When it comes to geological teaching tools, a CD-ROM released recently by the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) proves all over again that the best things often come in small packages.
Titled Black Gold Beneath the Bayous, the disc is designed to be a teacher resource, and it's chock full of factual text and graphics about geology and petroleum, with plenty of earth science classroom experiments, Q&A, music, animation -- and more.
Topics presented, among others, include:
- Geologic time.
- Misconceptions about how oil is formed, where oil is found and how it moves through reservoirs.
- The technology/techniques used to find and drill for hydrocarbons.
- Energy conservation.
The endeavor was funded at a cost of $92,738, with 91 percent of the money provided by the oil overcharge funds from the Exxon settlement as approved by the U.S. Department of Energy. Louisiana State University (LSU) funded the remaining 9 percent of the total cost.
The project is the brainchild of state research geologist Brad Hanson of the Louisiana Geological Survey (LGS) at LSU, and Bob Bradley, assistant director of energy programs at LSU.
"We conducted a survey among 300 teachers, and you could count on one hand those who knew the age of the dinosaurs versus the Roman Empire," Hanson said. "And when asked where gasoline comes from, we got answers such as 'out of the pump.'
"We knew we needed material to fill this gap," he continued, "and decided on a CD instead of a book because we felt it had to be something that would entertain, intrigue and inform."
A Tiger By the Tail
To accomplish the project, the two professionals played off each other's strengths -- and limitations.
"I would pass the text along to Bob, who is not an earth scientist," Hanson said, "and if he didn't understand it, we would rewrite it and get it into a format that the teachers who are not trained in earth science could understand."
After only six weeks of work, the duo realized they had a tiger by the tail.
"There wasn't enough time or money in our contract to do what was really required," Hanson said, "so it became a question of whether to do what we contracted or what we would want our name on."
They took the latter option and put in six-day weeks at 14 hours a day for seven months to get the job done.
"This was on top of our other work," Hanson added, "so it was a killer."
Kudos from the experts indicate they have a hit on their hands.
"The CD has incredible animation and so much depth," said Peggy Lubchenco, AAPG's National Earth Science Teacher of the Year, who teaches earth science at La Colina Junior High School in Santa Barbara, Calif., and who was honored at the AAPG New Orleans meeting.
"UCSB (University of California, Santan Barbara) is working on a similar one for California," she said, "and I can't wait to show this one to them."
As Lubchenco tells it, there's a definite need for this kind of teaching resource.
"Earth science has been so neglected," she said, "and while teachers in California from the seventh grade and up have a degree in the subject they teach, this is not so with the elementary teachers who are not supported in teaching earth science."
There's change afoot, though. Lubchenco noted, for instance, that California testing now includes earth science topics. The schools that aren't teaching this won't rate well -- meaning fewer dollars in funding, so the leverage of the tests will be an impetus for them to focus more on earth science.
Seeing the Need
If more of the so-called ordinary citizenry were educated by science teachers like Lubchenco, the oil and gas industry might be viewed in a more favorable light by the general public.
For example, one of her teaching projects is a lab with 30 or so objects, each with a card where the students mark "yes" or "no" as to whether the object is a petroleum product.
"They're stunned over how many are petroleum," she said, "the same as they are when we map consumption of oil and see what the U.S. consumes."
Lubchenco's students express varying opinions about energy consumption and other such issues, but this is testament to her teaching philosophy.
"I think it's important for the students to recognize their dependence on petroleum, but I let them air ideas, and I don't teach viewpoints," she emphasized. "I teach facts, not opinions, because I want the students to think and make decisions based on science and not myth."
With the dearth of geologists coming out of the schools these days, there is perhaps a greater need for earth science education than ever before, and Lubchenco credits AAPG and the AAPG Foundation as being on the forefront of encouraging excellence in this field.
For example, she said, the Association and Foundation fund the Rocks In Your Head program, which provides training for science teachers working with grades 3-12. Offered in various U.S. cities at different times each year, the program provides attending teachers with earth science information and curriculum enhancements.
AAPG has also named a former science teacher to coordinate and spearhead its newly emphasized K-12 earth science support efforts.
Looking for Support
It would appear to be in the best interests of the E&P industry to jump on the earth science education bandwagon. But, according to Hanson, industry support for teaching resources like the existing CD is hard to come by.
"Texaco generously provided a lot of our images, and we got some from a couple of European companies and one Australian group," he said. "But this was the only response we got from all the majors and service companies we approached for animated graphics."
Undeterred, he and Bradley are diligently trying to solicit outside funding for both a revamped, reformatted version of the existing CD and a whole new version for students that would be what Hanson calls a "really slick, entertaining production."
Having learned a lesson the hard way on the first project, however, they've decided it would take two years and $330,000 to get the job done on the next one.
The existing CD is a freebie, available through the Louisiana DNR, and Hanson thinks it's crucial to be able to give any future ones away as well in order to get them into the most hands possible.
This is proving to be quite a challenge this time around.
When the project proposal was submitted to DNR, it contained wording that indicated Louisiana teachers would be the target audience for the end-product. Hanson said they didn't realize this would be a problem, and they're wanting to give it to all teachers no matter where they are.
A decision to release it elsewhere, however, is tied up in the legal section at DNR. For now, he said the unofficial word is that the CD is available only to Louisiana teachers.
They may soon find themselves with lots of new out-of-state friends asking favors.