Throughout the year in Geology and Environmental Science (G&ES), 9th grade students follow a similar educational pattern: create a foundation of knowledge and then use that information to investigate a topic more fully. Right now, my students are using their foundation of knowledge about plate tectonics, including information about plate boundaries and movement, to examine the effects of plate tectonics on the world. Using data about the Hawaiian Islands, for example, students calculate the rate and direction of movement of the Pacific Plate. The evolution of this island chain is one important piece of evidence that supports plate tectonic theory, and the students are able to demonstrate that using maps and age dates taken from rocks on various islands. By the end of the unit, they will be able to answer the question, “why aren’t there big earthquakes on Cape Cod?” They will also use what they know about plate tectonics, earthquakes, and volcanoes to debate the construction of a ski resort on a potentially active volcano, taking on the roles of various townspeople, government officials, and scientists in a town hall meeting format.
I believe these types of investigations are a critical component of science education. It is one thing for me to spout information and facts; but it is another thing entirely to have a student use information to complete calculations or develop an opinion on a complicated topic. I genuinely hope that my students question what I tell them, as they learn to be independent thinkers throughout the school year. And I hope that we have lots of fun along the way!
And, if you'd like to know the answer to the question in the blog title, ask a 9th grader.