OGDEN -- Weber State University geoscience students spent hundreds of hours during the summer collecting rocks from locations all around Utah.
Next, the students broke or cut the rocks, collected the highest quality samples and incorporated them into educational kits. Each kit had samples of labeled igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, and information about how the rocks were formed.
And this fall, the geoscience students presented a weighty gift to the Weber School District: 100 rock kits to be used for science education in the district's fourth-grade classrooms.
"These rock boxes mean that students will be able to experience rocks with their five senses and gain a deeper connection to their learning experience," said Sara Yearsley, president of WSU's chapter of Sigma Gamma Epsilon, a national honor society for students in earth sciences.
WSU's SGE members are behind the project.
"Hands-on exploration helps children learn more and remember what they have discovered," Yearsley said.
The idea for the massive project grew out of a casual conversation last spring between Yearsley and Lori Brown, a fourth-grade teacher at H. Guy Child Elementary.
"One of my own children could get extra credit for going to Weber State's Science Saturday events," Brown said. "I listened to the information, and I thought, 'This is fourth-grade core.' "
Brown is a veteran teacher, with expertise in teaching language, reading, health, art and other topics.
"But I am not a geologist, and we don't have a lot of resources," she said. "I thought, 'Man, this is great,' and I asked Sara if she might have any extra samples I could take."
Brown's students were fascinated with the rock samples.
"I can learn about science by looking at pictures and reading, but 9- and 10-year-olds really have to have something in their hands," the teacher said. "It's so much more meaningful for them if they have something to hold. Since then, they've done lots of experiments about weathering and erosion. They are so enthused, and they ask me about the rocks every day.
"You might say 'Rocks, really, have they never looked at rocks before?' Well, not really, not like this."
SGE members made a more formal rock box for Brown, and gave it to her in November 2011. The SGE members also told her about their plan to assemble the additional 100 boxes.
"Teachers have many resources to teach with," Yearsley said. "This is just one small contribution by our club to play a big part in providing academic excellence in the community."
Yearsley and student Amanda Gentry directed the effort and acted as liaisons to the Weber School District. Cassie Grether put together lesson plans on CD for teachers to use, making sure the lessons were accurate and up to Utah standards for core education. Student Julie Taylor helped coordinate student volunteers and was in charge of assembling the rock boxes. In all, 13 SGE members worked on the project.
The kits also include information on where each of the 11 rocks was found. With the support of WSU geoscience professor Jim Wilson, students gathered samples on field trips to the Farmington Canyon Complex, Little Cottonwood Canyon, Southern Utah, Price and Box Elder County.
Brown said she can't wait for other teachers to incorporate the rock kits into their curriculum, and to start seeing the results.
"The kits will be a huge boost to every elementary school teacher who uses them, and a treat for the students."
Brown said she's amazed by the efforts of Yearsley and her team, as well as the WSU faculty members who helped.
"They are motivated, enthusiastic, helpful, awesome people," Brown said of the students. "I know Sara is going to be a junior high science teacher, and what the students have done for the school district lets me know they are all going to be amazing science educators."