People in earth science spend a lot of time thinking about the places we study. We work to understand how this mysterious place functions: we read papers, crunch equations, and scroll into satellite imagery. And then, with a van full of gear and a new set of questions, we drive until we find ourselves standing in that very place. It can be a powerful moment, and no one knows the feeling better than seasoned scientists. Chuck and Dave (both seasoned) are teaching a course this term, Rivers and Beaches, focused on giving students that duality. The class begins in a lecture hall, but students are soon out on field trips to the mountains, rivers, and beaches of the beautiful pacific northwest.
Students in this year’s class have now stayed up into the small hours of the night studying geology and oceanography for their midterm exam (today!), but they have also seen and touched these places. Last month, we traveled the length of the Nisqually river from its glacial headwaters to its salty estuary, tracking its transformation from rocky braided channels to gentle downstream meanders. Last week, the students were on a cruise of Puget Sound, testing classroom concepts by lowering CTD rosettes into the water and winching kasten cores out of the Sound’s muddy bed. Textbooks cannot offer the intuition and appreciation for these places and phenomena; building stronger students requires we show them, not simply tell.
It’s too early to tell who in the class will major in a geoscience, but we have one more trip to convince them, amongst the foggy mountains and sandy spits of the Olympic peninsula.