A man in the kitchen is wearing a chef’s hat, a KISS THE GEOLOGIST apron and holding a butane torch and a marshmallow.
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Some look at geology and see history; others see desert.
“Describing layers of rock,” says Todd Kent, co-creator of “Geology Kitchen,” a new educational earth science web series, “brings about imagery of layer cake, and so we got the idea to add segments that were shot in the kitchen.”
The other part of the “we” is AAPG member Devin Dennie, his filmmaking partner, and, together, they decided to construct an instructional video online – brief, fast-paced episodes – where food items and their preparation are used to introduce the wonders of earth science to a 4th and 6th grade audience.
Dennie, a petroleum geologist with Devon Energy, does most of the research and is the on-camera host for the films. Kent, a professional filmmaker, said he is “the production guy.”
Together the two formed their non-profit (and now award-winning) production company, Explorer Multimedia Inc., in 2003.
It is a “frugal organization,” Kent said, with the two friends doing most of the work themselves in their spare time.
Past productions for the two include “Oklahoma Rocks” and “RockHounds: The Movie” – works that were intended to make geology a bit more accessible and interesting to the general public.
The hurdle they faced with their new food-themed production was not just the what, but the how.
“The Geology Kitchen format is specifically tailored to the methods of online media consumption,” Kent said of the AAPG-sponsored endeavor – meaning these episodes can be downloaded from iTunes and be shared on social media sites, like Facebook.
“Young people live, work and recreate online,” he continued, “and to target that audience you need to understand how they receive and process information.”
Not just how much they take in, as it turns out, but how much room is left for other information, which explains why he and Dennie keep these videos between four and six minutes in length.
It’s not, Kent believes, that the attention spans of this age group are smaller; it’s that the amount of information vying for that attention is so much greater.
“With so many choices on what to see, read, watch or play, kids tend to have smaller increments of time in which they choose to invest their attention.”
Kent and Dennie’s primary goal, then, was to introduce concepts to pique kids’ interest (or appetite, if you will) and/or to supplement teachers’ curriculum.
“A fifteen minute video may be interesting,” he said, “but, believe it or not, it may be too much of a time investment for kids.”
An Appetizing Analogy
The videos are produced and will be distributed by their own Explorer Multimedia.
“One of the benefits of having an online project is the interactivity,” Kent said, “and that can be accomplished through the utilization of social media platforms. By maintaining a presence on sites like Twitter, YouTube and Facebook we can have contact with our viewers and the response has been very positive.”
It seems to be working.
“We’ve received, emails, tweets and comments from both students and teachers who are enjoying the show and requesting specific topics for us to cover,” Kent said.
And here is where it gets fun: It’s geology and science with more peanut butter, grapes and marshmallows than graphs, charts and lectures.
“There is a great episode where we rented an industrial cotton candy machine and made cotton candy as an analogy for various types of mineral formation.”
Another episode, which Kent says is their most popular, is titled “Three Types of Rocks,” where everything from ice cream, Rice Krispies treats and S’mores were used to demonstrate the formation of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks.
The purpose of all this is not merely to recreate the scene in “Close Encounters of Third Kind,” where Richard Dreyfuss sculpts his pile of mashed potatoes into a reasonable facsimile of Devils Tower – it is to use the processes of cooking, of the food itself, to introduce scientific concepts to children.
“Education and outreach,” he says, “are tricky things to accomplish – and earth science in particular carries a stigma. Too many people see it as a dry and boring topic.”
The Delightful Aftertaste
The key – and the challenge – is making these scientific concepts relatable to an audience in a format they enjoy.
To do that, though, required some help, which is where AAPG came in.
“Over the years we’ve collaborated with the AAPG on a few projects and were aware of their commitment to education and outreach so we were hopeful that they would support this project.”
He said he hoped the fun and uniqueness of Geology Kitchen would appeal to the organization.
AAPG Foundation program coordinator Jane Terry said of the project, both specifically and generally, “Social media allows worldwide viewers to learn about a topic in a short video format.”
And even though the videos, which can easily be downloaded and used on a number of platforms, are only an introduction, Kent says the geology cooked up in the kitchen can produce amazing results.
“An understanding of earth science,” he said, “leads to a better understanding of the energy industry.”