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Educator Workshop: I want to teach about hydrofracking, but I don’t know where to start!

April 2, 2014

On Saturday, April 26, 2014 The Paleontological Research Institution, its Museum of the Earth and its Cayuga Nature Center will host an educator professional development workshop on teaching about hydrofracking and the broader energy system. “I want to teach about hydrofracking, but I don’t know where to start!” will provide information without advocating for or against hydrofracking.


Target Audience:
Middle & High School science and social studies (but any K-12 teacher or informal educator is welcome)

Don Duggan-Haas & Rob Ross, Museum of the Earth

Instructional Outcomes — As a result of this workshop, participants will:

  • Explore the Marcellus Shale and the larger energy system from technological, environmental, geological, geographical, economic, and cultural perspectives.
  • Gain access to the Museum of the Earth’s large and growing set of evidence-based resources for learning and teaching about the Marcellus Shale and the broader energy system including the book, The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale; Google Earth tours; Prezis; and more.
  • Describe the Marcellus Shale and provide an overview of its importance geologically, environmentally and economically.
  • Describe New York State’s energy system and ways in which it is changing.
  • Enhance skills related to teaching about controversial issues.

PRI’s Marcellus outreach does not advocate for or against drilling, and a fundamental goal of our work is to provide evidence-based information and to build understanding of the science related to the Shale, the extraction techniques employed in gas recovery from the Shale, and associated environmental impacts.

Where and When?
10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Saturday, April 26, at the Cayuga Nature Center
Optional Energy Tour of the Museum of the Earth immediately following

Training Hours: 3 for the workshop, an additional hour for the energy tour of the museum.

Content Areas/Standards:

  • NYS Science/The Next Generation Science Standards
  • Common Core ELA, Math

Cost: $10

Registration includes:

  • The book, The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale;
  • A certificate of participation for either three (without the energy tour) or four (including the optional energy tour) hours of professional development credit; and;
  • lunch
Book Cover

Participants will receive a copy of The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale.


The meeting was partially funded through grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF GEO 1015189 and GEO 1035078). It was hosted by the Paleontological Research Institution and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marcellus Outreach Team.

Tentative Agenda: Check back for updates

10:30 – 10:45 Introductions of facilitators and participants, and overview of the day

  • Distribute books

10:45 – 11:15 Hydrofracking in comparison to other energy sources

11:15 – noon Teaching Activity: Exploring Energy Questions to Complexify the Seemingly Simple and Build Systems Understandings

  • Where does my energy come from?
  • What are some economic and environmental implications of my energy choices?
  • Discussing discussions and debates.
  • Paired questions:
    • Should we use this kind of energy?
    • Should we use this much energy?

Noon – 12:45 Lunch and Further Discussion

12:45 – 1:00 – general public arrives for panel discussion

1:00 – 2:30 Panel discussion with authors of The Science Beneath the Surface: A Very Short Guide to the Marcellus Shale

2:30 – 3:30 Optional Energy Tour at the Museum of the Earth

3:30 – conclude workshop (evaluations will be set via email)

Find related resources here:



The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy

March 24, 2014

We’ve published a series of posts related to the the Draft 2014 New York State Energy Plan, the Marcellus Shale and energy literacy on our Climate Change 101 blog as the posts included technical features that do not work on The Science Beneath the Surface’s platform.  The series of posts was authored by Don Duggan-Haas after he attended a public hearing on the Energy Plan at the University of Buffalo. He found the nature of the testimony both fascinating and troubling.

The series was also posted on the Geological Society of America’s Speaking of Geosciences Blog and on

Here is a very brief summary of those posts and links to them.

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 1)

This post is centered around a very brief quiz on the energy sources for electric generation for your state and a tiny bit about the public hearing. The quiz embed doesn’t work on the blog you’re reading now.

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 2)

This post provides some comments on the content of the Draft Energy Plan and some more of the story of  what happened at the public meeting. It also offers Don’s reflections on some of the implications of what happened.

The 2014 Draft New York State Energy Plan as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Part 3)

The final entry in the three part series goes into more detail related to the implications of the story told in Part 2, offers some brief feedback on the Draft Energy Plan and suggests strategies for offering effective feedback on the Plan.

It also highlights a simple bottom line idea: We need to use a lot less energy.

The post also includes a political cartoon from 1861 that sends a clear message to folks today.

The whales raise a toast to the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania, from Vanity Fair, April 20, 1861.

Buffalo News Op-Ed: Hydrofracking is a gateway drug to energy literacy

Don also wrote a related op-ed, “Hydrofracking is a gateway drug to energy literacy,” that appeared in the Buffalo News on March 23, 2014. The op-ed is quite a bit shorter than the three-part series, for those in a hurry.

Best Practices in Marcellus Shale Education Agenda March 18 and 19, 2013

February 22, 2013

The Paleontological Research Institution and the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marcellus Outreach Team will be hosting a conference on best practices in Marcellus Shale Education March 18 & 19, 2013 in Ithaca. A general announcement about the conference is found on our Marcellus Shale website at and the tentative agenda is below.

