Geology comes alive for high school students with fieldwork near Yass, NSW

Price, Colin1, Bradshaw, Marita2, Smith, Mike2

1Daramalan College P.O.Box 84 Dickson ACT 2602, Australia; 2National Rock Garden, Suite 8, Level 2,141 Peats Ferry Road, Hornsby, NSW 2077, Australia

Daramalan College provides Earth and Environmental Science (EES) students with direct exposure to the challenges of geological analysis by conducting practical field excursions. One excursion takes Year 11 students to a field northwest of Yass where there is a prominent exposure of a volcanic ash flow, an ignimbrite, which is overlain by a sequence of various sedimentary rocks. All of the units dip at about 20 degrees to the west, enabling students to walk across the rocks and so recognise and describe the layered sequence of sandstone, siltstone and limestone. The exposures are in creek beds and on gently undulating sheep pasture.

The students describe what they can see and then interpret the depositional environment for each rock unit, noting the progressive changes in that environment from the older rocks to the younger rocks. The sequence records a marine transgression, from volcanics on land to shallow water with coral patches, and then deep water as the shales were deposited by settling of fine particles. The students experience the reality of fieldwork, contrasting the poor to non-existent outcrop of the fine-grained units to the thrill of finding fossils in the limestones. The most common fossils are tabulate and rugose corals, crinoid ossicles and stromatoporoids that help bring alive a picture of what life was like in an ancient shallow tropical sea.

The rocks are part of the Silurian (Wenlock) section of the Yass Syncline in the Lachlan Foldbelt, from the Laidlaw Volcanics up into the Bowspring Limestone Member, Silverdale Formation, Hattons Corner Group. Radiometric dating of the volcanics and a biostratigraphic age from a conodont in the limestone indicates that the sequence the students investigate represents about 3 million years of earth history.

By examining the remains of a volcanic chain and an ancient seabed now found as rocks outcropping in the paddocks near Yass, the students have a rich educational experience and get a sense of the environmental changes that can occur over an interval of geological time. Science staff at Daramalan College are also enthusiastic about the capacity of the National Rock Garden to help teachers to engage with young people studying the rock cycle in Year 8, plate tectonics in Year 9 and those undertaking the Year 11/12 EES course. In one place they can view a great variety of lithologies from all over Australia, displayed in large and interesting rock specimens with polished areas that provide a window to view in detail igneous and metamorphic textures, sedimentary structures, and fossils.


Colin Price was an exploration geologist for 20 years before becoming an Earth and Environmental Science (EES) teacher at Daramalan College in Canberra. Colin received a Highly Commended award in the 2019 Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, for promoting open-ended learning and for his work in EES education.

100 iconic rocks for a proof-of-concept display at the National Rock Garden

Pillans, Brad1

1Research School of Earth Sciences, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

The economic cost of the COVID-19 pandemic will make it extremely difficult to fund the published masterplan for the National Rock Garden (NRG). As a result, the NRG cannot expect substantial financial support from Federal or State Governments, or from the corporate sector, in the foreseeable future.

Early in 2020, the NRG Steering Committee recognised the desirability of a “Proof-of-Concept” display of approximately 100 iconic rocks. This display would incorporate 10 themed rock clusters, linked by a meandering path, with appropriate explanatory signage. It would entail negligible excavation work, and no building construction, facilitating both works approval and reduced funding requirements.

The main financial outlay would be the cost of transportation of large (10-20 tonne) specimens, especially from distant locations. Transportation costs for individual rocks are expected to range between $2,000 and $12,000 which could be achieved with corporate support or by individual donations. NRG State Rock Selections Sub-Committees are fine-tuning their key targets to enable a small number of rocks to be delivered during 2021.

The “Proof-of-Concept” display will clearly demonstrate the goals of the National Rock Garden, and encourage modest levels of financial support. The proposed “Proof-of-Concept” display would also enable the Rock Garden to be opened to the public much sooner than could possibly occur with the original highly ambitious masterplan

The Steering Committee has recognised the desirability of developing strong links with the other national institutions in Canberra, including the National Museum of Australia, Questacon, the National Dinosaur Museum and the National Arboretum Canberra.

We also support establishment of a Natural History Museum, though this has not progressed beyond the 2018 parliamentary report which recommended that a business case be examined.

Proposed rock cluster themes for the NRG Proof-of-Concept display:

  1. Indigenous welcome feature
  2. Early Earth (Archean) – laying Australia’s foundations
  3. Building Australia and its resources (Proterozoic)
  4. Australia grows eastwards (Paleozoic)
  5. Gondwana breakup (Mesozoic) – the Great Artesian Basin forms
  6. Shaping the Australian landscape (Cenozoic)
  7. Peopling Australia (Late Pleistocene/Holocene) – linking cultural and geological heritages
  8. The Australian region – from New Guinea to Antarctica
  9. Geoscience knowledge – building our future
  10. The Federation Rocks – celebrating our nation


Brad Pillans is an Emeritus Professor in the Research School of Earth Sciences, ANU, and Director of the National Rock Garden. He is a Fellow of the Geological Society of Australia and served as GSA President from 2010 to 2012.

