I believe the geosciences in general, and more specifically paleoclimatology, is an important and inherently fascinating subject. Through the study of our planet we learn the key processes that shape our environment. This has significant impacts on our immediate future, as we address the complexities of climate, drinking water and agriculture under a changing climate. I study geosciences to help make the world a better place. How could I do this without communicating my results? Publishing in journals is just one facet of science communication, getting our science to the general public and to students is just as important.
I consider teaching as an opportunity not just to learn ideas and concepts, but also to learn how to think. One undergraduate course that typifies this approach is Quantitative Reasoning, a course that teaches students how to think almost any problem through using basic principles, akin to Fermi problems, calculating convection, cooling, diffusion, flow and falling using simple math. In science, an order of magnitude calculation is often what’s needed to test a proof of concept, to calculate whether an answer is at least reasonable.
Research led teaching helps convey important concepts while building important scientific skills. A few years ago while on a field trip to the Great Barrier Reef for third-year biology and geology students, we combined traditional content teaching such as coral chemistry and reef development with aspects of study design and implementation, teaching research skills as well as content.
I also love teaching in out in the field! Teaching in the field is a unique opportunity as it allows education at a different pace and increased physical interaction with the environment. This allows students to develop critical scientific skills that are difficult to replicate with short teaching hours in a laboratory or classroom setting. While on a geological mapping course in the Australian bush, I taught small groups of students the ability to build hypotheses based on observations, make predictions as to what they expect to encounter next, figure out where was the best place to test these predictions, and then test their hypotheses with additional observations. The field is also a great place to teach concepts of scale, how observations made in individual outcrops or hand samples can be translated to local changes and ultimately to regional tectonic events.