From Mountains to Islands: Geology Rocks!

by Winnie Chui

Horizon Reporter

“Are all mountains volcanoes?”
“Are all volcanoes mountains?”
“What makes mountains different?”

            Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon, 24 students enter Kulshan 204 and get ready to find solutions for the above questions in their Geology 211 class.

Bernie Dougan, the instructor of Physical Geology, has been teaching geology for 18 years at Whatcom Community College. “I do love rocks,” said Dougan, “and I really like teaching students to learn something new.”

            At the beginning of one class, Dougan showed students several photos of rocks and mountains. He asked them to jot down some adjectives to describe the mountains for making comparisons and evaluate them from different aspects.

“What you got is always based on observation and inferences,” said Dougan. “Our job is to understand and identify evidence.”

            “Be familiar with mountains’ folds and faults,” said Dougan, while explaining a writing assignment. “The earth has many faults, so you need to observe it,” he added. “Don’t take that too personally.”

            Dougan uses maps, graphics, metaphors, rock samples and virtual field trips to demonstrate various physical geology concepts and stimulate students’ critical thinking skills. He said that the objectives of the class are to build up students’ understanding of how the earth and science work, and how scientists investigate the earth.

Besides learning geology through lecture, students generally have one lab class per week, said Dougan. “Students are mainly asked to identify minerals and rocks,” he said. “They will also be learning how to read topography maps, and constructing cross sections of the earth.”

Students were assigned to work in pairs to record data and describe the rock samples. They examined the rock samples such as sedimentary rocks and metamorphic rocks by observing their texture, size, shape, color and component.

The class is full of discussions, interactions and laughter.

Dougan said it is important to note what they observe because the data and pie charts they get are good tools. “You will be seeing rocks in reality, and those tools may be helpful for your lab, field trips and tests,” he said. “I still use the tools sometimes.”

Whatcom student Amanda Delaney, 17, said she likes to have hands-on experience of rocks instead of just reading things out of the book. “The teacher makes the class fun,” said Delaney.

Dougan said that he organizes field trips every quarter, and different classes go to different places. Last fall quarter, he brought his students to Table Mountain and Mt. Baker area for a field trip. “During the field trip, students will be using their skills developed in class to investigate geologic history of Washington State,” Dougan said.

On Oct. 22, Dougan took his class for a field trip to Sucia Island in the San Juan Islands. Since there is no ferry service to Sucia Island, Dougan said, they had to go there by boat.

Dougan said that students need the information they get from the field trip to write a paper. The grade is determined by lecture tests, writing assignments, quizzes, lab work and lab tests.

Another student, Demian Estrada, said the class is “super interesting.” Estrada said it is important to know about geology as “there is a lot of future energy that has to do with the earth.”

Dougan encouraged students to refer to his website for more details.

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