Geology on Wheels is an educational outreach program run through faculty advisor Linda Morse. College students volunteer their precious free time to visit neighboring elementary schools with a red wagon in tow, piled high with lesson materials from rocks and minerals to Virginia’s fossils to geology as a career. Each lesson is based on Virginia’s Standard of Learning requirements and the department’s enthusiasm for teaching.
Morse works closely with her student coordinator early in the school year to send out a letter to neighboring elementary schools, introducing them to the program. At the teachers’ discretion, schools contact the department and request a lesson that supplements their curriculum. A massive email is then sent out to all geology majors and minors with the time and date of the request. Students whose schedules and personalities match up to the task follow their worn path to the Geology building to get a quick trouble-shooting session from Morse, usually consisting of the simple mantra “just have fun”, before setting off to their eagerly waiting class.
The success of each lesson is fed by a collaborative energy that transcends age differences for the ultimate goal of education. Former student coordinator Lydia Murray says “[she is] proud to be active in a program that brings so many smiles to so many faces, including [hers].” Too often children develop distaste for certain subjects early in their school career, tainting their attitude and subsequent performance towards those subjects in their future. The interactive nature of Geology on Wheels gives science another angle, hopefully encouraging a positive outlook on science.
Lead science resource teacher Barbara Bailey of the Yorktown Math, Science and Technology Magnet School quoted her students as describing their Geology on Wheels experience to be “AWESOME!” She went on to say her “students became involved in a hands-on, inquiry based experiment that supports [their] school philosophy of EXPLORE, DISCOVER, CREATE, IMAGINE the possibilities”. While it is implied that she speaks of her own elementary students, the unintentional reference to mere “students” lends itself to those in college, as well. The philosophy she speaks of can get lost in the stress of exams and papers, but current student coordinator Morgan Gelinas says that “participating in Geology on Wheels rejuvenates [her] childlike enthusiasm for learning…The children’s unabashed curiosity inspire [her] to never stop questioning but rather to embrace tackling the unknown”.
Many active student volunteers in the program have discovered their love for teaching, going on to combine their geology major with education. Austin Pryor, ’08, was accepted to the competitive Teach for America Program, aimed at shrinking the education gap in our nation. He will be working in a low-income school district in South Dakota for the next two years. Lydia Murray will be graduating in the spring of 2009 with a double major in Geology and elementary education and plans on a career in teaching.