To obtain an answer to the titular question, I encouraged
geoscientists to share their urban educational
experiences at the 2002 Geological Society of America
Annual Meeting and collected their responses in this
volume. These responses reveal a group united by their
interest in making geoscience more inclusive but
amazingly varied in nearly every other way. Their
common interest manifests itself in two central beliefs:
(1) that urban geoscience education more effectively
serves urban residents (slightly more than 80% of the
American population) and (2) that urban education
encourages minority participation in the geosciences.
The first belief reflects constructivist notions about the
importance of the learner’s environment and previous
experiences, and the second belief reflects the desire to
correct chronically low levels of minority involvement in
the geosciences. These convictions spawned educational
programs serving many different kinds of learners.
Educators developed unique curricula to meet the needs
of each audience, but most curricula incorporate content
associated with the built environment. I list audience
characteristics and examples of urban content in Tables
1A and 1B and provide summaries in the following
Urban geoscience education served many different kinds
of learners (Tables 1A and 1B). Although most programs
targeted an audience with a specific level of educational
experience (e.g., elementary school students) at a specific
location (e.g., Syracuse, NY), audience characteristics
varied greatly from one program to another:
•Participants included elementary, middle, and high
school students, undergraduates (both majors and
non-majors), K-12 teachers (both pre-service and
in-service), graduate students, realtors, and
community members. Most participants were
pre-college students or K-12 teachers.
•At least three programs served populations with
substantial numbers of African American
(O’Connell et al. and Harnik and Ross), Hispanic
(Birnbaum, O’Connell et al., and Harnik and Ross),
and Asian American (Harnik and Ross) students.
(Most manuscripts do not explicitly describe
•Audiences were drawn from every corner of the
nation except the Pacific Northwest and Florida and
resided in cities varying greatly in population. These
cities included the nation’s largest combined
metropolitan area (New York City, NY-NJ-CT-PA),
other metropolitan areas containing populations of
over one million, and communities as small as
Ithaca, NY (population: 96,501). Most manuscripts
describe programs conducted in metropolitan areas
containing between 1.1 and 2.6 million people.
As illustrated by the preceding examples, urban
geoscience education served learners with different
levels of educational experience, some programs focused
on minority learners, and program participants lived in
cities both big and small. These varied audiences
demonstrate the inclusiveness of urban geoscience
education. However, curricula developed for different
audiences differ in many particulars. What do these
Most urban geoscience curricula include content
associated with the built environment (Tables 1A and 1B)
although one notable exception eschews urban content
altogether. Some content is organized around themes
that are unique to the largest cities, but much content is
explicitly suburban. Examples follow:
•A good example of a theme unique to the largest
cities is the impact of geology on the construction of
early Twentieth Century skyscrapers (Haddad).
•Much explicitly suburban material addresses
human-environment interactions in urbanizing
areas. For example, one curriculum focuses on the
impact of urbanization on lake terraces and other
natural records of Earth history (geoantiquities) in
the Salt Lake City, UT area (Chan and Atwood;
Atwood et al.), and another curriculum was a direct
outgrowth of regional planning workshops in the
rapidly urbanizing Nashville, TN area (Abolins).
•The Devonian Seas curriculum (Harnik and Ross)
focuses on fossils instead of the built environment.
According to the authors, an inquiry-based
pedagogy contributed greatly to the success of this
curriculum. This example suggests that, in some
cases, good urban geoscience education is simply
good geoscience education.
The above examples show that curricula described in this
volume include content relevant to both big city and
Although urban geoscience education programs serve
many different kinds of learners, most curricula include
content focusing on the built environment.
Consequently, practitioners of urban geoscience
education are interested in (1) this kind of content and (2)
ways to use this content to meet the needs of different
audiences. The manuscripts in this volume describe
several case studies addressing these interests. Taken
together, urban geoscience education programs utilized
content relevant to both big city and suburban learners
and served audiences with different levels of educational
experience and various ethnic backgrounds. These
examples demonstrate the inclusiveness of urban
Abolins - What is Urban Geoscience Education 405
What is Urban Geoscience Education?
Mark Abolins Department of Geosciences, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro,
TN 37132, firstname.lastname@example.org
U.S. Census Bureau, 2001a, Table 3: Metropolitan Areas
Ranked by Population: 2000, http://www.census.
U.S. Census Bureau, 2001b, Table 3a: Population in
Metropolitan and Micropolitan Statistical Areas
Ranked by 2000 Population for the United States and
Puerto Rico: 1990 and 2000, http://www.census.
406 Journal of Geoscience Education, v. 52, n. 5, November, 2004, p. 405-406
Examples of Urban Content Manuscript(s)
Statistical Area Population
K-12 students (Not
described) Los Angeles,
CA 16,373,645 Urban human-environment
interactions Barstow and
Hispanic San Antonio, TX 1,592,383 Field investigations in and near urban
American Hartford, CT 1,183,110 Urban water quality O’Connell et al.
Natural and manmade materials
within the urban environment Harnik and
described) Milwaukee, WI 1,689,572 Geologic features in or near urban
areas; building stones Kean et al.
members of the
described) Salt Lake City,
UT 1,333,914 Ancient shorelines within urban
landscape; urbanization; terrace
gravels mined for aggregate
Atwood et al.
described) Mobile, AL 540,258 Using a map of a shopping mall to
teach geologic time Haywick et al.
Table 1A. Urban geoscience education programs serving pre-college students and K-12 teachers.
Populations of combined metropolitan statistical areas from U.S. Census Bureau (2001a). Populations of
Utica, NY and Ithica, NY are for metropolitan statistical areas and are from U.S. Census Bureau (2001b).
Audience Examples of
Urban Content Manuscript(s)
Statistical Area Population
Undergraduate and graduate students
(Not described) Wayne, NJ (Part of New York
area) Urban water
quality Pardi et al.
(non-majors) (Not described) Nashville, TN 1,231,311 Urbanization Abolins
Realtors (Not described) Denver, CO
(Front Range) 2,581,506 Geologic hazards
Table 1B. Urban geoscience education programs serving undergraduate and graduate students and
professionals. Populations of combined metropolitan statistical areas from U.S. Census Bureau (2001a).
For abstractsfrom the “Urbanizing Geoscience Education” session, see Geological Society of America Abstracts with
Programs, v. 34, n. 6, p. 92-94.