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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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