Tulsa Geoscience Center Offers Hands-On Earth Science for Kids, Teachers

Welcome to an interview with Norm Hyne, Ph.D., and Kerry Joels, Ph.D., on their vision for the Tulsa Geoscience Center, a groundbreaking new hands-on educational facility. With activities developed and administered by director Susan Henley, the center is growing in unexpected and exciting new ways.

1.  What is the Tulsa Geoscience Center? Where is it? What does it contain?  Who visits the center?  What do they do?  When do they visit?

The Tulsa Geoscience Center is an earth science educational facility. The Center offers free field trips to school classes and home school groups, as well as hosting Boy Scout and Girl Scout geology merit badge classes. It is one of only four accredited Oklahoma Energy Resources Board sites in Oklahoma and is the only one in northeastern Oklahoma. It is located in donated space in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma (610 S. Main St., Suite 300). The Center contains an extensive collection of rock, minerals and fossils along with related teaching equipment,, exhibits and materials for hands on activity learning. Student K-12 classes that visit the Center are primarily from the Tulsa area although some school classes ride the bus for two+ hours to visit the Center from Arkansas, Missouri, Kansas and central and southern Oklahoma. When a typical class of 12 to 65 students arrives at the Center they are divided into small groups prior to rotating through the activity stations.  Each station is led by docents and our one full-time director/teacher, often with assistance from high school and college interns in training. The class teacher chooses which stations they want their students to visit. Each station has hands-on activities designed for that age group and are compatible with National and State teaching standards. Public school classes that visit the Center are limited by the availability of the school bus, usually between 9 AM and 2 PM.  Home school groups and private schools are less restricted by bus scheduling and generally stay longer and tend to do afternoon visits.  Tulsa Geoscience Center tours, special event classes, and Scout classes are by appointment only Monday through Friday, except for standard public school Holidays.

Tulsa Geoscience Center's Susan Henley with Dinosaur Display

Dinosaurs are a perennial favorite with visitors. Director Susan Henley with popular display.

2. What are some of the key activities of the TGC?  Please list three or four and describe them.

Some of the activities at each station include fossil discovery, rock and mineral identification, earthquakes and tsunamis, fluorescence, porosity and permeability of rocks, petroleum products and petroleum chemical wizardry experiments and radioactive minerals.

1) At the fossil station, students learn how fossils are preserved and identified, and are encouraged to pick up and examine hundreds of fossils. This includes their favorite dinosaur fossils. Each student then makes a fossil cast of Plaster-of-Paris that they take home. Several sand boxes are filled with sand and thousands of fossils in the Fossil Dig Room. Each student is given a printed card with pictures and names of the 4 fossil specimen types that can be found in the Fossil Dig.  They are allowed to keep the best fossil they can find. Shark’s teeth are the most popular.

2) At the rock and mineral station, each student has samples of rocks and minerals and they learn how to identify them by experimenting with streak plates, glass plates, smell, taste, crystal shape, weight, color, and magnetic wands. Each student can select a rock or mineral to take home.

3) At the earthquake and tsunami station students learn about the cause of earthquakes and what they are. A geophone and oscilloscope allow the students to see the earthquake they create by jumping on the floor. The students are then introduced to tsunamis. Each student is allowed to make their own tsunamis with a tuning fork in a water container.  The excitement generated by this lively activity can be heard throughout the Center.  There’s a reason for the 9 x 12 tarp under the tsunami table!

4) At the fluorescence station, the students are introduced to ultraviolet light and fluorescence. They are shown household objects, minerals, and small bottles of oil that fluoresce. Each student is given a fluorescent yellow marker and allowed to make a design on their hands.

5) At the porosity and permeability station, each student puts water on four rock slabs to learn how sandstones can hold water. Several jars filled with marbles and tiny plastic BB’s are used to reinforce this concept. Air being forced through a rock core to form bubbles in water develops the concept of permeability.

