Teaching volcanoes: the Geoscience Outreach and Engagement course

Teaching volcanoes

Taking the Geoscience Outreach and Engagement course has allowed me to combine my passion for volcanoes with my love of working with children. The essence of this course is that students choose any aspect of geoscience that interests them, and then design a project in order to communicate this to any sector of the public. My interest is in volcanology, and this course has given me the opportunity to share my enthusiasm with the Primary 5 class of a local school, creating and delivering a series of lessons to educate and excite the children about volcanoes.

My past experience of working with children has taught me that they love any sort of hands-on activity – not only does it keep them engaged and interested, but children are much more likely to remember what they’ve been taught if they’ve had fun learning it. So my aim was to make my lessons as interactive as possible.

Lesson 1 involved the children conducting experiments in order to model volcanic processes. Not only do children really enjoy interactive experiments, but they are also a fantastic visual aid for teaching, enabling complex volcanic processes to be modelled in clear and simple ways to help the children to understand.

In Lesson 2 the class learnt about the social impacts of a volcanic eruption using the real-life example of the town of Heimaey in Iceland (the eruption of Eldfell, 1973). Each child took on the role of a different member of the community, and they had to debate about what action the townspeople should take to respond to the fact that lava flows were advancing towards their town.

Lesson 3 involved the children working in small groups to research about historic volcanic eruptions. With the information that they discovered, they then had to produce a poster to educate the rest of the class about their eruption, as well as giving a presentation to the Primary 4 class.

Finally, I finished with a field trip to Arthur’s Seat, giving the children an opportunity to consolidate everything they had learnt in the previous three lessons and to apply this knowledge to a volcano in their local area.

By including different types of activity in each lesson the children were able to develop a wide range of skills – making hypotheses, critical thinking and problem solving, visually and verbally presenting information. These are all skills that they can now apply to other aspects of their learning.

My whole experience of the Geoscience Outreach and Engagement course has been highly rewarding. Turning my many, many ideas into four feasible lessons was a challenge, but the project was so much fun. For me, knowing that I have instilled a sense of excitement in them, not just about volcanoes in specific, but about science in general, makes this project worthwhile. One girl was so inspired by my lessons that she returned to school after the holidays with a volcano cake that she had baked!

Read more about the Geoscience and Outreach course.

Isla Simmons

Isla is a fifth year Geology Masters student at Edinburgh University with an interest in volcanology. She initially became involved with volcanology outreach when she was studying abroad in Auckland during her third year, and she has continued to teach about volcanoes in primary schools and at science fairs since returning to Edinburgh.

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