Saturday 19 March 2011

Time to Learn?

After my last post on a brief session at museum whereby I was involved in discussing geosciences with some children it seemed important to review, what children are taught in the geosciences in order to fit events and outreach into knowledge that the children already have.

 Assuming that children have no prior interest (so have not read anything into it, or have a scary obsession with dinosaurs) so that their geological knowledge extends to that they’ve learnt in the class  room.  As luck would have it, my mother is primary school teacher and I’m back home before a little jaunt off to Cyprus, the house is full of a wealth of books for the education of children, it seemed interesting to see how these publications discuss geological issues.

Trend, 1998 found that children (10 to 11) identified geological time as being composed of two different timeframes, ‘Extremely ancient’ and ‘less ancient’ quite what the timings of these are remain a mystery. However, this introduces the question of what we as geologists should use in terms of geological timing. During outreach events (or similar), where student or professional geologists may be acting, our understanding of geological time is so commonplace, so accepted within our lives that we don’t find the need to water it down to perhaps the level it should be displayed at; practically when discussing ideas with children.

Children also have trouble fitting piecing together geological time (Trend, 2000) which leads to problems when we are trying to explain how a landscape developed or the progression of life through time. Stratigraphy is a vital area of the geosciences hence its early discussion within university courses. How can geological time be brought to children – when there have limited fundamental understanding of the concepts involved?

Perhaps for these reasons geology, as taught within Key Stage 2 avoids geological time – instead discussing the composition of the earth, in terms of layers and the composition of rocks. The rock cycle is also included – with no consideration for the timescales behind it.

Therefore, if the children have never encountered deep time, to a child, a long time ago might be last Christmas, not the Mesozoic. Why therefore do we even try to utilise geological time with children? At the outreach event I last posted on we had posters with the geological timescale on it, we gave away cards with the timescale on it – even trying to put the local geology into a timescale. Clearly it was not a worthy cause, I had wondered why I was getting polite but completely blank faces – the children simply  had nothing to base what we were saying on.

Should we then even bother discussing ‘deep’ time when working with children? Well, either we try to educate children during any contact time into geological time (probably neither practical or even possible) or we simply leave it out – tie ourselves in with the national curriculum. This produces the risk of young minds not having a non theistic timescale set in stone, or a challenge to a preconceived theistic idea set in motion at a young age – surely, for the promotion of ‘mainstream’ geosciences and for the ease of future education introducing the geological time scale at a young age is beneficial? It’s just how to do it that’s the problem!


Trend, R. (2000) Conceptions of geological time among primary trainee teachers, with reference to their engagement with geosciences, history and science, International Journal of Science Education,22 (5), pp 539-555