Registration for the conference is now closed. We have reached capacity.

Lodging information is at the bottom of the post.  Who should attend? The target audience is professional educators striving to provide impartial education and outreach on issues surrounding shale gas development. Examples include schoolteachers, college and university faculty, Cooperative Extension educators, science journalists, and museum educators. Registration will be limited to 50 participants. We seek to have attendees from a broad geographic region and a variety of educators. The meeting will not include talks that focus upon a review of shale gas drilling itself or cover policies and regulations.

Conference Agenda:

Note that updates are made to the agenda that may require refreshing your browser.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Snee Hall, Cornell University Campus

8:30 Registration, Breakfast (bagels, pastries, fruit) — The Reading Room

Plenary sessions (the morning through 2:15 pm) will be in Room 2146

9:00 Introduction and welcome [Rob Ross on behalf of PRI, Rod Howe on behalf of CCE]

  • Idea behind the conference.
  • Guidelines civil discourse to create a safe environment for sharing.

9:20 Talk: Don Duggan-Haas, PRI [overview — “What you need to know to teach about the Marcellus Shale” See related blog post here and the session Prezi here.]

9:45 Panel: Education and advocacy: Rod Howe, moderator

Panelists will address a set of questions that might include:

    • Identify the three biggest frustrations related to your efforts in education.
    • Do you have evidence that you have changed people positions? What made them change their minds?
    • Why does polarization happen and what do we do about it?
    • How do we build relationships among those with different opinions, or between educators (who by choice or necessity are impartial in their role) and advocates?
    • How might there be a collaboration between advocacy and education for informed decision making?
    • How can we harness  the energy and passions stimulated by contentious issues  for constructive dialogue and approaches ?

10:45 break

11:00 What Does Energy Literacy Look Like? The Energy Literacy Essential Principles (website with downloadable version of the Principles) Session Prezi; Extended Version (DaNel Hogan, DoE)

11:40 Public Health and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (Katrina Smith Korfmacher, University of Rochester Environmental Health Sciences Center) Session PowerPoint

Noon: lunch – Provided — The Reading Room

1:00 Frack You – Discussion of Selected Excerpts [WSKG movie; with Laura Cunningham, playwright, Bill Gorman, director, Erik Jensen,  WSKG, & Jeff Shepardson, Community Dispute Resolution Center, to introduce and answer questions] The full video is available online here.

2:15 Breakout discussion groups:

Group 1: Environmental Identity and its Implications for Educators;  (Joe Henderson, University of Rochester); Room 2146

    • Why we should we take values, culture and identity seriously when addressing individual behavior around environmental issues.
    • Session slides (pdf; 16 MB)

Group 2: Comparative Risk and Cost/Benefit Analysis; (Darrick Nighthawk Evensen, Cornell University & Don Duggan-Haas, PRI); Room 1120

    • All large-scale energy production has negative consequences. How do we determine what sources are least bad?
    • Session notes (in Google Doc).

Group 3: Responsive Professional Development: (Alan Berkowitz; the Cary Institute); Room 1146

    • Using data and information about the knowledge, skills and practices of students and teachers to guide our workshops, materials and in-school support.
    • Session notes (MS Word doc)

Group 4: Emergent Session – Room 1150

    • This room is also available for meeting throughout the conference for session topics that emerge within and outside of other sessions.

3:00 Break

3:15 Short Presentations

  • Session A: Creating a Program: Energy Process Technology at Corning Community College, (Tom Dunbar, Corning Community College); Room 2146
  • Session B: Fracking: The limits of science, the role of philosophy (Darrick Nighthawk Evensen, Cornell University) See session slides and related article, The Fracking Humanities; Room 1120
  • Session C: Beyond the Fracking Wars: A Guide for Lawyers, Public Officials, Planners and Citizens (Part 1) (Erica Levine Powers, University at Albany); Room 1146

3:35 Short Presentations

  • Session A: “Undergraduate Marcellus Shale seminar design: A multi-pronged approach to teaching this controversial, many faceted geologic topic” (Joe Reese, Edinboro University); Room 2146
  • Session B: Living with Risk Can Give You Gas: Lessons from Informal Science Programming on Marcellus Shale for Adults (Margaret Hopkins, Penn State University); Room 1120
  • Session C:  Beyond the Fracking Wars: A Guide for Lawyers, Public Officials, Planners and Citizens (Part 2) (Beth Kinne, Hobart & William Smith Colleges); Room 1146
  • Session D: A Research Guide to the Marcellus and Utica Shales (Edward Knittel, Senior Director of Education and Sustainability, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs)

4:00 Keynote speaker: Seamus McGraw, author, The End of Country — Room 2146

Museum of the Earth

1259 Trumansburg Road

5:15 Poster session set up; explore Museum 6:00 Poster session, wine and beer, snacks

