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     What we are trying to do in the study of the earth is connect two ideas. First is a story of mythical proportions about the earth and its history - about the origin and final ending of the earth, and ourselves. And, second, is the nitty-gritty everyday world of the minerals and rocks that compose this planet, and that we find in our own back yard, and that we use to build our civilization.

     As for the origin and endings of things. Some of the most important questions humans ask themselves, and which all religions deal with, are about these origins and endings, and what they mean for each of us, and the human species as a whole.
     These are often mysterious, and scary subjects, which is why they are found at the core of virtually every myth about the earth in all cultures, from the oldest civilizations we know of, all the way up to the present day, and across all cultures from the most aboriginal to the most modern. (A myth in this context is defined as "a true story relating the origin and ending of things.")
     This concern shows up in the most mundane ways. For example, our almost frantic obsession with, and search to understand the volcanos, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados - all those things that we see as powerful, destructive, and malevolent - because they kill people, and destroy property. In this scientific age we have drawn science in to help us deal with, and provide safety from, the natural mysteries that once only religion could provide solace for.
     And even if we are not interested in the scientific explanations, we still produce and are fascinated by movies by the dozens that deal, one way or another, with natural disasters, and our helpless, heroic, and sometimes magical responses to those disasters.

     So, you see, it is this story of mythical proportions about the origin, functioning, and ending of the earth that we want to tell our students. Only it is the scientific explanations that we focus on here. It is the most primal of our interests, and concerns - do we live in a safe world, or not, and is there anything we can do about it?
     Yet, at the same time, there is all those nitty-gritty facts that students have to learn in school (even SOL's) - how to identify rocks and minerals, and clouds, and storms, and animals, and plants, . . . as well as all the practical uses to which we put that knowledge.

     There we have it, the mythical and the practical. Somehow when we teach we have to weave these two together so that both are fully expressed, and neither is completely lost in the other. Practically, however, how do we do this in the classroom?
      The first requirement, I think, is to have this vision, this driving zeal, to get students to understand and appreciate both the mythical and the practical, and the relationships between them.
     Second, we must ourselves have the practical, nitty-gritty knowledge of both the theories of the earth (plate tectonics, supercontinent cycles, Wilson cycles, etc.) and the identification of minerals and rocks.
     The third thing then is, with the vision and with the knowledge, for each individual to find their own creative ways to weave the mythical and practical together in the class room - with, perhaps, a little advice and help from others who have gone there.

     Realistically, having talked with many teachers, I realize the numerous practical problems that confront you in attempting to do all this. Many of you I have talked with have had virtually no formal training in the earth sciences, and are just feeling overwhelmed with the necessity of keeping just one day ahead of your students.
     And we are not even talking about all the creative questions our students ask us.

     So, what can we do? Aside from taking formal classes?
     One thing I am trying to do is create web sites, specifically designed to help teachers, even those who are rank novices, get the knowledge and skills they need, quickly and easily, to walk into the class room the next day - and teach.
     I know well the frustration of searching through multiple inadequate books trying to piece together fragments of knowledge into something coherent you can teach your students. And I know that you are often working primarily with the texts you students are reading, that do not give you the knowledge depth you need to design your classes. And I have listened to the frustrations when you discover that the knowledge you have been teaching is wrong, or trivial, or incomplete, or misses the point completely.
     I want these web sites to be an accessible and authoritative source of what is most important for you to know to teach your classes. And, I want to put it in a theoretical context so you can understand why it is important, and what we do with that knowledge. And, I want them to be of reasonable length.
     This web site on plate tectonics is, I hope, just such a site. In it you will find the theoretical and the practical woven together. And it will give you quick understanding about what is significant about foreign subjects so you can appreciate the significance of what is going on. And it will lead you to other sites that will expand your knowledge base.
      I am also trying to design them so that an individual can stick with the theoretical, or the practical, or weave them together as they go.

     One thing is very important here for me however. And that is to have a two way communication with you. I can put in the web site what I think will work, but frankly I am way too deeply imbedded in both the theoretical and the practical to always appreciate the problems the beginner is having - especially when I cannot see your face, your eyes, and your responses to what is being said - clues that would tell me where to go next.
     So, talk to me. Tell me what works, and what does not work, and what you feel you really need to do this teaching with power and profundity.

Lynn S. Fichter

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   A Synopsis of Plate Tectonic Theory

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Last Update: 9/05/00

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