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Your Planet Earth


As part of their contribution to the International Year of Planet Earth, The Geological Society and the Geologists’ Association have launched an initiative to help to get our message across to young people, writes Mike Benton*.

Geoscientist 18.4 April 2008

Every week, across the country, hundreds of people go out to schools to talk about dinosaurs, volcanoes, mineral resources, climate change, and many other topics in the earth sciences. And kids love these talks – maybe because of the novelty of the subject matter, or perhaps because they are bored with their regular teachers!

The new resource is aimed at students, teachers, and others who want to present talks on key earth sciences themes, and it is called Your Planet Earth (The URL "earth4567" quotes the current best estimate of the age of the Earth, in millions of years – the same as the number of balloons released for the inauguration of the Society's Bicentenary!).

‘Your Planet Earth’ is an integrated campaign that offers school children interesting talks on topics from dinosaurs to volcanoes; posters that captivate and inform, and a portal that provides links to teaching material and information on the jobs and careers that relate to the Earth, its resources and stewardship. The programme is funded so far by Shell, and sponsored by GA, GSL and the Earth Science Education Unit (ESEU).

The key aims of Your Planet Earth are to promote informed debate among children and their parents, use the Earth and environmental sciences to demonstrate the application of maths and basic sciences to real problems, to make teachers aware of existing organisations like ESEU, which can provide support to improve teaching and learning in science (and particularly within Earth and environmental science), as well as accurate and current information on geoscience careers.

Our website is just the beginning. In its initial form, we offer five talks, aimed at 14-15-year olds, on Volcanoes, Dinosaurs, Natural hazards, Plate tectonics, and Climate change. These talks were put together by Dr Jess Trofimovs, a volcanologist, at the University of Bristol (now at Southampton), and they are available for anyone to use as they are, or to edit in any way.

The talks are standard PowerPoint talks, lasting 45 to 50 minutes. These talks, quality-controlled by Dr Danielle Schreve (Royal Holloway, University of London), and Professor Chris King (Keele University), are copyright-free, so can be used freely by anyone, in any form. The photographs have all come from public sources, or from individuals and organisations happy to share their images. Most of the diagrams have been specially prepared, so we simply donate them to the world. Anyone may edit the talks, personalise them with logos or additions, or translate them into other languages.

We have contacted the heads of all geology departments in universities and colleges to encourage them to use the talks as part of their schools liaison activities. There's nothing worse than a poorly presented talk: the children are keyed up and excited, and then can be badly let down if it is not well done. So, should an Outreach/ Engagement Coordinator wish to train a group of students in how to give effective schools talks, we offer a short PowerPoint with exercises, for just that purpose.

This is just the beginning. Our grant from Shell will cover the development of further talks through the early months of 2008. In addition, we will translate each talk into a form suitable for eight to nine year-olds (at the moment they are pitched at 14-15-year-olds).

We will then develop a careers section, using existing resources, and adding personal stories – of young people who have completed degrees in geology and related topics, and gone on to interesting careers – rather like the careers information now to be found on the GSL website. These personal stories will encourage school kids to stick with science subjects to A-level.

A further step, funding permitting, will be to send out posters to as many schools in the UK as we can. These web-linked posters will illustrate exciting and interesting themes and relate to key-stage specifications in Geography, Chemistry, and other science GCSE syllabuses. They will present factual information and, in the case of controversial topics, a balanced presentation of evidence.

After 2008, and these developmental steps, we will seek continued funding to keep updating the selection of talks. We will hope to respond to suggestions about additional themes, and these might range quite widely over the area of geology and the earth sciences. We will work with ESEU to make sure we contact the appropriate cohorts of interested persons: the schools that want to book talks, and the providers of enthusiastic talk-presenters.

We are so lucky that the Earth sciences offer so many fascinating topics, already well developed in TV programmes that turn children on to volcanoes, the weather, dinosaurs, the planets, the history of life, and fieldwork in exotic parts of the world. Employers of geologists are crying out for young recruits, and the government recognises a disturbing trend from physical sciences. These are all excellent reasons to build on the huge amount of schools engagement that is currently happening. If you have been put off giving a talk in a school because of the effort required to prepare - then look no further than!

*President of the Geologists’ Association (2006-08)