School of Rock: Trinity geology initiative aims to ground pupils

EVERY school in Ireland is to become a school of rock to teach children how to tell their schist from their mudstone.

More than 10 tonnes of rock samples — the equivalent of two full skips — are being distributed to almost 5,000 primary and second level schools on both sides of the border in the initiative to encourage the study of rocks.

The geology department at Trinity College Dublin is arranging delivery of the 60,000 pieces of six common kinds of rock free of charge.

“I had all these boxes of rock in storage at the college for nearly a year so it’s a great relief to everyone here that we’ve finally got them out to schools,” said project co-ordinator Dr Ian Sanders.

The packs will allow pupils to get hands-on experience of touching and seeing the rocks close up, with at least two pieces of each rock type in every school’s set.

Dr Sanders said the many common misconceptions about Irish geology include a myth the Sugarloaf Mountain in Wicklow is an extinct volcano, but it is simply a quartzite mountain. However, he said there are many examples of volcanic rock in Ireland such as parts of the Waterford coast eroded from volcanos that became extinct more than 450 million years ago. “If people have an understanding of how short a time human beings have been on the planet, it puts things in a new context, which might make people a bit more conscious of how we treat the world,” he said.

The rock types are sandstone, mudstone, limestone, basalt, granite and schist. All, except the schist, came from quarries in different parts of the country.

Each piece is dabbed with a spot of coloured paint to help identify them, and their origins and relation to Ireland’s geological past are set out in an accompanying booklet. But to ensure the ideas are explained in everyday language, the text and diagrams were edited by teachers.

The resource is designed to be of use for junior infants through to Leaving Certificate students, whose geography syllabus has featured a core geology component since 2005.

The project is funded by a Griffith award funded by the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources through the Geological Survey of Ireland and exploration firm Tullow Oil.

Dr Sanders said that geologists have an important role to play in trying to source natural resources — including metals like zinc, which are common in Ireland — as well as a conservation role in maintaining clean water supplies and advising on location of waste disposal sites.

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