the students a sense of ownership.