Accretionary Wedge #21 : Reaching out to someone

Jess at Magma Cum Laude is hosting this month’s Accretionary Wedge, asking “What kind of Earth Science outreach have you participated in?”

Actually, there is quite a lot of outreach that I do but one thing that I’ve actually referred to in some of my recent posts but realise that I’ve not explained, is the “Seismology for Schools” project.

kap-seis logo

The UK Schools Seismology project is coordinated by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and involves the donation of seismometers to schools to help promote geology and geophysics in the classroom. The BGS acts a hub organisation and then university geology departments (currently eighteen of them) act as mentors to schools in their region. I look after the schools in the northwest Midlands area with a group I dub “Keele and Partners – Seismology (or KAP-SEIS).

The project is nobly currently supported by the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain (PESGB), Scottish Oil Club (SOC) and the British Geophysical Association (BGA). The money that the PESGB and SOC generously give often allows the universities to get match funding that increases the number of seismometers that we can donate. This year 118 seismometers will be given to UK schools. School staff are given training at a university, showing them how to set up the seismometer, how to analyse the data and how to use it in classroom teaching. We then provide back-up support and mentoring. (A full list of organisations supporting the project can be found here).

The seismometers involved are traditional horizontal “garden-gate” designs, either the SEP Seismometer System or the Rockwave HS-3. The reason for using these somewhat old fashioned designs is the instruments can also be used for teaching physics principles such as simple harmonic motion, damping and electromagnetic induction. They are also much nicer looking than the tin can packed with electronics that is a modern seismometer.

Examples of the data recorded by my seismometer at Keele can be found in my blog posts here, here, here and here.

The BGS provides web resources that help with earthquake phase arrival identification, earthquake location and also facilitates uploading data to IRIS. This allows data to be shared not just with other schools in the UK but with schools involved in similar programs in Ireland and the United States, and an increasing number of other schools around the world including in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Namibia and South Africa.

It is a real shame that most earth science in UK schools is not taught by earth scientists (mostly chemists these days) and while their teaching is good it is quite difficult to inspire students in a subject that you have no specialism in (I know that I would have great difficulty teaching chemistry, let alone inspiring young chemists) so it is important that projects like this exist to help inspire the next generation of geophysicists.

I understand that all the seismometers for 2009 have been allocated, I’m about donate latest batch at a training day in December, but we strongly hope the the Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain and the Scottish Oil Club can continue their support in 2010 and we can give away even more next year and increase our coverage in areas that are currently not supported.

There are other outreach activities that I’m involved with such as devising geological trails for the public such as this for Cannock Chase and this for the Churnet Valley, both in Staffordshire.

I suppose that even this blog is a form of educational outreach.

[Note: the author is education officer for both the British Geophysical Association and the Staffordshire Regionally Important Geological/Geomorphological Sites group.]

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