The week that really rocked: ‘Rock Steady Geology Camp’ provides gem of an experience for young geology buffs


IMG_2727By Sarah Colson

Sydney Morgan, a rising fourth grader from Cherokee Elementary School, digs two handfuls of rocks out of her pocket and spreads them across the table before answering the question she was called on for. While this might be inappropriate behavior for most classrooms, at Winged Deer Park’s Rock Steady Geology Camp last week, Morgan’s reaction was rock solid.

“I don’t know what I want to be yet when I grow up,” Morgan says, “but I came this week because I like finding, like, crystals and stuff. I found some rocks over there. I just think they look cool.”

Soon after listing her affinity for pretty rocks as one of the reasons she loves geology camp, Morgan and about 25 of her peers heard from Jim Small, former owner of Kingsport Gems and Minerals Society. Small has been cutting gems since 1960.

IMG_2699“What I’m basically talking about is the fact that the world is composed of three different sorts of rocks,” Small says, “and literally everything that we are, everything that we have, and everything that we see is a consequence of these three different kinds of rocks.”

Small spent the majority of his session letting the kids pass around things like the fossilized entrance of a woodpecker’s home from 26 million years ago, a dinosaur hip bone, and large fossilized dinosaur feces. One of the most exciting revelations came when he taught the kids about Blue-Green Algae, which lived 2 billion years ago and is responsible for all of the oxygen in the atmosphere today.

“Kids are visual and tactile beings,” Small says. “Everything that I talk about, I hand around as I describe it. People say, ‘well doesn’t that split their attention between what you’re saying and the rocks?’ Well, not really. People assume things about kids that they ought not, especially where rocks are concerned.”

IMG_2701Connie Deegan, Johnson City Parks and Recreation naturalist says all the camps she runs during the summer have similar educational drives.

“I don’t want the kids to simply learn, this is a pretty rock,” Deegan says. “I want them to understand our local topography, the karst and sinkholes and caves. I want them to have a feel for the TVA dam system and its magnitude, and really all the things that system has to accomplish.”

The kids at geology camp heard from several experts in fields including geosciences, animal life, conservation, and geology. Visitors included Dr. Steven Wallace and Ingrid Luffman from the Geosciences Department at East Tennessee State University, representatives of the Washington County Soil and Conservation District, TVA representative Jonathan McNutt, ETSU intern John Griggs, and more.

Camp Counselor Hannah McAdams is a sophomore at ETSU studying child psychology. This was her first year as a counselor and she says “hanging out with the kids and getting to know them is awesome.

Dr. Steven Wallace of East Tennessee State University shows campers a  fossilized tail section of a glyptodon, an Ice Age-era, armadillo-like creature.  Photo by Jeff Keeling

Dr. Steven Wallace of East Tennessee State University shows campers a
fossilized tail section of a glyptodon, an Ice Age-era, armadillo-like creature.
Photo by Jeff Keeling

“We have a lot of repeat kids so we really get to build relationships with them, which is my favorite part,” McAdams says.

Deegan taught them about the problems bats are facing, primarily in the United States and Canada. She says that while some people think kids get bored with learning, education done the right way can be quite fascinating, particularly when the campers understand the gravity of all that’s being taught.

“They love it,” she says of Rock Steady. “Most of the kids here have a specific interest in geology and they’re totally digging it.”



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