  • RiverQuest: Exploring the Marcellus Shale  (ppt; 11.9 MB) Janine Surmick and Danielle Stump, RiverQuest
  • The IEER Program for Educating the Public on Shale Gas Issues in Northeastern PAKen Klemow, Wilkes University Institute for Energy and Environmental Research
  • Marcellus Matters: Engaging Adults in Science and Energy Terry Noll and Margaret Hopkins, Penn State University
  • Frack You! Laura Cunningham, playwright, Bill Gorman, director, Erik Jensen,  WSKG, & Jeff Shepardson, Community Dispute Resolution Center
  • The Marcellus Shale as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy  (png of poster; extensive Prezi of related contentJoe Henderson, University of Rochester & Don Duggan-Haas, PRI
  • Modeling Gas, Jobs, and Waste Water: A Prototype Study (pdf; 655 KB) Albert R. George, Anqi Guo, Minghao Li, Hantang Xiao: Cornell University Robert M. Ross: Paleontological Research Institution

6:30 Dinner under the whale 7:15 Continued poster session, tours of the Museum and collections

8:30 Leave Museum

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snee Hall, Cornell University Campus

8:30 Breakfast (bagels, pastries, fruit) — The Reading Room

Plenary sessions (until 11:15 am) will be in Room 2146

9:00 Introduction to the day [Rob Ross, PRI]

9:15 Talk: Public issues education: David Kay, Community & Regional Development Institute, Cornell, Sharon Anderson, CCE

10:00: Energy literacy panel (Rob Ross, PRI, moderator)

  • DaNel Hogan: DOE Einstein Fellow, federally-funded Energy Literacy Essential Principles
  • Chip Malone Cornell Cooperative Extension: youth and energy literacy
  • Edward Knittel, Senior Director of Education and Sustainability, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs.

Panelists will address the following:

    • What is energy literacy and how can it be developed?
    • How do we engage citizens in energy planning,
    • How do we balance different policies and interest, such as gas drilling and NYS greenhouse gas reduction goals?
    • What can we learn from Marcellus Shale outreach for application to other energy and environmental topics?

11:00 break

11:15 Breakout discussion groups:

Group 1: How do we help people understand complexity (with special attention to scales of time and space)? (Rob Ross, PRI)  — Room 2146

    • Interactions among water, air, and life (including human life and the systems humans create) have environmental impacts at temporal scales of weeks, months, years, decades, centuries; and spatial scales that are local, regional, and global impacts.

Group 2: What are the special needs of extension educators? (Brett Chedzoy, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Schuyler County; Kevin Mathers, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Broome County; and Averall Bauder, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Seneca County) — Room 1120

    • Identify resource needs, available support, and lessons learned in Pennsylvania.
    • Session notes.

Group 3: Integrating spatial data for inquiry, analysis, and education about shale-gas drilling.  (Karen Edelstein, New York State Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance); Room 1146

Group 4: Emergent Session – Room 1150

    • This room is available for meeting throughout the conference for session topics that emerge within and outside of other sessions.

12:00 Lunch – Provided — Reading Room

1:00 Closing Discussion & Evaluation: Lessons Learned + Looking Forward (Don Duggan-Haas, PRI, moderator) — Room 2146

  • Beth Kinne: Hobart & William Smith Colleges
  • Rod Howe: Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Ken Klemow: Wilkes University Institute for Energy and Environmental Research

Session Prezi (with Klemow PowerPoint embedded)

Panelists may address the following questions:

    • What are the most important lessons of the last few years?
    • What are the most valuable lessons of the conference?
    • What new energy education challenges lie ahead?
    • How can we better address the persistent energy education challenges?
    • What are the most important and achievable goals for Marcellus Shale & energy education?
    • What lessons can be transfered to other work you do?
    • What practical steps can we take?

It is expected that new questions will emerge during the conference.

2:00 End of conference

2:00 – 5:00 – Classroom space will be available to allow continued discussions. 

Groups on both Facebook and Linked in have been established. 

  • On Linked in, search for: Marcellus Shale Educators. This is a closed group, meaning that members will need to be approved by a group administrator. Send Don a note if you’d like to be a group administrator. 
  • On Facebook, search for: Marcellus Shale EducationThis is an open group — simply “like” the page.

The Museum of the Earth provides scientific information about unconventional drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

In our outreach related to the Marcellus Shale, the Museum of the Earth will not take a position supporting or opposing drilling in the Marcellus Shale. A fundamental goal of our work is to provide evidence-based information and to build understanding of the science related to the Shale, the extraction techniques employed in gas recovery from the Shale, and associated environmental impacts. Project partners also help nurture understandings of the economic and cultural impacts of decisions related to Marcellus Shale development. We strive to do this work with as little bias as possible. More information about our Marcellus Shale outreach efforts can be found here:

Accessing Cornell Wi-Fi as a Guest:

Campus visitors from eduroam-participating institutions, can connect to the eduroam network using their credentials from their home institution. You do not need to either register as a guest or obtain any Cornell credentials to use eduroam. For more information, see the eduroam Connection page. More information is here.

