Developing Animations for K-12 Education and Public Outreach

For the past 18 years, the Interactive Geology Project at the University of Colorado has been creating scientifically accurate animations to illustrate geologic processes for K-12 education and public outreach.

The motivation for this project came from my challenges of teaching second semester introductory geology (Historical Geology). My basic observation was that about 98 percent of these students were simply not wired to think in 3-D or 4-D. As a result, they had great difficulties grasping spatial and temporal events in historical geology.

In looking for ways to help students visualize these abstract concepts, I found that creating animations improved students’ understanding considerably. This is especially true when presenting for K-12 students.

AAPG members were first introduced to the IGP’s animation work at the opening ceremony of the 2015 ACE in Denver. John Robinson, the meeting’s general chair, kindly let us show a 25-minute movie that illustrated Colorado’s geologic origins. This video, with extensive computer animations, is representative of our work. However, due to the continued drop in oil prices, by the end of 2015 we had no funding, so we put the program into hibernation (suspended animation), with the plan of rebooting it once commodity prices had risen and we could develop sustained funding.

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For the past 18 years, the Interactive Geology Project at the University of Colorado has been creating scientifically accurate animations to illustrate geologic processes for K-12 education and public outreach.

The motivation for this project came from my challenges of teaching second semester introductory geology (Historical Geology). My basic observation was that about 98 percent of these students were simply not wired to think in 3-D or 4-D. As a result, they had great difficulties grasping spatial and temporal events in historical geology.

In looking for ways to help students visualize these abstract concepts, I found that creating animations improved students’ understanding considerably. This is especially true when presenting for K-12 students.

AAPG members were first introduced to the IGP’s animation work at the opening ceremony of the 2015 ACE in Denver. John Robinson, the meeting’s general chair, kindly let us show a 25-minute movie that illustrated Colorado’s geologic origins. This video, with extensive computer animations, is representative of our work. However, due to the continued drop in oil prices, by the end of 2015 we had no funding, so we put the program into hibernation (suspended animation), with the plan of rebooting it once commodity prices had risen and we could develop sustained funding.

Five-year Plan

The AAPG Foundation has been essential to our efforts; we received financial support several times from 2004 to 2015. Now, with their customary optimism, Foundation trustees Ray Thomasson and Jim Gibbs (chair) have been critical to the current round of funding. And with this support from the AAPG Foundation and private donors, we are now embarking on a five-year plan with three primary goals:

  • Create videos of the 48 states using extensive computer animation
  • 3-D animations of nature scenes through time
  • A cell phone app that senses the user’s geo-location and then shows that location’s geologic evolution through time

We plan to initially develop a series of animated videos that show the evolution of the geology for each of the continental United States. These animations will be similar to those we created for the state of Colorado. The purpose of these videos is to provide education and outreach in a number of deliverables for each state and region.

We also are animating the evolution of each of the United States’ 14 geologic-geographic provinces. Importantly, once these 14 animations are created, they will become the foundation for specializing the content for each state video.

Because each state has different places of special interest, the remaining content of the videos will be developed to fit the purpose of each state.

To reach the largest population, all of our products must be delivered with the newest, most engaging technology. Website delivery remains the starting point for all animations. For the next few years, we envisage that all material will be delivered on phones; beyond that, we make no predictions. This means all content must be developed on a number of mobile platforms that are capable of augmented reality displays.

We also are developing content for viewing on 3-D virtual reality glasses and goggles. In essence, viewers can have a videogame-like experience as they walk through any designed geologic scene.

Other Supporters

We are developing this project under the aegis of:

  • The American Geosciences Institute – One of AGI’s primary charges is to coordinate geologic outreach for their 52 supporting professional societies. As such, AGI has a national and international reputation for the dissemination of outreach projects. Their expertise is invaluable to the successful completion and distribution of this project.
  • The Denver Museum of Nature and Science – DMNS is the leading natural history museum of the Rocky Mountain region, and we have worked with them in earnest for six years in developing geologically accurate nature scenes from the past. Their expertise in paleobiology and paleobotany is essential to the accurate reconstruction of paleo-landscapes.
  • The Association of State Geologists – ASG comprises all state geologists (49 of 50 are represented). Their support will be essential to help us find the correct people in each state for input and distribution.
  • Private funds have been the primary source of our support, and we continue to seek donations.

This project is being funded as part of the AAPG’s Foundation mission to support educational, charitable and scientific objectives that directly or indirectly affect the geologic profession and general public.

We plan to have a booth at the AAPG 2019 Annual Convention and Exhibition in San Antonio next May where we will demonstrate our most recent products. We hope you’ll stop by and try our virtual geo-reality – maybe even walk through a Late Cretaceous swamp – and tell us what you think.

For more information, visit igp.colorado.edu.

(Editor’s note: Paul Weimer, an AAPG Honorary Member, was AAPG president in 2011-12.)

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