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GeoTalk: Sharing geoscience with kids and educators

GeoTalk: Sharing geoscience with kids and educators

GeoTalk interviews usually feature the work of early career researchers, but this month we deviate from the standard format to speak to Marina Drndarski, a biology teacher at the primary school Drinka Pavlović in Belgrade, Serbia. Marina has been involved with EGU’s geoscience education activities for more than five years; she is an active contributor to Planet Press articles, bitesize press releases for kids, parents and educators, and has participated in the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshops at the General Assembly.

Thanks for talking to us today! Could you introduce yourself and tell us about your career path?

Hi geoscientific people,

My name is Marina, and I teach biology and environmental studies in primary and secondary schools in Belgrade, Serbia.

As an experienced teacher I realised that it’s not only my priority to give lectures and assess my students’ knowledge inside the four walls of my classroom, but also to give them an opportunity to get out of the box: whether that’s involving them in projects, taking part in active citizenship, exploring, researching, debating, or searching for the most improbable and unexpected solutions to problems in everyday life.

During my 25 years of teaching, I worked as an expert for education quality standards governed by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Serbia. I have written several biology and environmental handbooks, workshops and teaching learning materials for students and teachers.

With my students I have participated in several national and international projects (such as the Global Designathon SerbiaEco Schools Serbia, the WWF European Schools For a Living Planet, Creating a School (on Mars) From Scratch, and the 2018 International Schools Essay Competition and Debate to name only a few). Meanwhile, I have also completed specialised academic studies on environmental protection and law at Faculty of Law, University of Belgrade.

After field work with Eco-Musketeers on Deliblato sands, one of the Special Nature Reserve in Serbia (Credit: Marina Drndarski)

Could you tell us about your involvement with EGU and how that has progressed over the years?

My first experience with the EGU GIFT workshops was at the 2014 General Assembly. First, I was fascinated by the huge crowds of the scientific community, rushing through the halls to be a part of The Face of the Earth (the 2014 conference theme). As part of the event, with colleagues from all around the world, I really enjoyed the inspirational lectures over four days. Although the GIFT program ended by the middle of the week, I stayed up to two more days, until the closing of the conference.

During the EGU GIFT 2014 poster sessions, I presented my work with my students, members of the Eco-Muskeeters, and enjoyed the experience of exchanging teaching methodology with other colleagues and visitors. Among the various activities and workshops that we had that year, I would single out Bárbara Ferreira’s (the EGU Media and Communications Manager) presentation about bitesize press releases for kids, Planet Press. After the presentation we were offered to participate in the translation of the Planet Press releases into our native tongues, which I immediately and wholeheartedly accepted.

After great experience participating in 2014, I searched for a new opportunity to participate again for EGU GIFT 2015, The Voyage through the Scales. This time I came with a new poster, Experiment-o-mania, and short oral presentation to GIFT participants on how I use Planet Press articles in my classes.

Although I normally do not teach geosciences, I have found many ways to use the Planet Press releases in teaching biology, especially in environmental science.

During the last few years I have translated all of the articles from English to Serbian. I can confess that I honestly enjoy in each of the new press releases.

In addition to helping review Planet Press articles, you also incorporate texts from Planet Press and GeoTalk into your own lessons! How do you use these articles to teach your students about Earth science?

Students are given different articles from Planet Press which deal with one topic, such as climate change or global warming. Each pair of students also has a piece paper in front of them, with the theme on the paper’s center. As the student pair read the received articles (two for each of them), they construct their maps.

After that, all together, we construct the class conceptual map and discuss and propose suggestions for how each of us can influence to environment based on the principles of sustainable development, such as reducing carbon emissions, saving energy and using water wisely.

At the end of the class, students take a climate change quiz on Kahoot (https://create.kahoot.it/; Planet Press) or Quizlet.

Writing a conclusion is an important part of any piece of writing, so for the next class the students write an essay overview to summarise the topic.

Example of the class conceptual map for climate change and global warming. (Credit: Marina Drndarski)

In your own experience, what have students gained from these kid-friendly posts and press releases?

Planet Press: Remove carbon dioxide from the air or risk young people’s future

In my opinion, most of the obligatory textbooks for elementary or secondary school have topics such as climate change, Earth’s structure, glaciers, landslides etc. that are explained too narratively.

Most of the main text are described as definitions which students have to learn as facts, without putting students in the center of learning, placing themselves in a position to explore the topic, perform a scientific procedure and make a discovery, demonstrate a known fact, solve problems, or suggest solutions which may be achievable.

On the contrary, all the articles from Planet Press and GeoTalk provide real examples of field research and show students that science is actually happening somewhere in the world. Most importantly for students, are that most of the articles often show how science can influence everyday life, and that there are possible solutions and recommendations for what we can do to relieve pressure on the planet.

Additionally the questions in the “Find out more” section provide me with an opportunity to develop discussions in class.

Also, the possibility that the articles can be read in a foreign language, for example in English or German (languages which are taught at my school), give students the opportunity to improve their language skills.

What is your advice for scientists that want to work with school kids?