Lodging Information:

Blocks of hotel rooms are being held at the Hilton Garden Inn (607) 277-8900 and the Holiday Inn(607) 272-1000, both in downtown Ithaca. Tell them you’re with the Marcellus Shale Educator Conference to receive a discount on the room. Reservations with the Hilton Garden Inn should be made by March 3. Reservations with the Holiday Inn should be made by March 7th.

Parking Information:

Parking can be a challenge on the Cornell Campus. Few spaces are available for people without permits and campus police are diligent about ticketing unpermitted cars (even though the meeting is during Cornell’s Spring Break). Registrants are encouraged to park in either of the 2 parking garages in downtown Ithaca and take the Route 10 bus to campus. The parking garages are on Seneca and Green Streets on either side of the Commons. The Route 10 bus runs every 10 minutes between 7:30am and 8:00pm between the Seneca Street Bus Stop (in front of the Seneca Street Parking Garage) and the Cornell Campus. Click here for the route map. Pick the bus up at the Seneca Street Stop and get off at the Schwartz Performing Arts Center. Snee is just across the street and over the footpath across the gorge. See the campus map  here. Fare is $1.50. Those who wish to drive to campus can park either in the Collegetown Parking Garage on Dryden Road or buy a parking pass for the Cornell Parking Garage from one of the information booths on campus.  See the campus map  here. The Museum of the Earth has enough free parking to accommodate all registrants.

Resources for Teaching and Learning About the Marcellus Shale and the Broader Energy System

November 2, 2012

Search for “fracking,” “Hydrofracking,” “hydraulic fracturing” or “Marcellus Shale” and you’ll get plenty of hits, and the nature, quality and bias of what you find will range as widely as you can imagine. At the Paleontological Research Institution, we’ve been working to develop quality resources that do not advocate for or against drilling, but rather present evidence-based information in a clear way. This post is both a catalog of our current resources on the Marcellus. 

The Museum of the Earth provides scientific information about unconventional drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

In our outreach related to the Marcellus Shale, the Museum of the Earth will not take a position supporting or opposing drilling in the Marcellus Shale. A fundamental goal of our work is to provide evidence-based information and to build understanding of the science related to the Shale, the extraction techniques employed in gas recovery from the Shale, and associated environmental impacts. Project partners also help nurture understandings of the economic and cultural impacts of decisions related to Marcellus Shale development. We strive to do this work with as little bias as possible.

The Museum of the Earth’s Marcellus Shale Website

Our website has links to many of the materials described here. See it at: The site also links to resources from other institutions we have worked with.

The Marcellus Papers (pdf)

The Marcellus Papers are a series of short papers exploring Earth system science related to the Marcellus Shale. Click the link above for paragraph length descriptions of each paper. Below are direct links with very short descriptions. The Marcellus Papers are in pdf format and range from 4 to 16 pages in length. There are currently 10 papers in the series.

They are written at a relatively high reading level, though we are creating versions that target an early high school reading level. Reading guides to facilitate their use in classrooms are also under development. Check back soon for information on these resources.

An introduction to the geological characteristics and considerations of the Marcellus Shale, as well as its cultural history and major topics of interest. (issued May 2011; 4 pages)

A discussion of the geological characteristics associated with the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011; 4 pages)

A discussion of the possibility of induced seismicity resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued May 2011; 5 pages)

A discussion of the naturally occurring radioactive material resulting from natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Aug 2011; 8 pages)

A discussion of natural fractures, or joints, present in the Marcellus Shale and the hydraulic fractures that are induced during unconventional gas drilling to extract natural gas. (issued Aug 2011; 12 pages)

A discussion of the technologies associated with unconventional natural gas drilling and how it compares to more familiar conventional drilling techniques. (issued Jan 2012; 9 pages)

A discussion of the water input required to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale well- the quantity, additives, and risks. (issued Nov 2011; 16 pages)

A discussion of the waste fluids from Marcellus drilling: what they are and where they will go. (issued Nov 2011; 12 pages)

A discussion of the non-water related environmental issues associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. (issued Jan2012; 11 pages)

A discussion of the sources and uses of energy, how they have changed over time and how Marcellus Shale is contextualized within the larger energy system. (issued Nov 2011; 12 pages)

What do you need to understand to teach about the Marcellus Shale?

This is a pair of blog posts proposing skills and understandings that are helpful for teaching about the Marcellus Shale and the broader energy system. A few updates were recently made to the content. The two posts have also been formatting into a document for reading offline. That document can be downloaded here, and the two blog posts with full titles are linked below.

