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June 4, 2012

Behind the Scenes with Helena Carmena-Young


Teaching Teachers About Earthquakes

Helena Carmena-Young, the Academy’s senior manager of teacher education, is in the midst of a presentation in the third-floor Education Lab. This is where Carmena-Young more commonly leads monthly professional development workshops for Bay Area teachers.

Today, she is explaining how materials created in-house for the Earthquake exhibit and planetarium show will be made available online to Bay Area educators.

Helena Carmena-Young is preparing to launch the first Academy first coursework offering on iTunesU. iTunes

Carmena-Young prepares the launch of the Academy's first coursework offering on iTunes University.


“We’re partnering with KQED to launch a new educational course on iTunes University,” Carmena-Young says, “starting with our new Earthquake materials.” Maybe it’s her background as a middle-school science teacher, but it’s not long before Carmena-Young jumps up from her computer to start diagraming her program on the whiteboard.

“We are going to help teachers and students visualize complex geology concepts,” Carmena-Young says, “and we’re going to use these visually simulating digital assets to do it.” She is pointing to the boxes she’s drawn labeled planetarium vignettes, infographics, specimen photos, and online games. “Teachers are starving for resources,” she says. “This is going to be eye candy for them.”

The field of education is changing, Carmena-Young explains, with more people demanding access to high-quality information and self-paced learning environments. “We want to be part of this evolution,” she says. “Our enduring goal is to extend the museum-going experience and export the Academy’s expertise outside of these walls.”

While the Academy has already made its videos and podcasts available for free on iTunesU, Carmena-Young is spearheading the effort to place Earthquake-related course work, classroom activities, and student-friendly digital assets directly into the hands of teachers to use in the classroom.

The new iTunes University course will feature a five-chapter syllabus on plate tectonics, zeroing in on geology, the Bay Area’s history of seismic shocks, preparedness, including a section on the new Bay Bridge from KQED. It will also feature snippets from the new Planetarium show, activities for engagement, vocabulary, and interactive content.

This month, Carmena-Young and her colleagues in Student Education are planning special testing sessions with selected teachers and students to experience the online course, preview the exhibit, and provide feedback. This enables the Academy’s education department to fine-tune the course offering in time for its public launch on August 15 when Carmena-Young is hosting a earthquake educator preview open to all registered Bay Area teachers.

“This is a pilot program,” Carmena-Young adds. “Online coursework enables us to curate the information into a valuable learning experience and present these materials in a meaningful, accessible way.”

Teachers, want to register for the Earthquake Educator Preview? To learn more about this free workshop, click here.

—Barbara Tannenbaum

Filed under: Uncategorized — btannenbaum @ 5:15 pm


  1. I have visited the Earthquake exhibit several times, and I commend the Academy for once again bringing wonderful educational material to the public. However, I notice the absence, due to omission or inconspicous display, of information on Alfred Wegener, who is credited with the Continental Drift Theory.

    I believe it is important to highlight the fact that despite tremendous ridicule and professional criticism, Wegener remained convicted in his theory, which was later confirmed decades after his death. His persistence to discover scientific evidence to support his believe serves as an inspiration to the public, especially the budding young scientists who visit the Academy.

    Comment by Kas Broemmer — July 10, 2012 @ 8:46 am

  2. Dr. Peter Roopnarine, Curator in the Academy’s Department of Invertebrate Zoology & Geology responds:

    “It’s very thoughtful of the visitor to point out Wegener’s contribution. Alfred Wegener, a German geologist and meteorolgist in the early 20th century, was the first scientist to suggest continental drift. As such, he is enormously important in modern geology and is rightfully credited as the forefather of the Theory of Plate Tectonics.

    Contrary to popular belief, however, Wegener was not ridiculed for his idea during his lifetime. He published several works on the topic, including a book that is still available. His idea was met with general skepticism in the earth sciences community, and among a large segment of the biological community, but was embraced by many paleontologists and sedimentologists.

    Wegener, however, lacked a verifiable mechanism to explain continental drift, and that was the major reason for it not being accepted. Nevertheless, during his lifetime he was one of Germany’s most prominent and successful scientists, and is also credited with founding the modern science of polar climatic studies.

    Wegener unfortunately died quite young while on expedition in Greenland, and did not live to see his idea develop into the modern, fundamental theory of plate tectonics. That had to wait until after World War II, with the development of powerful sonar and magnetic mapping of the ocean floor.

    The resulting theory of Plate Tectonics was definitely controversial for some time, though it gained relatively quick acceptance in Europe and parts of Asia. It was very slow to be accepted in the United States, primarily because of strong personalities involved.

    Wegener’s absence from the exhibit, I think, is in keeping with the absence of mention of any scientists personally. If we did mention Wegener., though he would be the most prominent, then we would also have to mention other key figures, such as Heezen or Hess, lesser known to the public but no less deserving of credit and great geologists in their own right.

    —Dr. Peter D. Roopnarine, Curator
    Department of Invetebrate Zoology & Geology
    California Academy of Sciences

    Comment by btannenbaum — July 10, 2012 @ 1:50 pm

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