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Malawi High School Teacher’s Workshop on Natural Hazards

Malawi High School Teacher’s Workshop on Natural Hazards

In July 2017, Professor Bruce Malamud and Dr Faith Taylor from King’s College London travelled to Mzuzu, Malawi to work in collaboration with Mr James Kushe from Mzuzu University, Malawi. They delivered an EGU funded workshop at Mzuzu University to high school teachers on natural hazards, with major funding provided by EGU, and also supported by Urban ARK and Mzuzu University. Faith and Bruce explain more about the trip…

Malawi is a small (118,000 km2) landlocked country in south eastern Africa, often referred to as the ‘warm heart of Africa’ due to its stability, safety, beauty and warm welcome to visitors. Yet behind this warm welcome, life for many in Malawi is hard; with an average GDP per capita of US$0.82 per day, high (although improving) prevalence of HIV-AIDs, tuberculosis and malaria and a range of natural disasters including earthquakes, floods, lightening, hail, strong winds and drought.

Although we are biased, we think life is particularly hard for Malawian Geography teachers who have a great responsibility to shape the next generation of big-thinkers and problem-solvers against the challenges such as (i) large class sizes, (ii) limited opportunity for teachers’ continued professional development and (iii) under-resourcing of schools.

With this in mind, Bruce, James and I applied for EGU funding to run a workshop for teachers on natural hazards, focusing particularly on: (i) collating and developing low-cost teaching demonstrations, (ii) equipping teachers with further information about natural hazards and (iii) learning more about their home city of Mzuzu as a resource for field trips.

Professor Bruce Malamud demonstrating seismic waves using a giant slinky.

In the months running up to the workshop, we prepared 16 Gb USB sticks for each teacher which included >35 teaching demos that we had created and/or reviewed, and then trialled, 77 videos that we selected from the many out there, 11 digital posters and 16 factsheets and 14 Powerpoint lectures from our own teaching. We also started to order a few resources that would be hard to come by in Malawi, such as slinkies for teaching about earthquake waves and mento tubes for demonstrating volcanic eruptions (try explaining a suitcase of slinkies to a customs official!).

In Mzuzu, James visited each highschool to explain the purposes of our workshop and get local interest, planned a fieldtrip to the Massassa region and started to purchase locally available resources for teaching demonstrations, such as jars and sand for teaching about the angle of repose with regard to landslides.

Upon arrival at the Mzuzu University library, where we held the workshop, we were greeted by 27 high school teachers who had travelled from up to a couple of hours away to spend three days with us. The schools they came from varied in terms of resourcing, teachers’ background and experience, but all teachers were enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn more (note to others, teachers were particularly keen on further EGU funded workshops on other topics!).

Over the three days, we delivered interactive undergraduate level lectures on a range of natural hazards, so that teachers would better understand the process behind many of the hazards, interspersed with over two dozen activities and teaching demonstrations that they could bring back to the classroom. We also had a half day microadventure facilitated by one of the teachers to a local area that had been affected by flooding and landslides. This was a good reminder that geography starts on the doorstep, and does not require expensive fieldtrips to exotic destinations to help students experience environmental phenomena and solidify their classroom based learning. There were also opportunities for the teachers to share some of their best practice – and from this, we hope the seed has been sown for teachers to establish their own professional network for sharing ideas and resources.

We have travelled to Malawi multiple times over the past few years as part of our work on the Urban ARK project where we look at multi-hazard risk to infrastructure. From this work, we know how challenging it can be for information and ideas to flow to those experiencing and managing risks. We left Malawi feeling hopeful that through those 27 bright and enthusiastic teachers, we might reach >2000 students, and through those students we might also reach their friends and family to help reduce disaster risk across the Mzuzu region.

In the coming months we will share some of the resources we generated and collated online. There is a clear need for further workshops like this across Malawi, and an appetite for building a network of teachers. It took a lot of planning and partnerships with local academics but we would strongly encourage others to consider running similar workshops for teachers in the warm heart of Africa.

By Faith Taylor and Bruce Malamud, King’s College London

GeoEd: Do as I say… AND as I do

GeoEd: Do as I say… AND as I do

Bridging the gap between student and teacher is not always easy. For students, the educator might seem ‘untouchable’ and inaccessible. A sense exacerbated when assignments are set and they turn out to be new, complex and unfamiliar. In this new installment of our GeoEd column, regular guest blogger Rhian Meara of Swansea University, discusses a simple approach to overcome some of these barriers, which can yield surprisingly positive results.