 The Marcellus Shale in Google Earth (kmz)

Click above to download a Google Earth file that illustrates a number of features about the Marcellus Shale. The file includes an overlay showing the extent of the Marcellus and Utica Shales, and another that highlights where the Marcellus Shale is exposed at the surface in New York State. Also included are placemarks showing photographs of site where the Marcellus Shale is exposed in Lancaster and Lafayette, NY, and information related to traditional natural gas drilling in Chautauqua County, NY. Also included is a placemark with the Prezi described and linked below embedded within it.

There’s no such thing as a free megawatt: the Marcellus Shale as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (Prezi)

Click the above to view an online presentation that provides a very quick overview of the Marcellus Shale, the technologies being used for extracting natural gas from it in Pennsylvania (and other state within the Marcellus region) and which will likely be used in New York State, if the moratorium on slickwater horizontal high-volume hydraulic fracturing is lifted. The presentation is in the form of a Prezi, a format that is easier to explore than to explain (so just click on the header for this section or here to begin).  The Prezi is typically used for an hour long talk — and has material for a second hour long talk (originally presented at the National Science Teachers’ Association annual conference in 2011). The Prezi is also embedded within the above described Google Earth file.

The Scale of the Marcellus Shale (Prezi)

Prezi allows zooming in and out of illustrations — Sarah Miller took advantage of this to create an illustration of the Marcellus Shale to scale. In addition to showing the layers of rock below Deposit, New York with a house, drilling rig and the well bore to scale, images of the Empire State Building are used to illustrate the depth and tallest building in New York’s Southern Tier (Binghamton’s Government Plaza Building) is shown to scale as well.

Resources for Teaching with the Energy Information Administration Website

This very large Excel Spreadsheet includes all operating US power plants as of 2008. More recent data can be found at the Energy Information Administration’s website (but not in a single file). The video below offers a brief introduction to the spreadsheet. We’d like educator input offering their ideas on what to include in teaching activities using this information. Please drop Don Duggan-Haas a note with your ideas.

The EIA site also includes an interactive map of all currently operating power plants. See the map for New York State here. The video below introduces the website, using Pennsylvania as an example. Before exploring your home state, take your best guess at these questions:

  • What are the two biggest sources of energy for electricity generated in my state?
  • What are the two biggest sources of energy consumed in my state? In addition to electricity, this includes energy for transportation, residential and commercial heating, and industry.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Megawatt: The Marcellus Shale as a Gateway Drug to Energy Literacy (revisited)

October 14, 2012

The Marcellus Shale and hydraulic fracturing (often referred to as fracking) has made many people suddenly very interested in where their energy comes from. This is a teachable moment — a chance to engage the public in deepening their understandings of the energy system. We’re approaching the opportunity with a few key ideas and key questions in mind and we face substantial educational challenges.

Key Ideas:

  • The Marcellus Shale and its natural gas cannot be deeply understood without understanding it in the context of the larger energy system.
  • Our energy system is in constant flux.
  • All large scale energy production has negative environmental impacts.

Key Questions:

  • Should we be using this kind of energy?
  • Should we be using this much energy?

Educational Challenges:

  • Like other controversial issues, the Marcellus Shale involves conflicting world views.
  • Issues associated with teaching complex systems, risk analysis, and environmental justice come together in the teaching of energy and climate.

The rest of this post provides a brief overview of new and newly updated resources. If you’re in a hurry, take a look at what’s below, but if you want to dig right into the resources, follow this link to the detailed presentation which also includes links to the other resources described below. You’ll likely find that link more engaging than the description that follows. Read more…

Climate Access — Lessons from the Field: Talking about Climate and Fracking

September 4, 2012

Most of this post is an excerpt from a blog post titled “LESSONS FROM THE FIELD: TALKING ABOUT FRACKING AND CLIMATE” on the Climate Access website. The excerpt describes some of the Museum of the Earth’s work related to Marcellus Shale education and how we are using the public interest in the Marcellus as a teachable moment to engage the public in learning about energy and climate.

As the Climate Access post on lessons from the field came out while we were running an educator workshop that included a field trip to a well pad where drilling was underway, I’ve also included a couple of images of the field trip.

Before getting to the excerpts and images, I’ll share a bit about Climate Access by quoting from their “About” page:

In the fall of 2011, The Resource Innovation Group’s Social Capital Project, in partnership with the Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Society and theStonehouse Standing Circle, launched Climate Access to provide climate communications thinkers and doers with access to the necessary tools, knowledge and people. This is all in the name of increasing public support for climate policies and engagement in programs that help people, organizations and communities change their energy and other carbon-intensive behaviors.

Climate Access facilitates the rapid peer-to-peer exchange of information, bringing together those working on climate communications from various organizations and institutions. As such, Climate Access serves as a network of networks that fosters connection and collaboration and helps turn ideas into action. It also features the Social Capital Project’s ability to synthesize and analyze the most relevant research and campaign strategies.

There’s a great deal of interest on Climate Access and on the sites of their partner organizations linked above. Check that out after reading the excerpt below, and about the work that other members of Climate Access are doing related to hydraulic fracturing’s role in the energy and climate systems.

