BOONE — Appalachian State students in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences have created 1,600 rock kits for elementary school students in eight North Carolina counties so they can learn about geology at home during the pandemic.

Marta Toran, the outreach coordinator for the department, said they typically reach about 5,000 students, teachers and families with in person events and presentations. But with COVID-19, the department had to shift their outreach so students could continue to learn remotely. So they created the Mini Rockin’ NC kits.

“Usually, what we have is these big boxes for teachers that are the classroom kit,” Toran said. “Because of COVID-19, they can’t share the materials with the kids. So we decided to make a mini version.”

Each rock kit comes with six different kinds of rocks mainly from North Carolina. Toran said the rocks are what they call “everyday material,” which helps students understand how many items that people depend on come from rocks.

Students are able to keep the rock kits, which first grade Hardin Park School teacher Maria Nash said is a big perk.

Because teachers don’t always have a science background, but have to teach some pretty advanced standards, Toran said the department trains the teachers — typically first-grade and fourth-grade teachers — on how to use the kits.

One of the activities Toran said teachers can use with the rock kits is taking a virtual rock trip across the state. The outreach materials are also translated into Spanish.

“It’s a slideshow where you have these little cartoon rocks and they start in Mount Airy, and they visit the rocks there, and then they look at the rock kit more closely and the student has to find the rock that would have come from an area in their pile,” Toran said.

This year, Nash is teaching first grade in the Watauga Virtual Academy. She said the rock kits will allow children to still have some hands on experience despite being virtual.

“I am very excited about using the rock kits,” Nash said. “Even though we are virtual, the children need hands-on experiences and these kits will give them the opportunity to have this. Having hands on materials that the children can physically touch and use makes the lesson much more meaningful.”

As a teacher, Nash said she is especially thankful for the rock kits as purchasing the materials and putting them all together would take time and money that is “hard to come by.”

In the past, Toran and some of her students have gone into Nash’s classroom to teach the lesson about rocks. After that lesson, Nash said she usually takes her students to the geology department to visit the museum and rock garden.

To create the kits, Toran said they’ll take rocks the department has and will smash them into smaller pieces to fit in the kit. If the department does not have a certain rock, Toran said Vulcan Materials Company will let them use rocks from their quarry in Boone.

Toran said the “long-standing” partnership with Vulcan has allowed the department to purchase materials, get specific rocks and coordinate their distribution.

The mini rock kits are the majority of what the department gives out, but Toran said they have created 50 bigger boxes for the Children’s Playhouse and created specific fossil or environmental kits.

“Whatever the teachers need, we assemble and include lesson plans and the option for Zoom visits to go with them,” Toran said.

More information on Rockin’ NC can be found at earth.appstate.edu/outreach/rockin-nc. Those who have questions about how to get a kit can email toranml@appstate.edu.

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