As teachers, lecturers and professors, it’s easy to forget quite how scary it is to be an undergraduate student. Everything is new – lectures, seminars, practical classes, buildings, cities, and friends. Workloads are increasing and expectations are much higher than at school. We can also be guilty of setting and marking coursework based on our present professional standards including expectations that students will automatically understand what is expected of them. The fallout of this is that students can get overwhelmed, scared to ask questions and plough on despite not understanding what is required of them.

During the last few years, I have taught on a second year module which includes a literature review as part of the continuous assessment. Students attend lectures, workshops and tutorials to learn what a literature review is and how to write their own reviews. However, despite the extensive preparation, there is a communication barrier and a task as simple as a literature review (to the staff) is a monumental and incomprehensible task (for the undergraduates). The students have a tendency to get incredibly hung up on the fact that a literature review is “not an essay” rather than understanding what it actually is and how to complete one.

To counteract this, I have started running an extra tutorial session for my students. In this session, I provide the students with copies my own undergraduate literature review that I completed as part of my undergraduate geology degree at the University of Leicester. The review focusses onto emplacement mechanisms for flood lavas both on Earth and across the Solar System, and was completed during the third year of my degree. In the review, I introduce four models that explain how flood lavas are erupted and transported, critique each model and reach a conclusion as to which model, if any, is most accurate. The majority of the students in the group are physical or human geographers and not avid hard-rock igneous petrologists like I was back in the day, so initially the students are quite intimidated by the subject!

As a group, we then read and discuss the literature review to identify the essential components. These include, but are not limited to, a brief but thorough introduction to the subject, headings and sub-headings, relevant images and maps, appropriate use of references and citations, thorough explanations of the subject material, critical evaluations and conclusions.

Immediate comments from the students included bewilderment at how “professionally written” the work was which led to a useful discussion about academic writing, editing and the appropriate use of jargon. The students also felt that despite their initial intimidation of the subject area, that the review gave them a thorough introduction and explanation of the subject and its associated literature – one of the key aims of a literature review.

At the end of the discussion I asked the students to grade the literature review. As a group the students agreed that the work was a very high quality and merited a 1st class mark (˃70%*). In reality the work had been awarded a 2:1 mark (c. 64%*); however as the work was submitted for a 3rd year module the mark can be translated to a 1st class mark at the 2nd year level. The students were able to see therefore what sort of level they should be aiming at with their own work.

When the students submitted their own literature reviews, I was pleased to see that most of the elements that we discussed had been included into their work. Subjects were clearly introduced and explained, relevant images were used to highlight arguments, ideas were critically discussed and logical conclusions were reached.

Feedback from the students noted that the experience of seeing my own work was incredibly useful as it allowed them to see clear examples of similar work. The students now understand what expectations I have for them in the 2nd year of their undergraduate degree based on my own experiences (do as I say, and as I do!). The tutorial also allowed the students to better understand the process of researching and academic writing.

Getting to see and read through a staff member’s work was very informative. It helped me to understand the level at which to pitch my own work and how the use of appropriate figures, even within essays, could improve the overall quality of the piece. I also found that it broke a perceived wall between the complicated published articles and undergraduate work as it showed how the skills I’m learning now can help with more advance writing in the future.”  (Ben, 3rd year student)

Getting an example of a literature review from my tutor was not only useful as a tool, but felt more personal. Allowing me to ask questions I wouldn’t have, if we didn’t have her work as an example.’  (Tom, 2nd year student)

It was a great help to see a good example of a literature review because I had no idea how to even start! I liked the fact that I could refer back to the example for guidance during the process of writing my own literature review, and I believe that I would have had much worse marks without the possibility of seeing an example beforehand.” (Ffion, 2nd year student)

I ran this tutorial last year for the first time and was pleased with the results. This academic year, the original students who are now in their 3rd year have asked to continue the practice as they write their independent research dissertations. During individual and group tutorials I have shown the students my undergraduate research project on the geochemistry of the Siberian Traps lavas and my PhD thesis on tephrochronology in Iceland. Again, feedback from the students has been positive as they appreciate seeing and comparing with their supervisor’s undergraduate work.

The only negative element of this experience was needing to ensure that students did not re-use the same topics for their own projects as this would be considered as plagiarism. However as previously noted, the academic background of the students somewhat precluded this.

