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U.S. Geological Survey Is Gold Mine for Educators


Curriculum Center

A geographer who works in educational outreach for the U.S. Geological Survey, Joseph Kerski, is eager to share the organization's publications with teachers -- and there are more than just maps! With more than 100,000 resources to choose from, every teacher will find something useful in the USGS warehouse. What golden nugget will you discover? Included: Kerski and teacher Steve Wanner highlight some of their favorite online resources from the USGS.

Mining Free and Inexpensive Teaching Materials from the USGS

The USGS offers 100,000 individual titles, including 75,000 maps! Joseph Kerski encourages all teachers to take advantage of these resources.

"The main curricular areas of the materials are history, geography, geology, water resources, and biology," says Kerski. "We also have some information that math teachers can use."

The resources include
* topographic and thematic maps with such themes as energy; rivers; geology; coal, oil, and gas; biodiversity; ecoregions, which are environmental areas characterized by specific land uses, soil types, surface form, and potential natural vegetation; history; volcanoes; earthquakes; mining; magnetism; and more.
* books.
* Web sites and CD-ROMs of digital data, including base mapping data that teachers can use in a geographic information system (GIS), a technology and method for analyzing wildlife, natural hazards, weather, population, literacy, and other spatial phenomena through computerized maps, aerial photographs, graphs, and satellite imagery so students can discover patterns and conduct investigations. Some examples are digital scanned aerial photos, digital maps, 3-D models of Earth's surface, and satellite images.
* posters of science careers, caves, and other topics.
* lessons dealing with mapping, global change, geography, land use, and other topics.
* Web sites and technical reports of research findings. Topics include gold and oil in Alaska, deformed frogs in Minnesota, threats to the Everglades, deforestation, plants and animals affected by dams, and others.

To learn more about curriculum materials from the USGS, visit the USGS Web site or Ask USGS. Educators who are interested in obtaining materials may also request them by phone at 1-888-ASK-USGS. The USGS sponsors exhibits and hundreds of workshops annually both independently and in conjunction with major educational conferences.

"Our mission is science for a changing world," geographer Joseph Kerski of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) tells Education World. "We work with the educational community to ensure that there is a present and future workforce that can take advantage of our scientific information to make wise decisions that can benefit society. We seek to ensure that our information is useful to the educational community through teachers' feedback and give back to the community for its support of our organization."

American tax money is at work at the USGS, and Kerski hopes to spur teachers to make use of its services. He wants citizens, especially educators, to be aware of the materials that the organization provides, most of which are free or inexpensive and ideal for classroom instruction.

"The USGS is an untapped gold mine for educators," Kerski states. "This is one of the best things the federal government does. We have a warehouse here that is 17 acres in size and 30 feet high with maps piled everywhere."


Kerski served as a "regular" geographer at the Rocky Mountain Mapping Center of the USGS, producing thematic maps and working on research projects. In 1994, he made a case for the creation of an educational outreach position to the chief of the mapping center, and the chief agreed. Educational outreach positions exist in the four main disciplines of importance to the USGS -- geography, water resources, geology, and biology.

"We feel that working with educators is the right thing to do," says Kerski. "It fits our mission of providing data that is useful to people's needs, whether those people are planners, engineers, soil scientists, or teachers."

In his position, Kerski focuses on training teachers and developing lesson plans built on USGS resources. His responsibilities include helping teachers and those who work with teachers to find out about others who have similar interests. He seeks to establish partnerships so that the educational programs associated with the USGS will be long-term and far-reaching and have the greatest impact on student learning.

"I see a huge need for teachers not just to be connected to vast data sets from organizations such as the USGS but also to understand how to use them in the curriculum," explains Kerski. "There is such a barrage of information sources nowadays. Every time a teacher visits the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) or the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conferences, for example, he or she walks away with loads of CDs, catalogs, videos, maps, and so on. My value-added aspect is to help them truly use the materials in the classroom."


One module created by Kerski for the USGS is called Exploring Earthquakes. It explains how to use information about earthquakes that have occurred in the past few days, which is posted on the USGS Web site, in a geographic information system. Students map and analyze the distribution of earthquakes in relation to fault lines, plate boundaries, cities, and countries.

Map Mysteries is another activity designed by Kerski. The online lesson tells teachers how to use topographic and thematic maps as students explore the mysteries of the human and physical environment.

Teaching with Topographic Maps is a second map-related Web page with 25 ideas for teachers to use in making the most of topographic maps in the classroom. The suggestions address science, math, geography, and history goals from elementary to college level.

Kerski is also involved with teacher training, conducting about 45 sessions each year, some in conjunction with national and international conferences and some at the request of teachers, school districts, universities, or education boards.

"Many of these workshops involve the use of geographic information systems (GIS), a technology and method for analyzing wildlife, natural hazards, weather, population, literacy, and other spatial phenomena using computerized maps, aerial photographs, graphs, and satellite imagery," explains Kerski. "Geography, Earth science, math, biology, and history students who explore the world using GIS in the curriculum solve problems on a local to global scale in an interdisciplinary way using real-world data from CDs and the Internet."


Classroom teacher Steve Wanner of Boulder High School, in Boulder, Colorado, discovered the wealth of materials provided by the USGS through its displays at conferences. He and Kerski have worked together for five years, developing activities for Wanner's ninth-grade and advanced geography classes.

The two have combined their skills to produce several projects. One is a set of activities about Africa that uses resources from USGS and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Another activity uses Census Bureau data to study the Hill area of Boulder.

"I started out by using topographic maps for activities and then became aware of other materials," recalls Wanner. "Most recently, I have discovered the online sources. We have used some of these for our GIS-based activities."

Wanner teaches a unit about natural hazards that involves activities on earthquakes, floods, avalanches, and lightning. He has used USGS pamphlets for basic background and for information on specific places. His students have responded positively to the inclusion of this real data in the lessons.

"The USGS gives me well written concise information on specific topics," says Wanner. "I would recommend these materials because of the quality, price, and availability."

USGS Online Resources Recommended by Joseph Kerski

Learning Web
A favorite resources from the USGS, the Learning Web contains lessons and activities that focus on three areas: the changing world, working with maps, and Earth hazards.

Water Resources of the United States
Learn about the country's water supply online with the USGS. This site offers a real-time look at stream flow that allows students to focus on streams in their communities.

Near Real Time Earthquake List
Track earthquakes around the world as they happen!

Earthshots: Satellite Images of Environmental Change
This site displays Landsat satellite images for selected areas on Earth's surface. Students can examine how these areas have changed over time, leading to discussions about the human impact on the landscape.

TerraServer Homepage
Created in cooperation with Microsoft, this resource enables teachers and students to examine USGS aerial photographs of their schools and communities to study land-use patterns.