Here’s the excerpt:

Through a series of grant-funded initiatives (NSF 1016359, 1035078, Smith-Lever NYC-124481), the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) is working to nurture evidence-based understandings of Earth systems issues associated with both hydraulic fracturing and the larger energy system. We see the controversy surrounding the Marcellus Shale as a teachable moment – a great many people are suddenly interested in where their energy comes from. This provides an opportunity for nurturing understandings of not only the Marcellus, but also the broader energy system, and also the larger Earth system.

We believe that the Marcellus cannot be understood in isolation and are striving to not only provide evidence-based understanding with as little bias as possible (that is, we will not advocate for or against drilling in the Marcellus Shale), but also help our audiences to investigate deeper questions than the question many in the Ithaca-area are initially drawn to. Residents justifiably focus on the question: Is this bad for the environment? Without contextualization, the answer is invariably “yes.” A more appropriate context-dependent question might be, “Is this better or worse for the environment than what we are doing now, or might reasonably do in the near future, to meet our energy needs?”

A simple pre-assessment used in some of our programming asks participants to identify the two largest energy sources for electric generation in New York state. The most common answers by far are coal and hydro, which rank numbers four and three, respectively behind natural gas and nuclear which are essentially even in their shares of production for the last several years. By gently drawing attention to the fact that most of us don’t really have much of a sense where our energy comes from now, we have had some success in engaging in richer discussions that have, to some degree, shifted people away from their poles related to this polarizing issue.

Education regarding the Marcellus Shale serves as a case study for both developing outreach approaches for emergent energy issues and for how these issues relate to the teaching of other controversial topics. Our goal is to develop heuristic approaches that others can adapt to their community’s needs before polarization becomes entrenched. Strategies include networking formal and informal educators within communities to develop energy education programming.

We have also produced “The Marcellus Papers,” a series of pamphlets that provide an overview of various aspects of the science related to hydraulic fracturing and the Marcellus Shale, and we are working to define what it means to be Marcellus Shale literate, and also what is needed to be aneffective Marcellus Shale educatorThere’s No Such Thing as a Free Megawatt is a presentation (created with Prezi) that has been used to provide an overview of the Marcellus Shale and contextualize it in the changing energy system.

Our greatest challenge is helping people to shift from working to fortify their position to deepening their understandings of the related issues. In this work, we are finding recent work by Daniel Kahneman (Thinking Fast and Slow) helpful as we strive to help people shift their mode of thinking in Kahneman’s terms from System 1 to System 2, and Joe Romm’s Language Intelligence: Lessons on persuasion from Jesus, Shakespeare, Lincoln, and LadyGaga, as we work to make the way we speak and write about these issues more understandable.


On August 29, 2012 we visited a well pad where drilling was taking place as part of one of our educator workshops. A future post will offer more images and a description of the visit. For now, here’s a picture and an interactive panorama to help give a sense of what such a site is like.

Note that the drilling rig is only on site while drilling is taking place. That process lasts several days for each well on the pad, but current practice is to drill only one well before removing the rig.

The drilling rig.

An interactive panorama (a Photosynth) is available here


What do you need to understand to teach about the Marcellus Shale? Part 2 of 2: Resources for Teaching

January 16, 2012

UPDATE: A few edits and new links were added October 24, 2012.

In Part 1 of this two part series, I outlined the different kinds of knowledge and skills needed to teach about the Marcellus Shale. In Part 2, I’m pointing to some resources that are intended to help our readers build that set of skills and knowledge.

In the course of writing Part 2, I also realized that two parts is too few. Occasional posts will follow to address some of the gaps, but this should give you plenty to think about.

I included in the first post a bulleted list of relevant topics, and asked for suggestions about what I missed. Here’s that bulleted list:

  • Geology;
  • Technology (of extraction);
  • Hydrology;
  • Ecology;
  • Economics;
  • Cultural Issues;
  • Pedagogy;
  • Technology (for teaching).
Here are some suggestions about what I missed:
  • The emotional components of the Marcellus Shale;
  • Context, or a systems perspective (which was addressed in the text, but omitted from the list);
  • Human health;
  • Alternative energy;
  • Climate stability/climate change; and;
  • Government/Civics
Also suggested was, “proper framing of the fuel as a threat.” In this National Science Foundation funded work, we will not advocate for or against slick water high volume hydraulic fracturing, but we will do our best to identify risks. In discussing risks, we will be attentive to comparative risks, for current energy practices also substantially and negatively impact the environment.
We strive to provide evidence-based information that is relevant to the Marcellus Shale, and provide programming and resources to help people understand that information. Many readers like and value this approach, but a few critics on both sides of the issue express frustration that the information we provide does not always fortify their own positions. Readers of these materials and participants in our programming can then reach their own, hopefully informed, decisions about whether to support or oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
While we won’t advocate for or against horizontal high volume hydraulic fracturing, the close study of the energy system that doing this outreach work effectively requires deepens my personal resolve that we must use far, far less energy than we presently do if we wish to maintain healthy ecosystems. As Gaylord Nelson noted, “The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” So, maintaining our way of life also depends upon using less energy. (Note the disclaimer at the end of the post.)
Of course, this list is just a start — our readership is smart enough to know that you won’t develop the skills and knowledge to be a master teacher by reading a couple of blog posts, or even following a slew links from those posts. All I can do is scratch the surface, but hopefully it will be a useful scratch.
And, the list proposed here is longer than I’d imagined (because I didn’t think about it long enough before digging in). I won’t be able to do the list justice, but will get it started. Most of the bullets above could stand alone as worthy blog post. Or book chapter. Or book…

