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School of rock

Dr Gawen Jenkin explains rocks formed in faults

A group of year 10 students from five inner city London schools are showing serious dedication to their science by studying for their AS level Geology two years earlier than usual, in half the normal time – on a Saturday.

Geoscientist Online, 1 June 2010

As part of the course, fifteen students from schools in Lewisham have been taking part in a three day masterclass at Leicester University, led by GSL Fellow, Dr Gawen Jenkin. The session used the rocks of Charnwood Forest, which were laid down in the late Precambrian, 600 million years ago, to study the impact of volcanism, sedimentation, earthquakes, metamorphism, deformation and erosion.

The pioneering scheme was dreamed up by Leicester graduates Dr Andy Markwick and Satvinder Nandhra, who hope that it will encourage young people growing up in one of Europe’s most deprived areas to raise their aspirations towards higher education. It is hoped that the students will now go on to use their experiences to encourage others.

Each of the schools involved selected students who showed particular promise in science to take part in the scheme. Whilst teaching usually takes place in their schools on Saturdays, the workshop was an opportunity for students to experience life beyond the classroom, and a taste of where their geology studies could lead them.

Dr Markwick, who teaches at one of the participating schools, said, ‘it cannot be emphasised enough that this masterclass at Leicester is unique and very important – not only does it offer students an opportunity to work alongside very able scientists, it provides them with a glimpse of higher education at its best’.

‘I think I learned a lot more than I would in school’, commented one student, whilst another said, ‘the activities helped me to remember what I had learned on Saturdays’.

And it wasn’t just the students who benefitted from the experience.

‘Our own undergraduates and postgraduates also benefit’, said Dr Jenkin, ‘by gaining some teaching experience which can be the first step on the road to a career in teaching’.

The students spent two days in the laboratory actively investigating the processes that formed and subsequently changed the rocks of Charnwood Forest, followed by a day of field geology. The fieldwork was an opportunity to apply what they had learned about the processes involved to form a picture of the environment in which the rocks formed.

Satvinder Nandhra, who also teaches at one of the participating schools, said, ‘since their masterclass at the University of Leicester, I have already noticed the increased confidence in students’ grasp of geological concepts and identification skills. More of our students are now considering a degree in geology as a real choice’.

As a tool for engagement in science, geology has many strengths. As Rebecca Williams, a PhD student who helped deliver the course, pointed out, ‘Geological interpretation gives many opportunities for that ‘eureka’ moment. It was brilliant watching them get there’.

Masterclass participants with Dr Gawen Jenkin. Credit: Dr Andy Marwick