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What do you need to understand to teach about the Marcellus Shale? Part 1 of 2: Marcellus Shale PCK

January 9, 2012

This post is intended to serve as a gateway to a range of readings and other resources to support teaching about the Marcellus Shale and the larger energy system, but before simply posting a list of linked resources, some background is needed as to the types of knowledge needed to effectively teach this content.

Part 1, this post, is the introduction to the kinds of knowledge needed to teach the Marcellus Shale. Part 2 includes a list of readings and other resources for building that knowledge.

A piece of the Marcellus Shale from Seneca Stone Quarry, Fayette, NY.

The special knowledge and skills needed to teach

Effective teaching of course requires understanding of the subject matter at hand, but subject matter knowledge alone isn’t sufficient for someone to become a good teacher. Almost anyone with a college degree has sat through enough classes to have experienced at least one smart teacher or professor who knew the content well yet was simply a poor teacher.

Most of us have experience with this before leaving high school.

In order to be an effective teacher, you have to know how to teach. To put it in the language of the discipline of education, you have to understand pedagogy. And, you can’t deeply understand pedagogy in a way that stands apart from the content you wish to teach. You have to understand the special skills and knowledge that are needed for teaching your subject. That’s a recognition that the skills and knowledge a math teacher needs to be effective are different from the skills and knowledge an English teacher needs, and that the difference is more than a difference in content knowledge. In the language of education, this is Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK; Shulman, 1986, 1987).

Neither an English teacher nor an engineer needs to understand the variety of ways to solve the mathematical problem, 23 x 37, but a math teacher does. A medical researcher doesn’t need to know common misconceptions related to the understanding of evolution, or how to address controversial issues in the classroom, but a biology teacher certainly does. These are examples of PCK.

What understandings are needed to effectively teach about the Marcellus Shale?

Certainly, it would be ideal if we knew what it meant to be “Marcellus Shale literate” before determining what specialized skills and knowledge are needed to teach about it. The materials and resources we’ve produced for Marcellus Outreach should serve as a good introduction to the science related to the Marcellus Shale.

Fortunately or unfortunately, defining Marcellus Shale Literacy before defining the PCK for teaching about the Marcellus Shale is not really an option. While scientific understandings are never fully settled, consensuses emerge regarding many ideas in science. In other words, some areas of science are more settled than others, and the nature of the environmental impacts of using slick-water high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing of the natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is an area of science that is more unsettled than most.

And I know that some people will disagree with that.

And that others, on the opposite pole of this polarizing issue, will disagree with those who disagree (about what science says about the Marcellus).

We can’t wait for consensus.

If we can take as givens that questions of environmental impact are unsettled, and that it is necessary to help people understand the science as best we can anyway, where do we begin?

One key piece of this answer is that the Marcellus Shale cannot be understood independently of its context. So, we need resources to help us understand the Marcellus in the context of the energy system, the environment, the geologic context in which it formed, and other contexts as well.

The fundamental question about gas extraction from the Marcellus Shale is not, “Is this bad for the environment?” All large scale energy development is bad for the environment. The question is something more like, “Is this better or worse for the environment than things we are doing now (to get energy) or might reasonably do in the near future?”

Oh boy. This is going to be complicated.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s list the topics and kinds of understanding we need to teach about the Marcellus:

  • Geology
  • Technology (of extraction)
  • Hydrology
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Cultural Issues
  • Pedagogy
  • Technology (for teaching)

What major categories are missing? Is there something included in the list that really doesn’t belong? Please use the comments to help us figure this out.

The last bullet may seem redundant, but is significant enough to deserve a bit of additional attention. The technologies for teaching and learning are important and changing rapidly. See more about Technological and Pedagogical Content Knowledge on Punya Mishra’s website: here.

Each of the bullets above can be broken down into supporting topics or ideas. Some of that happens in Part 2 of this two part series, and, again, please use the comments to provide your input.

The genesis for this list is work with a group of experienced educators who generally need neither introductory content material for their discipline, nor beginners’ readings on teaching. The next post will include a resource or two for those who are unfamiliar with what educational research says about best practice, but it will initially focus upon the needs of the educators we are working with in this project.

In closing Part 1, I’ll remind you that our resources on the science of the Marcellus Shale are a good place to start on the content piece of pedagogical content knowledge for teaching the Marcellus Shale.

Part 2 is now posted.

Don Duggan-Haas

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Billy Whyde permalink
    January 10, 2012 6:39 am

    Ok continue on.

  2. jlmyer permalink
    April 16, 2012 7:52 pm

    I am almost afraid to write this, I know I am going to get excoriated. OK, here we go…I am tasked with writing a performance task on fracking, yep, that is my task. I have spent all day–because I really do recognize the complexity of the issue before me: economic, environmental, and social responsibility– not to exclude the geology. WOW! So…here I sit, still…I am in Virginia. I can use any core content area I want. However, it is imperative that I include Virginia’s definition of sustainability. We will soon begin to incorporate this concept into our lessons and so…there you go. I want the students to learn (middle school), become empowered and passionate about their learning and the world around them. I want their teachers to feel the same way. Aye, any suggestions. I’ll be here for awhile. LOL.


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

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