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News Release January 14, 2003
GSA Release No. 03-01
Contact: Christa Stratton

Biting Rocks and Pondering Pancakes: Earth Science Education Gets Big Boost from Englewood Teacher

Boulder, Colo. - Christine McLelland, a teacher at Englewood High School in Englewood, Colorado, thinks that in order to be informed citizens, students need to understand the Earth, the processes that created it, and what's happening to it. And she's helping to make that happen as the Geological Society of America's Subaru Distinguished Earth Science Educator for 2002-2003.

"Earth science is a giant puzzle," says McLelland. "It encompasses rocks and minerals, oceans and atmosphere, earthquakes and energy, weather and environment. It's integrative and allows students to put concepts to use that they learn in other disciplines. It's a very important part of the science curriculum."

McLelland's current challenge is to help GSA — a scientific society whose 17,000 members come from academia, government, and industry — support earth science teachers in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. The Subaru Distinguished Earth Science Educator is a master teacher selected by GSA to act as an educator in residence, providing insight and practical wisdom gleaned from real classroom experience. Subaru of America, Inc., title sponsor of GSA's annual meeting, underwrites the program now in its third year.

McLelland's approach is to help teachers help one another. "I want to use this opportunity at GSA to assist teachers with lesson plans for earth science topics," she says. "My main focus is to make the GSA Web site a place where earth science teachers commonly turn for ideas and support."

McLelland began expanding GSA's Web-based resources for earth science teachers when she arrived at GSA headquarters in September 2002. Teachers can go to for resource information and downloadable lesson plans for grades K-12 on a variety of earth science topics.

Getting students interested and engaged is always a challenge. Using an idea originally developed by NASA, McLelland developed one lesson plan called "If You Bit a Rock." that uses candy bars to help students observe and understand textures of common rocks. A rock kit accompanies the lesson, containing ten hand-sized rock samples, ten plastic magnifying lenses, the lesson plan, and a CD-ROM she developed with twelve other earth science lesson plans. Subaru of America, Inc., has fully funded the kit, which is being distributed free of charge to schools throughout the country, with a special emphasis on Colorado schools.

While she develops some plans herself, Chris invites any teacher with great lesson plans to share them by posting them on the GSA Web site. She also provides links to other sites with engaging approaches, such as "A Griddle Earth" from Purdue University. In this lesson plan, elementary students make (and later eat) pancakes to understand Earth's molten state and the geologic effects of unequal heating and cooling.

In addition to developing lesson plans and providing links to others, McLelland has put together a rock cycle text and diagram and is working on a virtual field trip investigating rocks and minerals used to construct buildings in downtown Denver. McLelland is also working with the American Geological Institute on materials and plans for Earth Science Week 2003 and is an officer in the Colorado Earth and Space Science Network.

A native of Middlebury, Vermont, McLelland holds a B.A. in geology from Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and an M.S. in geology from the University of Vermont. She worked for Wagner, Heindel, and Noyes, Inc., an environmental assessment firm in Burlington, Vermont, before she began teaching at Englewood High School eight years ago.

The Geological Society of America, founded in 1888, enhances the professional growth of its members and promotes the geosciences through meetings, publications, and programs. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, GSA encourages cooperative research among earth, life, planetary, and social scientists, fosters public dialogue on geoscience issues, and supports all levels of earth science education. For more information, please visit

Contact information:
Christine McLelland
Subaru Distinguished Earth Science Educator
Geological Society of America
Phone: 303-357-1082

To access GSA earth science education resources, visit

To obtain a photo of Chris McLelland, contact


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