For Jacqueline Bath, teaching geology is no mere academic exercise.
Much of her learning about and experience with geology didn't come only through textbooks and lectures, but firsthand via her 18 years' field experience, completing subsurface studies and evaluating petroleum prospects.
In other words, she's well acquainted with how vital and integral petroleum geology is to our way of life.
Later, after voluntarily leaving her position to care for her young children, Bath decided to become a secondary science teacher, using her knowledge and work experience to help teach and shape her students.
That previous experience working in the field helped her create meaningful hands-on activities and tasks, especially in geology, where there is little curriculum available at the high school level, she said.
"I feel that now that I am teaching geology and earth science, I can bring in my knowledge to support learning," she said. "I am able to take an idea from a professional development class or a lab from a college manual and actually use some parts to put together a unit that has students engaged in many of the activities that I engaged in as a geologist."
And clearly, she does it well.
Bath, a geosciences teacher at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, Colo., has been named the AAPG Foundation's 2015 Teacher of the Year.
The honor comes with a $6,000 prize from the AAPG Foundation to be evenly split between Bath and ThunderRidge High School.
She also will receive an expense-paid trip to the AAPG Annual Convention and Exhibition in Denver May 31-June 3, where Foundation Chairman Jim Gibbs will present her with her award at the All-Convention Luncheon.
Using Real-World Concepts
Keeping students engaged and interested in real-world concepts and science ideas is important to Bath, an educator for the past 18 years who currently teaches earth environmental science, astronomy and geology to students in grades 9 through 12.
She regularly invites friends who are in the industry to speak to her classes, which, she said, not only helps her keep up to date with industry trends and opportunities, but also provides the students an opportunity to see how a task is related to the real world.
"Students have an opportunity to ask questions about what it is like to be a geologist, engineer or landman in case they are considering a career in one of those areas," Bath said.
Using local, regional or global geology as a hook also piques student interest. For example, her students learn about Colorado's minerals and why they are important to the community, as well as making and interpreting a cross-section of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay Oil Field.
"Using real-world scenarios makes learning relevant," she said.
Students in her geology class also learn about petroleum in a unit called "Petroleum Products and You." Various products such as a basketball, credit card, suntan lotion and sneakers are passed out, and students must decide if it's made from petroleum or not and then create a two-column list on the whiteboard.
Afterward, Bath and the class go over the list and what other items are made using petroleum.
"Students reflect on what petroleum products they used on that day as well as what products they think they could do without," she said. "In this way they understand that petroleum products are a key part of their lives."
Collaborative learning is another feature of Bath's classroom. Students are arranged in groups of four for group discussions while Bath circulates around the room.
"I feel that collaboration is important for learning so that students develop skills needed for life and the workplace," Bath said, adding that skills developed through collaboration include generation of ideas, effective problem solving and completing complex tasks.
But variety and personalization also are key to better learning, Bath believes, so she makes sure her students have choices in their learning environment. This can mean using technology to create a digital product for some students, while others may prefer an illustration or model.
Students also can learn new content via a one-on-one video-audio lecture, by reading a textbook or using interactive Web animations.
The Perks of Teaching
Bath, who received her bachelor's degree in geology from the University of Texas and her master's degree in education from the University of Denver, said her favorite part of being a teacher is witnessing her students' growth and developing and creating activities and tasks that challenge and engage the students.
Her least favorite part of the job? Something many teachers struggle with - keeping up with grading and documenting so many students.
As a former geologist, it's little wonder that Bath's favorite unit to teach is mineral resources to her freshman class.
"I love minerals," she said. "I regularly attend the Denver gem, mineral, and jewelry shows, and I make jewelry with natural stone beads."
Another favorite is the mining performance task, where students pretend they are drillers, miners and millers. That's when, Bath said, she gets to wear her hard hat all day.
"I also love the futures in energy unit in my geologist class since this is when they participate in the gushers and dusters simulation, and industry professionals are here," she said. "This is also a favorite because it relates to my background in petroleum energy."
Sean Patterson, ThunderRidge High School's assistant principal, said Bath has been able to take her high-level knowledge and teach it to her students, which is not always an easy task. Her gentle demeanor combined with her expertise makes for an exciting and enlightening classroom atmosphere, he said.
"She is very creative in her lessons and is very compassionate to her students," Patterson said. "She makes learning fun and incorporates many hands-on activities that students can carry on with them throughout their lives."