The types of resources included vary. All are intended to be grounded in research that’s relevant to the particular area of interest, and some are peer-reviewed research articles. Most are one degree removed from the primary source and are hopefully more accessible to the general public than reports of research tend to be. Some of these resources are written by researchers for a general audience. Others are written by educators or journalists. And, there are some links to Wikipedia articles, but those are for definitions or biographic information, not for areas of complex or contentious science.

The Big Areas: General Resources, Science Content, Pedagogy & a Bit About Systems

General Marcellus Shale Resources:

  • Links from the Resources page of our Marcellus Outreach site:
  • There’s no such thing as a free megawatt is an introductory presentation on the Marcellus Shale that I’ve assembled for use in our programming. It includes an introduction to the Marcellus Shale and a very brief introduction to the larger energy system. There are really two presentations within this Prezi and the break between the two is labeled. You may wish to stop after the content of the first — and without narration and questions from an audience, it can be viewed quickly.

“Deeply personal, sometimes moving, sometimes funny, The End of Country lays out the promises and the perils faced not just by the people of one small Pennsylvania town but by our whole nation.”—Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

And, here’s a podcast with the author, along with the University of Rochester’s Joe Henderson on WXXI Radio (the Rochester NPR station).

The Science of the Marcellus Shale:

This blog is part of a National Science Foundation-funded effort to help build public understanding of the scientific issues surrounding the Marcellus Shale. Through that effort, we’ve created a group of resources that takes the scientific research and scientific understandings related to the Marcellus and summarizes it in a way that’s intended to be accessible to the general public. From our Marcellus Shale Outreach page, you can follow the links to a range of resources.

The Marcellus Papers is where I’d suggest starting (as was noted in Part 1).

The Science of How People Learn:

There’s a huge number of books and articles written about how to teach well. In order to understand how to teach, it’s essential to understand how people learn, so that’s where I suggest starting. Many good teachers seem to understand this intuitively, but every teacher can benefit from looking more closely at what research says about cognitive science. The National Research Council’s Committee on How People Learn has produced a few reports, and I especially recommend two of them — one short and one long, with the introduction to the longer one giving you a mid-range choice. Both are available as free pdfs from the National Academies Press, where hard copies of the books can also be purchased. You do need to register to download the free pdfs, but it’s free, quick and easy. See the link on the left. Here are the recommended reports:
While I see the two above resources as useful for understanding learners in any setting, they are more tailored to the school setting. If you’re working with learners out of school, then the National Academies Press also has something for you.
  • Surrounded by Science: Learning in Informal Environments This is focused on learning science out of school settings, and understanding the Marcellus Shale goes beyond understanding the science. Hopefully some of the resources below will be helpful in rounding out the omission.
The above are more targeted toward learning than teaching, and teaching tends to go better when you consider these issues before, during, and after you engage in teaching. You should also give good thought before you start where you want to end up. That is, before you begin teaching, think carefully about what your goals are in terms of what the learners you’ve worked with know and are able to do as a result of working with you. Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design provides guidance on how to engage in backward planning. There are many resources to support what’s laid out in the book, but I suggest starting with the book.

A Bit About Systems

Systems thinking warranted more attention than it got in Part 1, and more than I can give it in a few paragraphs here. If you already see the world from a systems perspective, then you see the interconnections amongst everything here. If you don’t, then…

“What happens is that when you breach a holistic structure, and you say, or do it without saying it, … ‘I am only going to attend to this end of the relationship. I am going to study the role of the doctor.’ … Now a role is a half-assed relationship, you know. It’s one end of a relationship. And you cannot study one end of a relationship and make any sense. What you will make is disaster.”

~ Gregory Bateson

By considering the Marcellus independently of the larger energy system, and the systems to which the energy system is connected (a.k.a., everything) you will simply miss too much. Most people reading this are doing so on a computer powered by electricity from our electric grid. If you’re in Tompkins County, the lion’s share of that electricity is generated by burning coal. In New York State, coal is fourth in terms of electric power generation behind nuclear and natural gas (which for several had been roughly tied for generating the most electricity, at about 31% each), and hydroelectric power. In 2010 and 2011, electricity production from natural gas expanded and coal shrank.

