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February 27, 2008

What is a Valley?

I know I haven't posted in a long time, but just thought I would share a quick update from the trenches here at El Cerrito High. I actually took yesterday off so that I could go down to Cal State Northridge. I got invited to give a talk there about teaching Earth science in urban settings, the first of three conferences and workshops I have in the next few weeks. As many of you know, Northridge is in the "Valley," the San Fernando Valley in southern California. My talk emphasized that urban students have less familiarity with the natural world, so we need to modify the way we teach them about Earth science.

Point driven home when I returned to my class today and was teaching about contour maps: A question on my worksheet asked my students, "Does the map show a hill or a valley?" While contour maps can be challenging to interpret, I was absolutely shocked when a student asked the following question: "What's a valley?" A weird fluke, I assumed. But then it happened again a few minutes later (students were working individually, so they didn't hear my answer the first student). Then it happened again during the next block. I still have so much to learn about my students...

I wonder if they have this problem at CSU Northridge?