Provenance of a Geology Class

2015-01-22 14.15.29This past January I made the move to Santa Fe, New Mexico where I’ll be staying until I attend a graduate program in geology this coming Fall. Being in New Mexico put me very close (relatively) to a few folks I had the great fortune of working with in Panama City, Panama as an intern working with the Panama Canal Project PIRE and in conjunction with the Great American Biotic Interchange RET (GABI RET) project. Being so close I was able to take the chance to travel from Santa Fe out to Newtown, New Mexico (near Gallup) to conduct a days worth of classes with Hanni. Hanni was a member of the GABI RET teacher cohort that I interacted with this summer in Panama and which made this summer spectacularly memorable for me; as such I was eager to work with her and her students.

Upon finalizing our logistical plans for the visit we had decided to focus our class time on the geologic history of Ship Rock, a rock formation that is both close to her students geographically and to their cultural history as members of the Navajo nation.  As such it is a part of their daily sphere and a perfect subject on which to connect familiar cultural knowledge with new scientific concepts. Ship Rock is a volcanic neck, the solidified remnants of a magma body that never quite reached the surface to erupt in the way that popular culture has framed volcanoes. Instead the liquid magma solidified and over time the earth around it, through processes of weathering and erosion, was swept away leaving the harder volcanic rock exposed in the form we recognize as Ship Rock.

To further discuss the processes occurring at the surface to form Ship Rock, Hanni and I decided it would be great to get the kids outside and engaged in picking up rocks, some of which may have traveled to the schoolyard from the Ship Rock itself. In this activity we found quartz, a mineral most resistant to weathering, and sandstones, which may have at some point been piled all around the Ship Rock formation. Although many of the students were fairly shy or quiet, at least one student seemed outwardly fascinated by the idea that the sand on the landscape, their home, was ever in motion having once been rock itself and moved to become the land as we now see it. Although the students did not express their curiosity outwardly in most cases, from what Hanni told me after the visit there were at least a few studnets that experienced some wonder at the ideas explored that day. Whether it is the landscape shifting around the formations that we see now or the actual emplacement of huge edifices as liquid now turned to stone that capture their imaginations, it’s continually gratifying for me to be able to introduce these ideas to students knowing that they may never look out their window again to see “just” a sand covered plain surrounded by ridges.

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