Sharing What I Find

Instructional Design and Technology in Education

Storytelling in Earth Sciences

I was intrigued by the title of this article and thought it might give some suggestions for how science teachers might engage more students through storytelling practice. I think it has become clear that whatever discipline you are passionate about, in order to relay that passion and excitement, you will be more successful if you’re able to tell that story. Telling stories helps students make connections to concepts. Telling stories makes concepts more personal. Telling stories sells.

“Storytelling in Earth Sciences: The eight basic plots,” by Jonathan Phillips, published in Earth Science Reviews (2012), categorizes how information about earth science topics is often told. Phillips states, “The hope is that Earth scientists recognize–and perhaps even embrace–our role as storytellers, so that we can more effectively use (and evaluate) storytelling to advance our science” (p. 154). This is a good thing. In the past, scientists have often been criticized for not sharing their research with the general public in such a way that is understandable. It seems that in the past 40 years, especially as media opportunities have increased, getting the research results into the general public has vastly improved. More recently, efforts have been made to add art and music to STEM to create STEAM advances and opportunities for students.

Phillips (2012) talks about how it is only recently that there has been a separation in creating art and writing of literature, and the reporting of science. He uses Goethe as an example (p. 155). Others come to mind, DaVinci and Michelangelo, for example. Natural scientists have long been incorporating storytelling techniques into reporting their observations. John Muir, John Audubon, and Richard Nelson are a few examples.

Where I got lost in this article, was in the determination of the basic plots. He provides examples for each of the eight plot areas and has identified examples from his own work. But he doesn’t seem to make the connection of his categories to the plots he references that are used in literature and drama (according to Phillip’s interpretation from Christopher Booker in The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, 2006). Similarities can be seen but it doesn’t seem like he goes back to help make the connections.

I did find the article interesting and now have a starting point for looking for more research and examples that might be better suited to what I was hoping for.

Here is my attempt to fulfill a couple of objectives: a tech-free challenge, experimenting with an augmented reality project, and using images to portray an article.



Phillips, J. (2012). Storytelling in Earth sciences: The eight basic plots. Earth-Science Reviews, 115(3), 153-162. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2012.09.005

Author: Heidi Olson

Heidi enjoys working with content experts in developing eCampus courses to provide alternatives for students. Her other interests include faculty training in best practices for eCampus and researching eCampus tools to help fulfill learning outcomes. Having worked in the distance education arena for over 20 years, she has a wide range of experiences in supporting students and faculty as technology and pedagogy evolve.

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