Finally, a piece of advice: if you want to share your work with your students, make sure you develop a thick skin! Once the students get going they are surprisingly harsh during the marking and critiquing element of the tutorial!

By Rhian Meara, Physical Geography and Geology Lecturer at Swansea University

* In UK marking schemes, anything given 70% is considered to be of excellent quality.

GeoEd, is a series dedicated to education in the geosciences. If you’d like to share your teaching and educational experiences, anything from formal classroom teaching, through to outreach project ideas, please do get in touch. We always welcome guest contributions to the blog. To pitch an idea for a post, please contact Laura Roberts Artal (the EGU Communication Officer and GeoLog editor) at networking@egu.eu or take a look at our submission page.

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

GeoEd: GIFT Workshops at the General Assembly – What the 2016 participants can expect

The General Assembly (GA) is not only for researchers but for teachers and educators with an interest in the geosciences also. Every year the Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) is organised by the EGU Committee on Education to bring first class science closer to primary and high school teachers.

If you are an educator attending this year’s edition of the GIFT workshop –the topic of which is ‘The Solar System and beyond’ and is co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA) – you might be asking yourself what to expect. If so, read on, as this post should go some way towards showcasing the important take-home messages which come out of taking part in the workshop.

Anna Elisabetta Merlini, a teacher at the Scuola Dell’infanzia Alessandrini, near Milan in Italy, attended last year’s edition of the GIFT Worksop at the 2015 General Assembly in Vienna. Following the workshop she wrote a report about her time at the conference. Below you’ll find a summary of the report; to read the full version, please follow this link.

“My experience to GIFT workshop 2015 has been a real opportunity to find the connection between schools and the geoscience world,” explains Anna in the opening remark of her report. The 2015 GIFT workshop focused on mineral resources and Anna felt that “the GIFT workshop gave all teachers a new awareness of the presence of minerals in our daily routine” and equipped participating teachers with tools to tackle important mineral ores related topics, carrying out practical and productive activities with students.

As a teacher with a geological background, Anna found that the GIFT workshop allowed her to achieve mainly three different goals:

  • Realisation of new didactic ore related projects

Following the workshop, Anna took some of the things she learnt during her time in Vienna and applied them to ongoing teaching projects she was involved with prior to the GA. In particular, she

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

Anna (center) with other teachers at the 2015 GIFT workshop in Vienna. (Credit: Anna Elisabetta Merlini).

adapted existing teaching activities to highlight the practical connection between daily life and minerals found in objects. For instance, the youngest pupils in the Milan based school enjoyed a more hands on approach to learning about soil by exploring the areas just outside the building gates!

  • New interconnection to other teachers and scientific institutions

During the workshop in Vienna, Anna realised “how important is to involve young generations in geoscience topics in order to grow a more eco-aware generation in the future.” This notion inspired the primary teacher to start the Geoscience Information for Kids (GIFK) programme  to be implemented throughout local schools.

  • New ideas for my professional future within educational area

The GIFT workshop is not only an opportunity to develop new skills and develop new ideas, but also a place to network.  Through interactions with the teachers she met at the GIFT workshop, Anna felt empowered to “improve my skills in teaching geoscience, learning new tools and new strategies to involve students in the best way.”

For example, fruitful discussions with a Malawi based teacher meant she now better appreciates the differences between teaching in two, so vastly different, countries and how that impacts on students.

Anna concludes that the GIFT

“experience opened my eyes about the future, enforcing my conviction that children are our future and educational programs need to involve students at all levels, starting from the beginning.”

The EGU 2016 GIFT workshop ‘The Solar System and beyond’, co-organised with the European Space Agency (ESA), is taking place on April 18–20 2016 at the EGU General Assembly in Vienna, Austria. The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 17 to 22 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

GeoEd: EGU General Assembly and GIFT 2015

GeoEd: EGU General Assembly and GIFT 2015

The most recent issue (Winter/Spring 2015) of the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter includes a piece, by Earth Science Correspondent, Michael J. Passow, on the 2015 General Assembly and the GIFT (Geosciences Information For Teachers) Workshop. Passow gives an account of this year’s workshop, on the topic of mineral resources, and outlines the participating teacher’s experience.

