When you think of geoscience, what comes to mind? You might immediately think of rocks or oil wells. Both would be correct, but did you know geoscience is so much more? This field is tasked with solving some of the most complex, exciting problems in the problems!
Geoscience is the study of natural processes on the Earth or other planets. It is one of the most underrated yet diverse STEM careers. There are 27 (!) different sub-specialties in geoscience. A geoscientist can study distant planets (planetary geology), fossils (paleontologist), or the ocean floor (marine geologists). There are opportunities to work all over the world and spend time outdoors doing field work and getting your hands dirty, while also spending time in an office analyzing compelling data.
When it comes to geoscience, there’s a little something for everyone. Last year for Earth Day, we explored some of the reasons why students of all ages should study earth science (Why Should Students Study Earth Science? To Save The World). But unfortunately, for most students, a career in geoscience isn’t even on their radar, even though geoscience touches on so much of what students already love. If students do recognize geoscience, they often don’t know what the career entails or what the possibilities are in this field.
This was the topic of a recent discussion on the geoscience subReddit titled “What is being a geoscientist like?” In this thread, Reddit user mustard_96 expresses interest in geoscience and asks for more information:
“I’m a college student trying to figure what I want to do for the rest of my life. Geoscience is something that has piqued my interest. If anyone can provide some insight on the life of a geoscientist, it would be much appreciated!”
This college student isn’t alone in not knowing exactly what geoscience entails. Luckily, online platforms like Reddit and Twitter allow students to connect directly with scientists and learn about different careers from those in the thick of science. In this Reddit chat, several geology students, working geologists, and educators offer insight on what it means to be a geologist. Their feedback is both sobering (often underscoring how much hard work is involved in geoscience) and inspiring (it really is the most exciting, coolest career out there!).
Current geoscience student SinNominae explains the appeal of geoscience:
“It’s a lot of hard work, lots of studying and working on projects outside of classes. Most of the time, you won’t know the answer or what you need to do, so you also need to talk to fellow students and to do a lot of research to figure stuff out. This isn’t a bad thing, you learn so much more this way. Field trips are the best. It involves hard work and intense studying, but it’s worth it on so many levels. The more you learn, the more you find there is to still learn. It never stops being interesting.”
Geoscientist Scaston23, explaining how geoscience is cross-displinary, also chimes in:
“Feeling like a Greek deity everyday! We are the definition of integrated scientists; versed in physics, chemistry, biology, and an understanding of the basis of society (resources). From planetary geology to mineralogy, modeling to mapping, data collection to conclusions; I absolutely love being a geoscientist!”
Geophysical Engineer, greeed, explains what “a day at the office” is like for a geophysicist:
“I’m a geophysical engineer for a utility, most of my day is in the office since I also do project management as geoscientists have such a wide variety of study and can consult with most other departments. It is definitely a jack of all trades profession as you are a physicist, engineer, field scientist and interpretive scientist.”
Indeed, it’s tough to lump geoscience into one common experience, but these users highlight some major points:
- Geoscience is always interesting and involves lifelong learning.
- Geoscience is all about problem-solving and project-based learning.
- Careers in geoscience are rewarding, diverse, and at the heart of solving some of the biggest problems for society.
It’s unfortunate that students don’t know about this rewarding career, especially because it is in constant demand and pays well. The yearly median wage for a geoscientist in 2014 was $89,910, and the number of jobs in this occupation is expected to increase 10% by 2024. This surge will be fueled by the need for energy and environmental protection. This career also allows people to make a positive impact on the world (Why Should Students Study Earth Science? To Save The World). In fact, with the realities of climate change and resource limitations growing, geoscience is becoming increasingly relevant.
This is something Jean Pennycook (geoscientist, educator, and It’s About Time® learning consultant) understands all too well. Her research interest takes her to literally the bottom of the Earth, the South Pole, annually to study the Adelie penguins and figure out how climate change affects these ice-dwelling birds. She shares her real experiences with the penguins via Skype to teach students an important message:
“I repackage the science for the world…My message is all about how these birds are coping with changes in the climate and how what we do in the Northern Hemisphere affects what happens in the Southern Hemisphere, and that protecting these birds, their habitat and their food source is very important.” (From the South Pole to Classrooms Around the World – Jean Pennycook’s Penguin Science Inspires All)
For this geoscientist, the environment is her lab and a ripe one for expanding students’ horizons. Jean’s goal is to use her work to show students around the world what it’s like to be a geoscientist, and to allow them to envision themselves as geoscientists by helping her to gather and process data (something students love and are excited by):
“I’m trying to encourage kids and students to stay in the sciences, technology, engineering and math fields, so they can have jobs like this. My job is very interesting and scientific work is fun; it takes you to extraordinary places around the world.
