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Lessons that ‘Rock’

Alumna develops materials to provide hands-on geology lessons

Growing up in Raynham, Jessica Campbell, ’08, remembers a geologist visiting her class to share volcanic rock samples and detail how a volcano melted his boot. That experience fueled a passion for geology that she now hopes to spark in today’s schoolchildren.

“I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” recalled Campbell, laboratory staff assistant for Bridgewater State University’s Department of Geological Sciences.

During the pandemic, Campbell developed a new initiative to provide hands-on experiences. GeoExplorers, which is a program of BSU’s Center for the Advancement of STEM Education, features kits that teachers can borrow along with corresponding lesson plans. The kits contain rock samples and other supplies needed to complete activities aligned to curriculum standards.

“Getting kids to be able to touch and feel the rocks themselves rather than look at pictures and videos of them, that’s the fun part of geology,” she said.

The program aims to make lessons more accessible to K-12 students by alleviating barriers to hands-on learning. Acquiring rock samples or traveling to sites can be expensive and unfeasible for schools, Campbell said.

The kits allow students to explore a 3D model of Mount St. Helens, discover the living and non-living components of soil, make their own fossils, and study weathering and erosion. Online learning modules are also available.

The lessons are geared to specific grade levels. A mineral activity, for example, connects to kindergarteners’ study of shapes.

“I’m trying to stick geology in where teachers may not think to stick geology in,” she said.

While GeoExplorers officially launches this fall, Campbell worked with Brockton fifth graders on a lesson on viscosity last academic year. Students were learning remotely at that time, but used water, cooking oil, syrup and other household items to compare how easily liquids flowed. The goal was to help them understand how the viscosity of magma shapes volcanoes.

“I loved doing this experiment. It was so fun,” one student wrote in a thank you note to Campbell. Another said: “Volcanoes are awesome!”

That’s exactly the reaction Campbell hopes students have.

“I want to make geology exciting for kids,” she said.

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