Earth Science Education after 2020

Blewett, Shona1, Przeslawski, Rachel1

1Geoscience Australia, Canberra, Australia

Many people fondly remember assembling their first rock collection or exploding a baking soda volcano as a child. These experiences can be a great gateway into the Earth sciences, but a more tailored and modern approach will ensure future generations are geoscience-literate and eventually able to contribute to the workforce. In this presentation, we use the Geoscience Australia (GA) Education Program as a case study of changing approaches to Earth science education and engagement.

For over 20 years, the remit of the GA Education Program has been to engage and inspire school students and teachers in geoscience. Before 2020, over 10 000 students visited the Education Centre each year. The physical facilities, curriculum-based programs and the dedicated staff were central to the ongoing success of the school-age education programs.

However, with the cessation of all school visits during 2020 due to the pandemic, the program shifted its focus to digital engagement, including a series of short educational videos, virtual visits with classes and webinars for teachers. This in turn has raised challenges such as transferring a tactile experience to the virtual setting and the sometimes overwhelming flood of digital resources and virtual fatigue common after 2020. In parallel there has also been increasing emphasis on education about emerging geoscience topics that receive limited attention in schools (e.g. earth observation, positioning, critical minerals).

Moving forward, we will continue efforts to develop topical virtual educational experiences, particularly for remote or disadvantaged schools unable to visit our building. When we resume face-to-face experiences, a major challenge will be to juggle the demands of on-site and digital engagement to make our products and facilities available for all.


Shona is the manager of the Geoscience Education team and regularly delivers virtual and in-person training and presentations for students and teachers.

Rachel is the Director of the GA Discovery & Engagement program and a marine scientist.

The real work of virtual teaching: Learnings from EESO Summer School 2021 development

McNamara, Greg1, Almberg, Leslie1 and Carr, Ruth1

1Australian Science Innovations, Australia

The Australian Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad (EESO) program selects 24 high-ability high school students from Years 9, 10 & 11 to attend a Sumer School program in each January.

The EESO Summer School program, delivered annually at RSES-ANU, provides a life-changing educational experience for the students. The residential camp is an intense two weeks of Earth & Environmental Science learning combined with the fun of spending time with like-minded peers and participating in associated social activities.

In 2020, the EESO Summer School was postponed due to the extreme smoke conditions on campus, with the majority of the theory progressively placed online through February and March. Students were given an opportunity to engage with teachers in a weekly Q&A session via SLACK. An on-campus practical session planned for April was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, with the final assessment – based on the online theory materials – delivered via Moodle to all students across the country.

Here we discuss the lessons learned from this rapid-response on-line teaching program and how we applied them to the 2021 EESO Summer School program to avoid the pitfalls of poor content quality, ineffective engagement and inadequate assessment. The aim of the 2021 program was to deliver the same content we provide in the face-to-face environment in an engaging, rewarding and socially beneficial manner. The additional aim is to utilise virtual teaching tools developed for the 2021 event in future face-to-face events.

Plans include: time-managed online delivery of synchronous and asynchronous theory content; limited, but essential, hands-on content based on materials supplied to each student; and supplementary online 3D simulations of materials and field locations. In addition to content, we plan to provide socially engaging opportunities via games, team challenges, and digital and physical rewards.

The Q&A during the AESC will provide an opportunity to discuss how these plans panned out within the context of the programme delivered in January 2021 to 30 students by a team of three senior staff and ~8 program alumni.


Greg is a qualified  geologist and teacher with 35+ years experience in education and outreach. He is also the Executive Officer of TESEP.

Leslie is volcanologist with a wealth of award-winning undergraduate geoscience teaching experience.

Ruth has over 15 years experience managing large-scale science awareness events  including National Science Week.

Coping with COVID – Using Virtual Geological Objects for On-Line Earth Science Education

Roach, Dr Michael1, Orth, Dr Karin1, Scott,Dr Robert1

1Earth Sciences, University Of Tasmania, Hobart, Australia

Restrictions due to the global COVID pandemic have meant that most tertiary Earth science education has had to rapidly transition from face-to-face to primarily on-line delivery. Teaching Earth science in on-line environments has special challenges due to the ‘hands-on’ nature of typical practical and field-based programs. Fortunately, rapid improvements in visualisation methods and technology now allow educators to incorporate diverse, intuitive, immersive virtual objects into on-line education programs. Virtual objects can never fully replace the visual and tactile experience of visiting an outcrop or touching a specimen but they can augment and enrich traditional education programs and facilitate more effective on-line student experiences. 

At the University of Tasmania we have generated the world’s most comprehensive open-access collection of geological visualisations and have made extensive use of these objects in our undergraduate and postgraduate education programs. We have generated over 4000 photo-realistic three-dimensional geological models, together with thousands of full spherical panoramas and deep zoom images of significant outcrops and hand specimens. These visualisations have been integrated to produce virtual tours and virtual practicals that were used in our education programs prior to COVID and which have been crucial for recent on-line delivery. Student feedback on the use of virtual educational material has generally been very positive.

This presentation will showcase some of our recently developed resources and illustrate how we have utilised digital visualisations in our undergraduate and postgraduate educational programs. We will also discuss both student and educator perceptions on the efficacy of these new teaching resources and provide suggestions for how visualisations may be effectively integrated into future conventional educational programs when physical distancing limitations are removed.    


Michael Roach is an Earth Science educator at the University of Tasmania who has been pioneering new interactive, intuitive virtual methods for Earth Science education.

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.