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Ground breakers

magazine article | Published in TES Newspaper on 27 April, 2001 | By: Jonathan Allinson

Geological investigationsare easy to organise, says Jonathan Allinson.

The increase in earth science topic areas within the national curriculum means primary teachers can now embrace this diverse and fascinating subject within the science and geography curriculum. Media coverage has played an important part in making this popular science more accessible and has demonstrated how it links with other fields.

Invaluable support, teaching materials and other educational resources are available from pioneering bodies such as the Earth Sciences Teachers' Association (ESTA), which for many years has encouraged the teaching of earth sciences. ESTA writes materials for the national curriculum, assessment and in-service training needs in the primary sector and produces a range of "Teaching Primary Earth Science" booklets, packs and journals.

At KS1, small-group classroom activities can encourage close observation by grouping materials according to physical characteristics. This can involve the use of different minerals that possess characteristic colours, textures and shapes. Such minerals, which can be mixed with manufactured specimens, can undergo "wet and dry" observational tests or can be placed in "feely bags" to encourage exploration of feel and texture. Such activities allow pupils to relate their findings to simple scientific ideas while gaining an appreciation that some of the materials occur naturally.

At KS2 the activity can include different rock types and minerals, with investigation of hardness, reaction to dilute acid (under teacher supervision) and other tests to encourage discussion, scientific enquiry and decision-making, culminating in recording measurements and observations. Building a school rock and mineral collection will result in a valuable teaching resource.

Earth sciences can also join forces with cooking, an established component of the national curriculum at KS1 and 2, as part of design and technology. Making edible rock cakes (and fossils) that resemble real specimens in colour, texture and layering develops the capacity to link simple scientific principles to familiar materials. From ammonite biscuits to granite scones, cooking and earth sciences can combine well.

Taking primary pupils outdoors to study can be rewarding. Every school has different opportunities to explore, both on the doorstep and further afield. Your own school building, whether old or new, and its grounds, provide an ecellent survey area to investigate the building materials used in its construction (whether natural or manufactured) and can provide a useful introduction to the topic of weathering and erosion of such materials. The surface textures of the school building materials can be explored by taking rubbings, which can form part of a larger local environmental study. Investigative activities at KS2 could include a visit to a local graveyard, where typically many different "dated" types of rocks, such as granites, marbles and sandstones, can be studied (with permission) for purposes of rock and mineral identification and looking at the effects of weathering. This activity could be tied in with local social history and applied to town buildings, using postcards, town trail guides and local museums.

Accessible Regionally Important Geological and Geomorphological Sites (RIGS) provide fieldwork bases where earth sciences can be included in a holistic environmental study, particularly using Unit 3D: Rocks and Soils of the Department for Education and Employment exemplar Scheme of Work for Year 3 Science. ( ESTA has also produced a Working with Rocks pack for primary teachers.

School parties are also made welcome at activities organised nationwide by Rockwatch, a Geologists' Association/Royal Society for Nature Conservation partnership dedicated to promoting awareness and enjoyment of earth sciences by young people. Indoor Rockwatch events are typically held in museums and study centres and include activities suitable for primary pupils, such as making fossil plaster casts; fossil rubbing; mineral, rock and fossil identification, and model making and artwork. Outdoor activities include supervised visits to quarries and fossil hunts and could be integrated with observing processes, sample collecting and recording.

* Rockwatch, tel: 01642 896820 web: * Earth Science Teachers Association primary committee and information on teaching resources, contact John Reynolds, tel: 01782 327068 * The ESTA conference on "Earth Systems Science" will be held at Kingston University on 7-9 September, with primary INSET courses on Friday 7. Details from Dr Neil Thomas, School of Earth Science and Geology, Kingston University, tel: 0208 547 7525. E-mail: Jonathan Allinson is external affairs officer at the Geologists' Association. Web:

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