On a warm June day on Kelleys Island, sand spills into students’ shoes as they make their way along the beach. They have to move fast to keep up with their professor, Dr. Larry Krissek. This is day three of Field-Based Introduction to Oceanography, and Krissek, an expert in sedimentary, marine and polar geology, doesn’t waste a single minute. In just one week, his students will earn 2 college credits. He has a lot of ground to cover, both figuratively and literally.
The class hikes until they reach an old quarry, where they spend an hour or two searching for fossils of crinoids, horn coral and brachiopods, examine them with powerful magnifying glasses and use their rock hammers to knock some loose to keep.
Krissek, who recently retired from his full-time post as a geology professor at The Ohio State University, believes moments like these are essential for students. Learning about rocks and water in a classroom isn’t the same as learning while digging in a quarry or feeling the waves in a boat on Lake Erie. That’s how Krissek himself learned as an undergraduate student at the University of Washington, taking water and sediment samples on a research vessel off the coast of Seattle.
His interest in the ocean, which started when he was a boy in landlocked Kansas City, carried him through graduate work at Oregon State University and his professorship at Ohio State. He’s been teaching the Stone Lab oceanography course since the 1990s. The introductory-level class is open to advanced high school students (typically sophomores, juniors and seniors) as well as college undergraduates.
Krissek estimates that more than half of them sign up because of their interest in marine mammals – “warm-blooded, fuzzy, squeaky things,” he says wryly. He considers it his responsibility to introduce these aspiring marine biologists to the broad range of ocean sciences, including geology and chemistry.
Krissek tries to schedule time in the field every day. The Kelleys Island trip usually takes place midweek and includes a visit to the island’s famous glacial grooves. Friday typically finds them on a mainland beach, talking about shore protection and erosion.
“I think (the class) is very eye-opening to them,” Krissek said. “I don’t track the students, but I would say I have one or two students every other year that actually end up pursuing something in either ocean sciences or geological sciences.”
For example, Stephanie Sherman, who took the class in high school, is now a Senior Research Associate in geological sciences at Ohio State’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center.
Krissek hopes the average student will remember to do two things after taking his class: make observations and ask questions. “I sound like an old crank, but put down your phone and pay attention to the world around you because that’s where the data is coming from,” he said. “Make the observations and then ask the questions.”
It’s not quite the same demographic, but his other Stone Lab course, Geologic Setting of Lake Erie, has a similar goal. The class, which is aimed at educators, is a weeklong trip along the lakeshore, examining the geologic features and discussing the processes that created them and the industries that arose from them.
“The vast majority of the teachers taking this course are middle or high school science teachers who are teaching biology,” Krissek said. “We take those same skills that they use in their biology work and observe and ask questions on the geology side rather than on the biology side.”
“The learning about geology begins the minute the car is put in drive,” said Ohio Sea Grant Education Specialist Angie Greene, who took the course a few years ago. “There’s a reason (Krissek) starts in Columbus. When he’s driving, he’s pointing out natural geological features as well as businesses that use those features, like gravel pits.”
First, the class heads to Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island for a few days on the Lake Erie Islands. Other stops include Old Woman Creek National Estuarine Research Reserve; Cuyahoga Valley National Park; beaches in Lake and Ashtabula Counties; and Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge.
For Greene, a longtime middle school science teacher in addition to her role at Sea Grant, seeing those features up close was an awe-inspiring experience.
“You can read about it in a book and you can look at it on a bedrock map, but until you are climbing up shale and you see how loose and brittle it is – you really just have to live that before you can have an understanding of it,” she said. “To be able to do that with an expert with you the entire time, who shows you what’s there, using evidence, and what caused it to happen is pretty valuable.”
Greene has since developed the Stone Lab workshop Enhancing Earth Science Education with Educational Technology, a two-day experience for teachers based out of the Kelleys Island Field Station that shows them how to use the application Nearpod to create earth science content and assessments.
“It’s like being a detective. There are always mysteries to be solved, and it gives me the chance to travel to interesting places.”
“I was able to take something that I learned (from Krissek) and bring more teachers and show them the interesting parts of Ohio at the time of the glaciers, while marrying that with teaching them a really cool educational technology platform,” Greene said.
Krissek tries to help each educator incorporate field experience into their teaching – whether that means collecting rock specimens for them to take back to their classroom or finding locations near their schools that illustrate a point about Ohio geology. It all comes back to fieldwork, making observations and asking questions – what has captured Krissek’s interest in the subject for so long.
“It’s like being a detective. There are always mysteries to be solved, and it gives me the chance to travel to interesting places,” he said.
For details on Krissek’s classes and Greene’s workshop, visit stonelab.osu.edu.