Earth science is an inherently local subject. No two places share exactly the same sequence of events that led to the way they are today. In this sense, Earth science is a subject to be explored in one’s own neighborhood, examining the detailed sequence of rocks for the history that has gone on under our feet. What is not possible from only one location is making sense of why this particular sequence of events took place when and where it did, particularly relative to sequences in other places around it.
The distribution of rocks and landforms can be explained by processes that shape areas covering thousands of kilometers, such as the volcanism, mountain building, and sedimentary basins that accompany converging plates. These processes link widely separated sequences in a common history.
Earth science educators at the Paleontological Research Institution, in working with teachers, have noted that no single source for educators exists that attempts to make sense of the disparate local features of the Western United States in terms of a basic sequence of historical events and processes. Nationally distributed textbooks make few references specifically to the Western region. While a number of reasonably good resources exist for individual states, these do not take enough geographic scope into account to show how it is that, say, volcanoes flow in Hawai’i but explode in Washington, or how tectonic mountain building events and the marine fossil record are related to each other all along the west coast from California into Washington. Further, these resources are not necessarily “teacher-friendly,” or written with an eye toward the kind of information and graphics that a secondary school teacher might need in their classroom. This Teacher-Friendly GuideTM is intended to fill this need for teachers.
Explaining why (for example, certain kinds of rocks and their mineral resources are found where they are) is the most effective way of providing students with a tool to remember and predict the nature of local Earth science. The West (though, like states, an artificial political area), is of the right scale to discuss the evolution of significant portions of sedimentary basins, but also includes ancient igneous and metamorphic rocks. This means that many Earth processes can be illustrated with examples in areas students and teachers might have been to or at least heard of. Since the rocks and landforms are relatively accessible, regional Earth science is an excellent subject for hands-on, inquiry-based teaching using, for example, real rocks and landforms. A transect across the West in several places will reveal most major rock types that students should know and will come into contact with over the course of their lifetimes.
The chapters chosen are by no means an exhaustive list, but reflect especially the historical side of “solid Earth” geosciences. Each chapter starts with a brief review, then (in most chapters) describes the Earth science of six natural regions within the West. There is a resource list at the end of each chapter. There is a chapter on field work, not only on suggestions for how to do it, but how to integrate the field into a curriculum through “virtual fieldwork experiences.” There are chapters on Big Ideas in Earth system science—a few major conceptual ideas that run throughout the subject—and on using real-world regional Earth science in the context of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
This volume is part of a national series of Teacher-Friendly GuidesTM to Earth science, covering all 50 states in seven regions. The West is relatively long because it includes Alaska and Hawai’i, greatly increasing the diversity of Earth science (not to mention area) represented in the region. We also have two Teacher-Friendly GuidesTM to evolution, and other Guides in development.
We would hope for our students that, years from now, they will be able to make sense of the place they live and the places they visit, through a comprehension of a few Big Ideas and a basic grasp of the “big picture” story of geological history of their area. It is our hope that this book might help teachers, and their students, grasp such a coherent understanding of their regional and local Earth system science.
Robert M. Ross, Associate Director for Outreach
Don Duggan-Haas, Director of Teacher Programs
Paleontological Research Institution