ESTA comes to ‘Les-tah’!

Written by Vicky Ward, Curator, University of Leicester

On 23rd September 2022, the School of Geography, Geology and the Environment (SGGE) at the University of Leicester welcomed delegates of the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA) for their annual conference; the first in-person conference since 2019 (we’ll not mention that little blip beginning with C-19 …)

For those of you who may not be aware, ESTA are a network of teachers, educators and partners working to support and improve teaching of Earth Sciences at all levels in the UK.

Having networking events is vital, I feel, as a good conference provides an opportunity for people to engage in healthy discussions over a subject they are passionate about; to learn or enhance skills, for example GIS, thereby keeping up to date with changing technologies and gaining ideas of how to implement them into teaching. Moreover, we are social creatures with tendencies of gravitating to our own clan, ie those who share similar rock-hunting habits, have a like for shiny things, and who keep a hand lens close by, or compass-clino looped in casual fashion about the neck most days (and always ensure they’re packed for holidays).

The theme for 2022 was “The Future of Geology”; not a small topic to address. With workshops (photo 1), kindly run by SGGE staff, showcasing some of the strengths of the School, and the interdisciplinary nature that is becoming so much more important when we consider geology – both in the classroom and in ‘popular science’ – the future is taking some shape. The workshops and talks were predominately a reflection of the challenges we are now facing in terms of resource and sustainability, and how we can ultimately understand, anticipate and mitigate changes through Earth Sciences.

Photo 1: Earthquake Visualisation in the Classroom, an interactive workshop designed and led by SEIS-UK team. © Marc Reichow and Amy Musker-Heaton.

Helping to expand the thinking on this theme, we had not just one, not two, but THREE fantastic keynote speakers in the form of Professor Gawen Jenkin of SGGE (UoL) talking at the icebreaker session on Friday evening about how we can find key resources in a sustainable way; Associate Professor Suzie Imber of Space Physics (also UoL) and winner of the BBC production ‘Astronauts: Do you have what it takes?’ spoke at the keynote session on Saturday, about her work on Mercury; and we welcomed Professor Chris Jackson, Director of Sustainable Geoscience for Jacobs Engineering Group who presented the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures 2020, and addressed the question ‘Can geology save the world?’ at the esteemed conference dinner on Saturday night. He looked at how making geology more diverse can help the discipline maximise its positive impact on a global society (photo 2). 

Photo 2: Chris Jackson asks ‘“’Can geology save the world?’

Also included for delegates, was the opportunity for professional development with two expert-led exam board training sessions for Eduqas and OCR, and the famous ESTA ‘Bring & share session’, where delegates share their own practical classroom ideas. Examples included using food as a geological proxy, a cat pee detector (apparently an ultra-violet torch) and how it can be used to show fluorescence in minerals, and making models out of wood to illustrate geology maps in 3D.

The weekend was rounded off with fieldclasses on the Sunday, again run by SGGE staff. These included a field visit to Bradgate Park; the building stones of Leicester – a restoration project for students; and a computer lab based brief introduction to cartography using GIS.

Behind the scenes work

I’ve (maybe even ‘we’?) learned a fair bit about transferable skills that I was pretty sure I had, but which I hadn’t perhaps used in many years, or hadn’t used in quite the same ways as I did when helping to organise this conference. I have a tendency to think things through to the ‘nth degree, sometimes at the expense of action-ing things (oops), and I’m a perfectionist to boot. I work well with many different people, usually trying to charm people with a big smile if I’m asking for something or getting them to change their decision because it’s not what I wanted, and I think the organising team we put together within the School complimented each other and built on the strengths of individuals. There were areas we could each take care of and see to completion, such as signage within our spaces, organise catering, creating a running order for each day (and when refreshments breaks would be, to keep everyone happy, biscuit-fuelled and hydrated), reminding each other to chase outstanding items, speaking to other areas of the University for help and support, booking rooms, arranging parking, stopping each other from going even more loopy and, of course, asking for money!

Asking for money was by far the biggest frustration, or rather, the lack of responses to the begging emails was the frustration. It felt very rude to write emails, then send them out into the world, knowing I was asking for cash – even to those people we’ve built up business relationships with over the years. So you can imagine my delight when, happily for us, GCG came through with a wonderful donation to help with the conference costs. It was a great contribution towards the food and drink supplied for delegates throughout the day on Saturday. This also subsidised our workshop activities where delegates could take away material such as specimens and experiment set ups. The fact that GCG are a charity and willing to help, was so uplifting!

I think the proverbial swan would be apt to use for the behind the scenes work to get the conference organised. Things that should have been easy, perhaps weren’t and vice versa. Going too early on some ‘asks’ and maybe not early enough on others, meant that sometimes, there was a feeling of having a lot to do in the month ahead of the impending conference; and much of it was waiting on answers to emails sent months ago, from people not working within my perfectionist timeframe (!), so that plans and thoughts could be shored-up, get ducks in a row, and other such cliché phrases.

Overall though, the busy bits and charm paid off!

Highlights of the weekend

We had a total of 80 delegates attend the conference. It was wonderful seeing everyone come together again after several years apart, taking the opportunity to socialise outside of the formal workshops or conference setting, letting discussions develop and flow organically, as we reflected on the busy days we’d all experienced, and coming back to what the future of geology does actually mean… (is there just one way to answer this?). We have had excellent responses from delegates and exhibitors, who really enjoyed the event, and found workshops and exhibits incredibly useful (photos 3 & 4).

Photo 3: Because it’s perfectly normal having a couple of T.rexes about the place at a conference…

Photo 4: Delegates enjoying the exhibition space & refreshments

For me, I think the take home message is, quite simply, ‘Everybody needs a geologist in their life’

(But I guess many of us already knew that…)

On behalf of SGGE staff and ESTA delegates, we would, again, very much like to thank GCG for their kind sponsorship and support in helping to make this year’s event a huge success.

Vicky Ward*


With contributions & credit for photographs from Marc Reichow (@marcreichow, @GeologyLeics) and Amy Musker-Heaton (ESTA Conference Manager 2022, @ESTA_UK)

(SGGE Organisation Team for University of Leicester comprised of Marc Reichow, Vicky Ward, Ed Thomas, Lisa Barber and Andrea Vear)

* Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I unfortunately wasn’t able to contribute to the weeks leading up to- or, indeed, attend the final outcome of the conference. I’ve heard great things from my colleagues who were involved in the planning, and those who were present on the day, and also from the ESTA community, with an immensely positive and uplifting vibe, being sent across social platforms over the conference weekend.


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