Teachers learn how much ‘San Joaquin Valley Rocks’

Emily Salazar, right, a teacher at Frontier High School, shows a fellow teacher how to demonstrate fault lines using sand during San Joaquin Valley Rocks!, a program to help local teachers expand their geology curriculum. In the background is Martin Jimenez, a CSUB geology student who participated in SJV Rocks last summer as a BC student.
Stockdale High School science teacher Adam Herrera shows Paula Edwards, a fourth grade teacher at Endeavor Elementary School, how to describe sedimentary layers using modeling clay to mimic core samples as part of San Jaoquin Valley Rocks!

This summer, 37 Kern County elementary and high school teachers attended CSUB to learn some new lessons. They colored, played with sand and molding clay, and strung Cheerios on pipe cleaners.

No, this wasn’t day camp for adults. Rather, it was phase two of San Joaquin Valley Rocks!, a program aimed at enhancing local earth science teachers’ curriculum utilizing resources in CSUB’s geology program.

Paid for with a grant from the National Science Foundation, the program brought together selected teachers and geology students from Bakersfield College and CSUB last summer to develop hands-on lessons to take back to their classrooms. All of the lessons were based on local geological formations and phenomena. Additional partners included the Buena Vista Museum of Natural History and Kern County Museum.

During the school year, the teachers incorporated the activities into their classes and noted what worked well and what didn’t quite translate into the curriculum. Then, in June, they returned to CSUB to pool their findings and create lesson plans to share with more local teachers.

“Most of the changes were very minor,” said Staci Loewy, the CSUB geology professor who led the program. “And the cool thing is, the BC students that were working with us last summer are now students here at CSUB.”

The 16 returning teachers and students created workbooks and CDs with teaching materials and held a week-long workshop to train 37 new teachers. All of the activities are hands-on.

“Teachers say there is very little time for hands-on activities with students,” said Adam Herrera, a physics and earth science teacher at Stockdale High School.  “This gives ideas for projects they can take to class the next day.”

Herrera’s group focused on ways to teach dating and paleoclimatology via sedimentary layers and tree rings. They used differently shaded Cheerios strung on pipe cleaners to represent tree rings, and layers of molding clay with plastic beads to represent pollen found in core samples. They also learned how to layer flavored Jell-O – an experiment that required much trial and error before Herrera’s team figured out the best way to do it.

“The Jell-O molds give you the experience of collecting core samples,” he said, smiling. “Then it provides a nice, cool snack.”

One of Herrera’s “students,” Paula Edwards, said the hands-on aspect of the workshop was helpful for her as well.

“It’s fun. They’ve kept us moving. Rather than lecture to us, it’s more understandable when we can do these activities ourselves,” said the fourth grade teacher at Endeavor Elementary School.

Related post: “Playing with sand and food in the name of earth science,” July 1, 2010

– Jennifer Baldwin, CSUB Public Affairs Coordinator