Get your rocks off

Can you tell granite from grit? Does describing rock layers leave you tongue-tied? Help is at hand as Cliff Porter discovers

If you are a science teacher who's not sure of the difference between a granite and a grit, or your knowledge of plate tectonics is limited, then a free training workshop from the Earth Science Education Unit could be the answer.

"Many science teachers come from biology, chemistry or physics backgrounds and have little or no experience of teaching earth science," says Chris King, the unit's director. "Our endeavour is to 'reach the reluctant teacher', to give them the enthusiasm and motivation to teach earth science in an interactive way."

The unit was set up two years ago and has developed its workshops to the requirements of the national curriculum and schemes of work from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. Based in Keele University, it has already delivered workshops to more than 1,700 teachers and trainees in a pilot scheme covering the Midlands, the North West and Yorkshire.

Teachers can try out practical activities and are encouraged to develop new teaching strategies that emphasise the relevance of earth science in everyday life. Sessions can also explore the possibility of using of the school's locality, including the built environment, with unit members able to survey sites and advise on opportunities to incorporate field work. For key stage 3, it covers the dynamic rock cycle, earth science out of doors and rock identification. The rock cycle workshop is typical and has a wide range of practical activities that can be used in the classroom.

One example is a simple demonstration that uses alternate layers of flour and sand to show the deformation of rocks at a fault line. When compressed from one side, the folding of the light and dark bands simulates the deformations caused by movements in the earth's crust. Such simple activities can be used with students to aid their understanding of difficult concepts and processes.

Key stage 4 workshops include investigating the changing earth and atmosphere, plate tectonics and earth science out of doors. Each lasts an hour and a half and can be delivered in half-day blocks or twilight sessions. Activities are designed so that only commonly available materials are used.

If in-service training is not possible, the unit has a website with useful information on how to obtain posters, rock samples and teaching materials produced by the Earth Science Teachers Association. Additionally, contact details of specialist resource suppliers and reviews on textbooks and multimedia resources can save a lot of time.

The Earth Science Education Unit offers in-service training throughout the country and aims to run 200 workshops this year. Demand is expected to be high so a booking form is available on the unit's website.

While the sessions are free thanks to support from the UK Offshore Operators Association, hosts only have to pay the travel expenses, refreshment and photocopying costs of the team member delivering the workshop. Teacher s' centres and training institutions throughout England and Wales can apply.


Earth Science Education Unit Department of Education Keele University Keele, Staffordshire ST5 5BG Tel: 01782 621111

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