What do you need to understand to teach about the Marcellus Shale? Part 2 of 2: Resources for Teaching
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:
- Technology (of extraction);
- Cultural Issues;
- Technology (for teaching).
- 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;
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.
- The End of Country by Seamus McGraw. Here’s a blurb that describes the book well:
“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:
- How People Learn: Bridging Research and Practice. This is the short one, and the Key Findings can be read by themselves, if you want the shortest overview.
- How Students Learn History, Mathematics, and Science in the Classroom. This is book length, and you can pick and choose relevant chapters to meet your particular goals. The summary, which you can download without registering, is a little heftier version of the Key Findings of the book above, with richer descriptions.
- 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.
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.”
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.
- The Geology of the Marcellus, a webpage within our Marcellus Shale Outreach pages.
- Why the Geology Matters (pdf), one of our Marcellus Papers; a discussion of the geological characteristics associated with the Marcellus Shale and how the relate to the extraction of natural gas in unconventional resources.
- Technology (of extraction);
- Understanding Drilling Technology (pdf), one of our Marcellus Papers; a discussion of the technologies associated with unconventional natural gas drilling and how it compares to more familiar conventional drilling techniques.
- The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Marcellus Shale Page includes a brief description of the technology.
- The technology is also briefly described on our Marcellus Shale FAQ Page and various aspects of the technology are addressed throughout the Marcellus Papers Series.
- Water: Into the Wells (pdf), one of our Marcellus Papers; a discussion of the water input required to hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale well – the quantity, additives, and risks.
- Water: Out of the Wells (pdf), one of our Marcellus Papers; A discussion of the waste fluids from Marcellus drilling: what they are and where they will go.
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.
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:
- Probability: “What are the chances of…”
- Consequences: “What is the severity of the possible outcome?”
- Hazard: “If something we’re exposed to isn’t hazardous, so what?”
- 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.
- This is well described in the The End of Country, linked above. Descriptions in the book include both positive and negative impacts, focused on the author’s hometown in rural Pennsylvania.
- With Gas Drilling Next Door, County in New York Gets an Economic Lift A New York Times article on economic impacts for Elmira, NY.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of Don Duggan-Haas alone and do not necessarily reflect positions the National Science Foundation.