Each spring, the European Geosciences Union (EGU) General Assembly brings geoscientists from all over the world to Vienna for a conference covering all disciplines of the Earth, planetary and space sciences. EGU 2015, convening 12-17 April, provided a forum where scientists, especially early career researchers, could present their work and discuss their ideas with experts in all fields of geoscience. Concurrently, nearly 80 educators from around the world gathered for the 11th Geophysical Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop of the EGU. They included, for the first time, your correspondent.

This year’s GIFT workshop welcomed 76 teachers from 21 different countries. GIFT 2015 centered on the theme “Mineral Resources.” Driving this selection was growing awareness that expansion of the world population from 6 to 9.6 billion in 2050 and rapid industrialization of highly populated countries, combined with an overall higher standard of living, are expected to intensify global competition for natural resources and place additional pressure on the environment, both terrestrial and marine. We recognize that mineral reserves are being depleted, and concerns are growing about access to new raw materials, especially basic and strategic minerals. Rise in the price of several essential metals, for example copper, has prompted some industrialized countries to initiate concerted activities to ensure access to strategic minerals.

Participants of the GIFT workshop at the 2015 General Assembly. Credit: Michael J. Passow, Earth Science Correspondent for the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter.

Participants of the GIFT workshop at the 2015 General Assembly. Credit: Michael J. Passow, Earth Science Correspondent for the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter.

Europe has recently begun initiatives that attempt to solve the issue. Europe depends greatly on imports for many materials needed for construction and heavy and high-tech industries. Recycling, resource efficiency, and searching for alternative materials are essential, but probably not sufficient to meet demands. There is a need to find new primary deposits. But politicians and business leaders are concerned because deposits, when identified, occur in areas difficult to access, barring modern exploration technology, and requiring huge investment costs. Exploration requires substantial capital, rare expertise, and leading edge technologies in order to secure the lowest extraction costs. GIFT 2015 matched teachers with experts of exploration, extraction, policy making in the field of future mineral resources, including the deep-sea frontier.

The EGU welcomed the teachers and started to bond them with a special guided visit to the Vienna Museum of Natural Sciences on Sunday, 12 April. They then joined all conference participants in the “Ice Breaker Party” at the Austria Center, where the scientific programs took place. Find out more information about EGU 2015 here.

Many of the participating teachers also contributed to the program through hands-on workshops, poster sessions, and other activities. Your correspondent presented in one of the hands-on workshop sessions classroom-based activities about minerals. Participants made models of the silicon-oxygen tetrahedron and other molecules using raisins and toothpicks. They shared strategies to teach important minerals properties, such as cleavage and magnetism, in their countries. An anticipated highlight was distributing samples of fluorescent minerals donated by the Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, NJ, and watching them glow under ultraviolet energy.

Hands-on workshops at the GIFT workshop during the 2015 conference. Credit: Michael J. Passow, Earth Science Correspondent for the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter.

Hands-on workshops at the GIFT workshop during the 2015 conference. Credit: Michael J. Passow, Earth Science Correspondent for the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter.

Many of the teachers received partial conference expenses through professional societies and other sources. When participants return to their home countries, they are expected to complete an evaluation form to assess this year’s program and provide guidance for next year’s. Each will also make presentations about their EGU experience to teaching colleagues, submit reports and photographs about how GIFT information and resources have been used, and, contribute articles about the GIFT workshop to professional publications aimed at geosciences teachers.

You can learn about past GIFT workshops through the EGU website. Beginning in 2009, EGU has created web-TV presentations, which may be freely downloaded and used in classrooms. To expand the impact and outreach of the programs, the EGU Committee on Education began in 2012 a series of GIFT Distinguished Lectures in several European countries. Leading scientists who have participated as speakers in GIFT workshops during the EGU General Assemblies are supported to provide organized educational event for high school science teachers.

Similar GIFT Workshops are offered at the annual American Geoscience Union meetings held each fall in San Francisco. These are organized by the National Earth Science Teachers Association and the AGU Education Program. Resources from the previous four AGU GIFT workshops are available online.

by Michael J. Passow, Earth Science Correspondent

This article originally appeared in the Newsletter of the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education.

For an electronic subscription to the Teachers Clearinghouse for Science and Society Education Newsletter please e-mail a request to JLRoeder@aol.com. You can also access the Newlsetter via the website of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

The GIFT Workshops are organised by the EGU’s Committee on Education. You can learn more about the GIFT programme and the other educational activities fostered by the Committee on the EGU website.