First, it is important for students to understand that somewhere in the world a whole team of scientists zealously work to improve the living conditions of the planet. New findings can help us see the actual state of the planet and give us the big picture of what we need to see. That’s why the Planet Press releases can open new perspectives to students to explore more through the offered material and links or to find answers to some scientific questions, feeding their curiosity and helping them develop awareness regarding the problems which concern us all.

I would suggest one-hour live meetings with scientists and students, whether the scientists are directly addressing kids in the classroom or responding via the internet. Therefore, it is necessary to go over one scientific topic with the students before the meeting in order to allow the students enough time to prepare questions for discussion.

Also, students can be citizen scientists on research teams, and engage in mini projects, such as collecting information from local areas or visiting researchers in the field. Perhaps even some of the students can give new information to researchers!

I am deeply aware that many scientists suffer from lack of time, but this kind of learning can be really helpful for students.

Interview by Olivia Trani, EGU Communications Officer

Some of Marina’s representative publications over last few years

Miličić, D., Drndarski, M., Trajković J., Savić T., Lučić L., and Pavković-Lučić S. (2018). A matter of health: Evaluation of health habits in pupils in Primary School in Serbia; 4th Balkan Scientific Conference on Biology, Nov. 1st-3rd, 2017. Plovdiv, Bulgaria (in press).

Drndarski, M. and Turšijan, T. (2015). Application of case study method of the conceptual map (brain map) in the realization of the education program content of environmental protection (climate change). Book: Teacher as a researcher: examples of good practice, Ministry of education, science and technological development Republic of Serbia, p. 41-47 (usage the Planet Press articles to create conceptual maps about the climate change) ISBN 978-86-7452-064-2. (in Serbian) (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279195498_Nastavnik_kao_istrazivac_primeri_dobre_prakse)

Drndarski M. (2015). Experiment-о-mania – Abstract for the EGU General Assembly 2015 – Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 17, EGU2015-4692-1, 2015. EGU General Assembly 2015. © Author(s) 2015. CC Attribution 3.0 License.

Drndarski M., (2014). All for the Planet, Planet for All – Abstract for the EGU General Assembly 2014 – Geophysical Research Abstracts Vol. 16, EGU2014-PREVIEW, 2014 EGU General Assembly 2014 © Author(s) 2014. CC Attribution 3.0 License.

Miličić, D., Drndarski, M., Holod, A., Lazić, Z. (2014). Fibonacci and golden ratio in interdisciplinary teaching. Teaching Innovations, XXVII, 2014/4, str. 86–91. (http://scindeks.ceon.rs/Article.aspx?artid=0352-23341404086M&lang=en)

A first-timer’s guide to the 2019 General Assembly

A first-timer’s guide to the 2019 General Assembly

Will this be your first time at an EGU General Assembly? With more than 15,000 participants in a massive venue, the conference can be a confusing and, at times, overwhelming place.

To help you find your way, we have compiled an introductory handbook filled with history, presentation pointers, travel tips and a few facts about Vienna and its surroundings. Download your copy of the EGU General Assembly guide here!

And if you plan to apply for funding support to attend the General Assembly, don’t forget the deadline is just around the corner: the call closes on Saturday, 1 December. For details on how to submit your abstract and apply to the Roland Schlich travel support scheme at the same time, check out this blog post from a few weeks ago.

EGU 2019 will take place from 7 to 12 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2019 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU19 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.

A better framework for disasters

A better framework for disasters

The end of the Northern hemisphere summer tends to be a good time to regroup from natural hazards, as the frequency and intensity of storms, as well as the incidence of wildfires, tends to trail off. At the time of writing, however, Hurricane Willa had just crashed into Mexico, while Typhoon Yutu has just hit the Northern Mariana Islands so hard that any equipment designed to record wind-speed had been swept away. Both storms rapidly strengthened, and the latter was described by the US National Weather Service as ‘likely [to] become the new yard stick by which future storms will be judged.’

Super Typhoon Yutu (24 October 2018) making its way towards the Northern Mariana Islands, a territory of the United States. (Photo: Joshua Stevens/NASA Earth Observatory)

What if we changed the way we think about such events, though? What if, instead of focusing on the wind-speed of a typhoon or the magnitude of an earthquake, the first points of discussion were about the human aspect and impact associated with a specific event. How would this summer’s events be framed? It’s a crucial distinction; natural disaster is in some ways a paradox in terms – although the hazard, or physical manifestation, of a hurricane or earthquake is natural, the impacts, and thus the disaster, are entirely a result of human exposure and vulnerability. Let’s first explore some of the most dramatic themes from this summer’s disasters, and then try and put them in this new human context.

What links this summer’s events?

The recent Hurricanes – Yutu, Willa, Florence and Michael – encapsulate well the intensity and frequency at which we’ve seen disasters come over the last few months. Earthquakes, storms, droughts and wildfires have all caused havoc in a hugely diverse spectrum of locations, and while the specter of natural hazards is always present in many parts of the world, there seems to be something more intense and urgent with respect to this summer’s catastrophes, especially in the media coverage.