6) At the petroleum products/chemistry station, students discover what products are made from petroleum and what polymers are. First each student chooses a common object from a huge bin such as a detergent bottle, aspirin, carpet or linoleum, scrap, fleece glove or eye glasses and they then sort them into one of 3 bins labeled Petroleum Products, Non Petroleum Products (such as a wooden spoon, cotton balls or metal cake pan) or Mixed (such as a butterfly net with a bamboo handle and metal ring supporting the net made from petroleum).  Finally they get to make a Petroleum Product, either a “rubber” band or Silly Putty (AKA polymer putty).

Norm Hyne with Seismometer in the Earthquake Room

Norm Hyne demonstrates how students can use seismometers as they study earthquakes and tsunamis. Students can connect current events (the recent earthquakes in Oklahoma) to basic concepts in geophysics.

3.  What are the most popular exhibits?  Activities?

After each visit, teachers are sent a questionnaire and with their students evaluate the visit both as a learning and enjoyable experience. The results are overwhelmingly excellent. They love the hands-on experiences and being able to take rock and fossil samples home with them. Year after year, the same teachers, recognizing this unique opportunity for their students, return to the Center with their classes.

4.  What makes the TGC unique? What are some of the activities you plan to expand?

I believe the Tulsa Geoscience Center is the only educational facility of its type in the United States and possibly the world. There has been and still is an enormous effort to develop earth science teaching kits to be sent to teachers and local geologists too, with the hope that they would volunteer their time to visit school classes. This Geoscience Center is totally unique. The kids are excited when they come on a field trip. They are in a new environment and the first thing they see as they enter the Center is a Tyrannosaurus Rex footprint and tooth! They are impressed! Everyone loves the hands-on earth science experiences. This is far more efficient than teaching a large number of teachers to present the concepts in a classroom with very few earth science hands on resources, and no school can approach the number and quality of our exhibits. This is the most effective expenditure of earth science educational money.

We would like to put a Geoscience Center in every oil-patch city in the United States. We would like to start with the oil-patch cities because the professional societies and geoscientists in those cities would support the Centers with their expertise, contributions of raw materials to bring the concepts to life such as rocks, fossils and minerals, other gifts-in-kind, and even monetary contributions.

Hands-on Exhibits and Activities at the Tulsa Geoscience Center

Young learners enjoy hands-on activities with rocks and minerals. At the TGC, they can even dig for fossils and keep what they find.

5.  Please describe the “kids teaching kids” initiative

This generation of students is the “electronic-learning” generation. Even the youngest students live on their smart phones, iPads and computers. They tend to believe that “if they see it on the Internet, it must be true”. We have found that there is a lack of quality earth science teaching material in most areas of energy education, especially for students younger than college age. Most of the available material is for adults. Also, some sites are sponsored by advocacy groups that present very biased views.

We propose developing a series of web-based teaching challenges about energy specific to upper elementary and middle school audiences, as well as secondary and general education college students. The web activities would be developed by Energy America Education Institute, a 501 (c) (3) Oklahoma educational corporation that runs the Tulsa Geoscience Center. Its mission is to educate school audiences and the general public on energy and its goal is to give Americans the ability to make rational decisions on future energy direction, and to interest STEM students in the energy field as a profession. The Board of Directors is composed of energy-field academics and government officials to give it an unbiased view. Each web challenge will be a hands-on activity based on subjects taught in the Geoscience Center. Each challenge will be aligned with the National Science and State standards.
Student teams will work cooperatively to solve the challenges.  Because it will be web-based, teams could conceivably be world-wide student teams, working together to energize each other in solving the challenges—“kids teaching kids”.  Information about the availability of these web challenges will be presented at regional and national science teacher conventions, selected science teacher mailing lists, links through professional and compatible educational web sites, and articles in appropriate educational publications.

We will concentrate our early efforts on teaching about natural gas in challenges related to that topic, and called “Teaching the Next Generation about Natural Gas.”
For more information contact:
Tulsa Geoscience Center  Susan Henley, Director geotourstulsa@yahoo.com

*** AAPG Education would like to support this very worthy cause and encourage donations to the TGS. Please contact Norm Hyne (send us an email — educate@aapg.org — and we’ll pass it along). To support Youth Education Activities in general, please contact the YEA Committee Chair, Lyle Baie, by sending us an email which we’ll send his way.


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