All of those energy sources have substantial negative environmental impacts. Many of these negative impacts are externalized (please use the comments to suggest a better link for externalized costs), meaning that we New Yorkers aren’t paying the direct environmental impacts of our energy use. And, if we’re not paying the environmental costs, that also means we’re not paying the economic costs.

The last paragraph is more an example of how systems thinking is relevant to the matter at hand than it is about the nature of systems. Donella Meadows’ Thinking in Systems: A Primer is an excellent introduction to the topic.

Teaching Environmental Health to Children: An Interdisciplinary Approach, a new book addresses the teaching of systems dynamics. Unlike the other resources on this list, I’ve not read this myself, but it comes highly recommended.

Resources Targeting More Specific Aspects of Marcellus PCK:

Here are the first four bullets from Part 1’s list again, backed up with some links that are specific to how these topics are connected to the Marcellus Shale. Remember, that’s not really enough — allow me to beat my drum again – if you don’t understand how these issues are connected to other energy sources we’re using or might reasonably use in the near future, you don’t understand the impact. 

Following this now annotated list are more topics with a bit thicker descriptions of the associated resources. 

  • Geology;
  • Technology (of extraction);
  • Hydrology;
  • Ecology;
    • Beyond Water (pdf), one of our Marcellus Papers; A discussion of the non-water related environmental issues associated with drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.

The really big picture: What should everyone understand about the Earth system?

A number of years ago, oceanographers and marine science educators came together to craft The Ocean Literacy Framework. Scientists in other Earth science disciplines followed suit, each crafting their own sets of “literacy principles.” As a result, there are now many different sets of literacy principles for different Earth science disciplines, and these are helpful resources as they describe consensus views of scientists and educators think to be important within each of these disciplines.

We have compared and synthesized these principles here, and the central part of that presentation is embedded below.

The Energy System:

In Part 1 of this series, I noted that the Marcellus Shale must be understood in the context of the larger energy system, so a key part of the science of the Marcellus is the science of energy, and the status of our energy system. When you read through the Marcellus Papers, make  sure you make it through to the last one, “Sources and Uses of Energy: A brief overview.” (Note that I may be a bit biased regarding the importance of this paper as I wrote it).

A great deal of information about the energy system is available from the Energy Information Administration website. Here you can find information about power production and energy use, primarily focused upon the US, but also with information from around the world.

Climate Change

Our energy system has produced changes in the climate system, and climate issues are extremely relevant to the Marcellus Shale. Natural gas is a fossil fuel that when burned releases carbon dioxide, and when natural gas (which is primarily methane) leaks, the warming effects are greater still. The simple combustion reaction of natural gas releases less carbon dioxide per unit of energy produced than the burning of coal or oil, but if the energy system leaks gas, this advantage may be lost.

A brief overview of relevant strategies for teaching and talking about climate change can be found here and a large collection of reviewed resources can be found through the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network. Of course, this is a huge issue, so, on this topic, our scratch of the surface is the smallest of nicks.


  • In Risk: A Practical Guide for Deciding What’s Really Safe and What’s Really Dangerous in the World Around You, Ropeik and Gray (2002) describe four issues to consider in the evaluation of risk:
    1. Probability: “What are the chances of…”
    2. Consequences: “What is the severity of the possible outcome?”
    3. Hazard: “If something we’re exposed to isn’t hazardous, so what?”
    4. Exposure: “A hazard can’t do you any harm if you’re out of harm’s way.”

    In evaluating any energy source, consider the above issues.

  • Risk School, by Michael Bond, is a short article from the journal Nature on whether or not we can teach people to understand risk.

Teaching Controversial Issues:

Feedback on Part 1 included a query about emotional issues. Those emotions are connected to controversy, and these two resources address teaching controversial issues.

  • The Debunking Handbook —  This short publications offers valuable insights into how to avoid your advocacy backfiring. You may be familiar with the feeling more entrenched in your beliefs after a debate. Chances are fairly good that the person you debated also feels his or her beliefs more strongly.
  • Report finds ‘motivated avoidance’ plays a role in climate change politics
    From the article: Published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the report shows that people who know very little about an issue — say the economic downturn, changes in the climate or dwindling fossil fuel reserves — tend to avoid learning more about it. This insulates them in their ignorance — a pattern described by researchers as “motivated avoidance.”
  • Understanding confirmation bias is also fundamental to effectively teaching controversial issues. This is addressed to some degree in both of the above resources, but for readers who don’t follow those links it warrants a mention. We’re all victims of confirmation bias — the tendency to favor information that confirms our preconceptions regardless of whether that information is true. It’s natural to try and fortify your position, but that natural tendency can be a serious impediment to understanding.

Community Impacts:

There are a number of areas not (yet) addressed here, and scads of resources overlooked, but the post is already long, and has already taken quite some time to assemble.
So, two parts wasn’t enough for this two part series. More will come as time allows. Provide feedback to strengthen those future posts.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of Don Duggan-Haas alone and do not necessarily reflect positions the National Science Foundation.


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