To all science teachers close to the University of Waterloo

Friday, November 24, 2000

As you are aware, the Ministry of Education has suggested that, commencing in 2002, a new Science course (Earth and Space Science) be offered as a pre-university, Grade 12 contribution. You are also probably aware that a portion of the "new" course was previously offered in as a "physical section" in Geography and Social Sciences. The Ministry - in its wisdom - decided two years ago that this should be discontinued because there were only about 500 students taking this course.

As former Executive Director of the Canadian Geoscience Council, I, together with three other geological colleagues, met with Ministry advisors in Toronto to voice our objection at the removal of the only "geoscience" portion of the senior OAC curriculum. Subsequently I was asked to serve as a University of Waterloo representative on the Ministry's Science Steering Committee, and after this helped Greg Finn (STAO President) to create a draft of the new course.

I appreciate that most of you are trained in Biology, Chemistry and Physics and may have no interest in Earth Sciences. However, I feel most strongly that although Chemistry, Physics and Biology are important in today's world, our students really must have a clear understanding of the world on which they live, and this is something that is really being kept out of the science portion of teaching.

It is important to understand planet Earth to appreciate its past history, the parade of life and our own position in the greater scheme. In addition we are all consumers, and if it was not for Earth Scientists and their abilities there would be no modern civilisation. Think of a lack of metals for vehicles; rare earth minerals for computers and mass communication; all constructional materials (aggregates, building stones, concrete, road surfacing) as well fuels for shipping, vehicles and commuter transit; the energy minerals (oil, gas, coal and uranium) and even the pleasing baubles of life, such as diamonds and other jewels. Where do these materials come from? Why are they where they are? What are the limits in their exploitation? Where does water (a mineral) come from and why does it get contaminated? What are the natural hazards in our world and why are some parts of our world safer to live on than others? What does the geological record tell us of the origins of life or events that caused mass extinctions of most of the biota of the planet long before humans appeared? Could we survive similar events today? What is happening to our atmosphere and oceans and have we seen similar changes in the past?

These are a few of the elements that every well-rounded student should be aware of, particularly in the more-populated "globally-changed" world that they will be growing up in. It is imperative that the Earth Sciences component be fully embraced within the Science curriculum. It is equally imperative that some of you should undertake this teaching since graduating Earth Scientists have not, until recently, been allowed to teach geoscience as a regular part of Teachers training.

In order to provide a "degree of comfort and familiarity" with topics which you may never have been exposed to, the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Waterloo is prepared to provide a basic "familiarisation" course in Geoscience. This will allow you to think about teaching this "missing science". We have several professors who are prepared to take you through the basics of the Grade 12 curriculum and to familiarise you with concepts and terminology. Perhaps more importantly we can provide you with a "hands-on" experience with rocks and minerals and with field work locally and in southwestern Ontario. This will allow you to understand, in the way that we should, the real connections with our planet, some of its former inhabitants, and the processes that have shaped our world.

Within this endeavour we would hope to work toward a feedback that allows you to create your own teaching modules and to share this learning experience with others.

We do not know how much this will cost. It will likely be arranged (dare I say it) - in the summer months - (when you and my colleagues at the university are perceived as lying beside our pools drinking margaritas)! It might be a concentrated stint and/or one that is spread over several weeks (including field trip weekends). We will have to see (a) how many are interested and (b) what expectations of the course likely will be. Of course the university does run Distance Education courses in basic Earth Sciences, but we anticipate that this offering might be more "tailor-made" to your needs for the Grade 12 course in Earth and Space Science.

If you are interested in this matter please enter into a discussion. I can be contacted at (519) 747-4049 or, preferably, through email at:

Please circulate this to your colleagues. With thanks and best wishes to you all!

Alan V. Morgan

Geoscience Central

Searching for the latest in geoscience news, geomerchancdise, or a fossil postcard to mail to a friend? The Geoscience Information Centre offers these services, plus a searchable job database and subscriptions to hundreds of geoscience email discussion groups. Mainteained by the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the site is also the home of Palaeontologia Electronica, a fee, peer-reviewed journal published twice a year by Coquina Press. Check out the animation of the breakup of Pangea, listed under other resources, illustrating how the earth's continents waltzed across the globe over 200 million years.

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