After 13 years of taking teachers into the field, this year’s G-Camp was held virtually in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers said.
“I was going to cancel this year and wait until next year, but I have been doing this for so many years that I decided I could not stop,” said Rick Giardino of the Texas A&M Geology and Geophysics Department, who leads the program.
The program is aimed at 5th through 12th-grade teachers and offers supplemental material for the teachers’ science curriculum. The goal is to have teachers return to the classroom with new knowledge and excited about what they are teaching, and ultimately for “the kids to come to college saying, ‘I want to enroll in geology,’” Giardino said.
Aramco Americas has supported the program for more than a decade, and this year provided the textbooks, Geology of National Parks, 7th Edition, and also loaned a veteran geologist to offer insights.
Tim Diggs, geological consultant for the Upstream Department of Aramco Americas, served on this year’s G-Camp Advisory Committee and participated in online meetings, helping to teach the curriculum. In the past, he has been in the field with the teachers, and said he hopes to have brought “work world experience” to the camp.
This year’s theme was, “The Geology of North America Through the National Park Experience.” It featured videos, daily small group sessions with teachers and instructors, and homework assignments designed to support lesson plans for the coming school year. A dedicated web page hosted the curriculum materials and served as a hub for all G-Camp resources. The camp ran from June 25 through July 14.
Almost As Good as the Real Thing
While “there is no substitute for being in the field,” the virtual G-Camp will try to duplicate the experience as much as possible, Diggs said.
Teachers were taught about U.S. landforms and geology through virtual visits to at least 18 national parks – an itinerary not possible with the past field trips’ travel itinerary.
It avoids the prospect of lengthy bus trips. The virtual jump all over North America focused on parks with distinct geological features, such as glaciers, dunes and seashores: Glacier National Park in Montana, White Sands National Park in New Mexico and many others were studied.
“It’s not the same as actually looking at the rocks in situ,” but it allowed the group to learn and view land forms from all over the nation, Diggs said. The Texas A&M organizers said the virtual experience delivered a deep dive into geomorphology and a great primer for the teachers. Diggs has visited about a dozen of the parks on this year’s program.
Two videos were featured: “America’s Best Idea: The National Parks,” a Ken Burns documentary; and National Geographic’s “Geology of North America Through the National Parks.”
The Future of G-Camp
Participation was down somewhat this year, but still offered a rich learning experience, Giardino said. Participants were chosen from applications in November, he said. As the pandemic worsened and the prospect of canceling the camp arose, Giardino said he considered a virtual camp and surveyed the applicants.
“Everybody wanted to do it,” he said.
Those who completed the virtual camp are invited to attend next year’s camp, which Giardino hopes will be back in the field. While the virtual camp will focus on the basics, these returning participants will have a richer, more advanced experience, he said. Giardino said that if things go as he hopes, a virtual camp will be open to everyone every fall, with the top participants chosen to follow through with the field trips the next year.
The program also has developed an online community of teachers. G-Camp has a public Facebook group of about 500 members – “On the Road with Geology Camp for Teachers” – where current and past participants post and share their experiences. The group is active and members also utilize Twitter, said organizers.
For the first nine years of G Camp, participation was limited to Texas, then it opened to wider participation a few years ago. Giardino hopes to eventually make the camp international.
This year’s 31 participants hail from 16 states across the U.S.: Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Texas, Maryland, Oklahoma, Georgia, California, New York, Alabama, Oregon, Vermont, Nevada, New Jersey, Florida and South Dakota.
This year’s textbook is more than 1,000 pages in a ring-binder format, so teachers can rearrange the chapters to help organize and focus on subjects according to their classroom plans.
Giardino said the online meetings were broken down into groups of about five teachers each, which allowed more interaction among the students and their instructors. Meetings will first be broken down according to time zones, then later by grade level.
Another advantage of the virtual camp this year is that it allows participants to become acquainted in advance of the field trips. “They get to know each other, pick roommates,” Giardino said. He admits they were “flying by the seat of their pants” this year. But the mission remains the same: get students interested and excited about geology.