The availability of smartphones and the proliferation of social media use means we can see ever more easily from the safety of our homes what others experience in terror during disasters; who could forget the scarring imagery from the earthquake and tsunami in Lombok in September, as houses were tossed about like toys as the ground turned to liquid.

Elsewhere, Japan experienced a plethora of hazards as flooding, typhoons, landslides, earthquakes and drought brought a whole range of challenging conditions which caused a large number of fatalities, despite Japan’s status as one of the best prepared countries in the world for natural hazards.

Much of the media discussion related to disasters has focused on the links between hazards and climate change, and whether the severity of events like Hurricane Florence can be attributed in part to anthropogenic emissions. While it has historically proven difficult to attribute the strength of different storms to climate change, this summer marked the first time scientists attempted it in earnest while an event was taking place – some researchers argued that the rainfall forecast for Hurricane Florence was 50% higher than it would otherwise have been, although such estimates are still in their infancy. What is clearer from scientific predictions of future climate change is that storms will likely be stronger, wetter and slower moving, suggesting similar intense storms could become more normal.

Beyond tropical storms, records were broken by other catastrophes. The Northern hemisphere wildfire season was among the worst we’ve ever experienced on record, at least in terms of acreage burned. Californian fires were so intense that smoke was noticeable on the East Coast, while the extent of fire in western Canada was second only to the cataclysmic fires last year. Abnormally warm temperatures in Scandinavia prompted wildfires to break out north of the Arctic circle, an extremely rare and concerning occurrence.

A different way to think about catastrophes

While it’s interesting and important to discuss the potential for increased storm severity as a result of climate change, it seems that this should only form a part of the larger discussion: how will trends in climate co-evolve with trends in human exposure and vulnerability to hazards? Similarly, why focus on the numbers associated with a disaster – the earthquake magnitude, the depth of flooding, acres of forest burned – when we could instead look at who has been impacted, and how to prevent this in the future.

It’s especially important to frame the ‘cost’ of a given event in this context. Often, we think of cost in either loss-of-life or financial terms, but it’s worth considering those as functions of exposure and vulnerability. For example, Hurricane Florence, which recently made landfall on the US eastern seaboard, is likely to cost  40-50 billion US dollars. Compare this to Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017; some estimates for the cost of the storm were around 100 billion US dollars. While Hurricane Maria cost roughly twice as much as Florence, the relative impact on Puerto Rico was far greater than that value would imply. The vulnerability of the economy of Puerto Rico to a disaster of that scale was far higher than the mainland US; with a GDP of over 10 trillion US dollars, the US economy can absorb shocks like Florence, but the GDP of Puerto Rico declined by a massive 8% in the aftermath of Maria. It is worth noting that Puerto Rico is in fact a territory of the US, and received federal funding to assist with recovery – so the economic impact might even have been more severe without it.

U.S. Customs & Border Protection & FEMA personnel deliver food and water to isolated Puerto Rico residents after their bridge was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in the mountains around Utuado, Puerto Rico (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Master Sgt. Joshua L. DeMotts via FEMA)

We can build the same framing for loss of lives; countries with well-developed disaster response and recovery mechanisms suffer significantly fewer fatalities in the face of a similar magnitude event to a poorly equipped country, all things being equal. This kind of social vulnerability to disaster is difficult to quantify, and encompasses a range of aspects including cultural awareness of natural hazards and healthcare expenditure, but it has to be considered alongside the trends in hazard intensity.

I would argue that coverage of (and research related to) disasters needs to shift away from the headline numbers, like skyrocketing costs or the increasing intensity of storms and wildfires, and instead discuss whether disasters are hitting harder in places that are more vulnerable, or whether the relative economic or human exposure to a given type of disaster is worsening or not. While it’s fascinating to see images of multiple hurricanes over a single basin, it’s an incomplete picture unless the risk is incorporated.

Flash flood impacts in Peru after torrential rain in 2013 (Photo: Galeria del Ministerio de Defensa del Perú via Flickr)

Reframing our vision of disasters would put the focus squarely on where inequality and climate change interact; if more vulnerable developing countries or regions are expected to be more exposed to disasters under a changing climate, then there is real potential for inequalities to be exacerbated – and this is indeed what the UN anticipates will occur. More fundamentally, reframing would help us shift away from a coldly analytical perspective of ‘disasters by the numbers’ and instead consider where the worst impacts would be, and who the people at risk are. While trends in the developed world indicate fewer and fewer deaths from disasters over the last 100 years, many countries don’t have the same capacity to absorb shocks.

The human tendency to dwell on the extraordinary, and the ephemeral nature of modern news coverage certainly encourages reporting to focus on the records broken by a given event. Perhaps it’s futile to add another voice to the many that have already asked for more context and temperance from such coverage, but it seems important to highlight that there may be other ways to cover disasters; those affected may benefit greatly, in both the long and short term.

Robert Emberson is a Postdoctoral Fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, and a science writer when possible. He can be contacted either on Twitter (@RobertEmberson) or via his website (https://robertemberson.com/)

Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post that expresses the opinion of its author, whose views may differ from those of the European Geosciences Union. We hope the post can serve to generate discussion and a civilised debate amongst our readers.