When I teach kids about penguins — or about Antarctica, or climate change, or the oceans, or the food webs, or the ecosystems of Antarctica — the kids are presented with data sets from current science, not science from 100 years ago. But, rather, what we did just last year… They can analyze those numbers and come up with statements, if you will, or ideas about what’s happening based on the evidence of their data sets.
We’re also working with the seals. We have citizen science projects where kids count the seals using satellite pictures, and count penguins using the photographs we take… When we give them problems to solve, we’re giving them the tools to solve those problems — like the photographs, the data, the observations, etc. These are real-world problems, the ones that the scientists wrestle with. So, it’s more relevant to their lives. It’s what’s happening today, right now, not 50 years ago.” (From the South Pole to Classrooms Around the World – Jean Pennycook’s Penguin Science Inspires All)
Connecting students with real-life geoscientists and exposing them to doing science that matters now is a big part of the puzzle in showing students the world of possibilities and excitement available to them in geoscience careers. But, there’s more.
EarthComm®: Showing Students the Awesomeness of Geoscience!
Getting students excited about geoscience can sound like a tall order, especially for teachers who don’t have much experience with the subject. One avenue is to give students real-life experience, but not every student can participate in an archaeological dig or travel to Antarctica to work with scientists like Jean Pennycook. This leaves a need for manageable methods teachers can implement in their classrooms.
Teachers can bring geoscience into the classroom with curriculum designed to do this in a fun, engaging, real-world way. Earth and space science curriculum like EarthComm® (American Geosciences Institute’s space and Earth systems science) uses project-based, inquiry learning to get students thinking like geoscientists with problem-solving activities. Students become real-world geoscientists right in their classroom.
EarthComm was developed in partnership with the American Geosciences Institute (@AGI_Updates) and aligns with standards of the National Science Foundation and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) science and engineering practices. As part of the curriculum, students explore related STEM careers like the many options in geoscience.
In each chapter of the content, students learn about a specific segment of geoscience, such as plate tectonics, weather, and global climate change. Each unit comes with a challenge for students designed to assess learning and encourage creativity. For example, the unit on minerals and rocks (Chapter 3) challenges students to create an exhibit on the geology of their community for a local museum. This helps students organize what they’ve learned and uses a fun, relevant activity. Students learn to design experiments, analyze data, and develop models, just like real geoscientists — and they do it collaboratively (working in groups and tackling problems tother). EarthComm uses real data sets and students learn how to present this data to the community in a way that encourages science debate and literacy.
Environmental science educator and IAT professional learning specialist, Amanda Wilson (@AKWStardust), shows teachers how to use STEM curricula like EarthComm to engage students. In her professional learning workshops, she encourages teachers to be life-long learners alongside students. She discusses exploring one of the toughest and most controversial topics science teachers have to tackle using a data-centered approach and asking students to form their own ideas.
“We teach the evidence [of climate change]. “Here’s the evidence and what does the evidence say?” The students can [come] to their own conclusions but it’s got to be data-driven. So we have lots of data points — that overall [temperatures] on Earth [are] rising. Sea levels are rising. We have data to support that, [so] what does that mean? We ask the students to elaborate and say, “OK, the sea levels are rising. What does that mean to the geosphere? What does that mean to population, or what does that mean to different industries?” Taking it out to another level to see where science is going to affect humanity.” (Earth Day 2014: Science Instructional Specialist Amanda Wilson on Teaching Climate Change)
Amanda Wilson’s idea of science as “an epic adventure” for students to partake in fits well with geoscience as a career. Exploring Earth from the most exotic places, like Antarctica, promises a life of adventure. Geoscience is a field made for life-long learners and those concerned with the present and future of the world.
It’s a conundrum as to why students aren’t more excited about this awesome field! A greater focus on Earth science in the classroom and more hands-on activities geared toward this subject can help spark the fire in future geoscientists and make students and help them to develop a sense of Earth stewardship.
Amanda Wilson: How EarthComm® Can Excite & Engage
Students in Earth Science
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