Schools Geology Challenge
A feature of the Society calendar for over a decade, the Schools Geology Challenge has returned post-Covid with a new look, new prizes and a new mission!
Originally created by members of the South Wales Regional Group, the challenge was set up as a competition for A-Level students of geology that offers the chance to showcase their geological knowledge, meet geoscientists and student peers, and travel to Burlington House to compete for a trophy.
The landscape for geology in schools is rapidly changing and many students don’t have the opportunity to study the subject. So, the Society’s Education Department decided to harness the appeal of the challenge to young people and use it as a tool to widen access to geology by opening the competition to any students studying geology, geography or science.
Hastened by the pandemic, and with incredible input from the Education Committee, the challenge was restructured in 2020 from the ground up, taking it from the Welsh mountains, to Kuala Lumpur, and its first ever international winners.
The switch to online learning and content creation provides the basis for students’ entry to the competition. With 55% of Generation Z (those born between the late 1990s and 2010s) spending five hours a day or more on a smartphone (according to Forbes magazine) and the meteoric rise of social media apps like TikTok, there are multiple opportunities to engage younger people with geoscience using online channels. To enter the competition therefore, students are asked to present a geoscience topic for an online audience. Their submission must fit a particular brief, and must be referenced (no fake news allowed!); beyond that, students are free to be as creative as they like. Instagram posts, TikToks, infographics and even whole websites have been created to secure a place in the coveted final.
The challenge was restructured in 2020 from the ground up, taking it from the Welsh mountains, to Kuala Lumpur, and its first ever international winners
The final itself has also had a makeover. To create a competition that is accessible to students of geography and science, as well as geology, we needed to ensure that those without prior geoscience knowledge could hold their own in a final. Additionally, given that polls (taken by The Guardian, for example) show a huge surge in students seeking climate-related careers, we felt it was essential to showcase the value of geoscience in relation to global climate and energy issues, and thereby try to combat the decline in the study and availability of geology courses at universities.
So, we solved this problem… with a problem-solving challenge! Teams that make it to the final must use some given information to solve a posed problem relating to geology and its real-world application, such as where to site a radioactive waste disposal facility. Assessed by a panel of judges from industry and academia, students are marked on teamworking, problem solving and scientific application skills.
Shaking up such an established and popular competition was a risk, but after only two years the rewards already show: in 2022 we saw the greatest ever number of teams entering the competition. But there is still progress to be made. We’d like to build on this success and see even more teams enter the competition next year.
The challenge is on an upward trajectory and has the potential to inspire students for many years to come. The 2022/2023 Schools Geology Challenge opens in September.
To get involved, follow us on social media @GeolSoc or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to find out more about supporting our Schools Geology Challenge through a donation or sponsorship, please contact us at email@example.com
Ashley Akingbade, Education Assistant, The Geological Society of London