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UCSB Outreach Program Teaches Students about Geography

Second graders got downright dirty in the name of Geography Awareness Week. (Photo Credit: Spencer Bruttig)

By Julie Cohen

When Mr. Acton’s second-grade class came to schoo, they had no idea they were going to play with dirt. But that’s just what they did to celebrate Geography Awareness Week (GeoWeek) as part of UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Geography outreach program.

Ann Tan and Nina Bingham, two UCSB graduate students in geography, visited Santa Barbara’s Washington Elementary School to talk to the kids about soil. Chocolate-covered pretzels stood in for rocks as they explained the difference between physical and chemical weathering. First, students broke up the pretzels in order to understand that physical changes simply made smaller pieces of the same material. Then they put a second pretzel in their mouths to see what happened when the chocolate disappeared. Tan explained that the chocolate melting was akin to acid breaking down rocks into soil — aka chemical weathering.

The fun continued when the students — and their desks — got downright dirty mixing different soils with water. “Any time you can get a hands-on experience to connect the learning, that’s where you get your best retention of material,” said longtime teacher Michael Acton, who has a degree from UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education.

“GeoWeek is an amazing opportunity to share something I’m really excited about with kids,” said Tan. “This is the third year I’ve volunteered, and it has been a really rewarding experience.”

An extremely important discipline that transcends the classroom, geography is no longer widely taught in schools today. UCSB’s Department of Geography seeks to change that. The department’s Visibility and Outreach Committee, which spearheads the recruiting effort each year, organized 46 presentations in 14 local schools as part of GeoWeek. This year saw a record turnout of UCSB volunteers, with a total of 28 faculty, staff and students — both undergraduates and graduates — giving presentations to classes from kindergarten through high school.

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