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Geology outreach is called 'Let's Rock!' and it does

May  09, 2011

Demonstrating how metamorphic rock is formed: 1. Pile up bread slices in alternating colors and put a bit of margarine on each slice; 2. Squash the slices together; 3. Cut in half and look at the "rock" layers!
(Augustana Photo Bureau/Corynn Hanson)

Soda pop volcanoes, fossils and dissolving rocks sound like too much fun to be part of school, but the Let’s Rock! program is teaching youngsters that geology can be a good time.

Eleven Augustana students spent five weeks this spring putting their knowledge to the test. Each Tuesday they packed up their mineral and fossil samples, magnifying glasses and property-testing tools and headed to nearby Longfellow Liberal Arts School for an hour packed with hands-on activities for grades 4-6.

Diana Boudreau, a first-year geology major from Edwards, Ill., says her favorite activity was creating a "metamorphic rock" using bread and butter. The students deposited slices of dark bread and white bread in a giant sandwich to represent layers of rock. They put mineral-rich water or butter in between the layers and then applied pressure to the top of the pile to form a more compact rock. Then they cut apart their "rocks" and compared them to photos of actual formations.

Susan Kornreich Wolf, educational programs coordinator for the Fryxell Geology Museum and coordinator of Let’s Rock!, says geology students who are passionate about their subject can inspire children to see that learning is cool, and so is going to college.

“We are pleased that Let's Rock! serves as enrichment for children of varying abilities and ages,” she says about the 9-year-old program. “Not only are the Augie students able to use the activities to introduce concepts at an easy level for some but also to stimulate interest and encourage higher thinking for others.”

Randy Lightfoot, sophomore geology major from Minooka, Ill., most enjoyed demonstrating how a volcano works using a 2-liter bottle of carbonated water. The young students shook the bottle and then witnessed an explosion of water when they unscrewed the cap. The experiment taught them that volcanoes are caused by a build-up of pressure — not a chemical reaction as in the typical vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano experiment.

Lightfoot especially liked this activity because he plans to become a volcanologist.

“People might assume that I do Let’s Rock! because I want to teach,” he says. “But the program helps me in my future endeavors as a volcanologist by helping me keep in touch with the basics of igneous processes and volcanoes.”

Spencer Hellert, a junior with a double major in biology and geology from Dubuque, Iowa, agrees that the teaching experience will be helpful as she pursues a doctorate in paleontology.

“Teaching the kids forces me to be able to explain basic concepts of geology in a way that's easy to understand,” she said. “Let's Rock! also looks good on applications to graduate schools. A TA position is very helpful for financing graduate school, so having teaching experience in geology shows that you are capable of instructing students.”

Although they gain valuable teaching skills from the experience, the Augustana students also appreciate how the Longfellow students benefit.

“I love to see the kids’ enthusiasm for science,” Boudreau says. “The way they do observations or when they bring in their own rock collection makes it clear that the kids are excited to be there.”