Attending an OU Field School: S209 Earth Science

Lou, Vice President Engagement at the OU Students Association, took some time off to attend the Residential Field School for S209 Earth Science

Geology is certainly a very strange subject to study online and it’s often difficult to make sense of some of the learning without being able to observe it out in the wild. The world is very different in 3D (as we all discovered very quickly!).

Our S209 module materials are immense with excellent field case studies of sedimentary and igneous rocks in Cyprus and a fabulous online mineral/fossil kit and microscope activities but nothing can replace seeing rocks out in the wild…

If you like the sound of this and would like to access these resources yourself, why not try ‘Minerals and the Crystalline State’ on Open Learn? 

So we are blessed not only with a selection of nationwide day field schools provided by the Tutor team but also with an optional 4 day/5 night adventure up at the Field Studies Council Blencathra, Lake District. Like many residential, this comes at an extra cost but means-tested bursaries were made available. It definitely felt worth me working all the extra overtime at Christmas for the views!

A small plush owl in a yellow hard hat sits on a fence with blue skies and views of the Lake District fells behindMr Owl with the view at FSC Blencathra
The first evening offered a briefing of what to expect across the four days as well as plenty of time to chat to one another and finally put faces to a few of those forum names.

We were up bright and early for breakfast on Easter Sunday before taking a minibus to location one. We have just finished our block on metamorphic rocks and the first field location allowed us to catch sight of some folded and faulted rocks out in the wild.

A fold visible in a quarry face, Lake District

After a short break for lunch back at the Field Studies Centre, we set out on foot for an afternoon in the Glenderaterra Valley. Here we were able to observe changes in the rocks and their minerals as we ascended the hills before taking an optional scramble further up to see the surface where the heat from the forming Skiddaw granite metamorphosed the rocks it came into contact with (altered composition or structure due to heat and/or pressure).

That evening we got to take a closer look at all the hand specimens we had observed along our route in thin section microscope samples, putting into practice the whole range of our virtual learning.

A small plush owl in a small yellow plastic hard hat sits on a rock with the pointed peak of Lonscale Fell pictured behind (Lake District, UK)Mr Owl enjoying the views

Day two took us to two sedimentary locations where we were recalling our learning from before Christmas trying to determine the environments the sediments were deposited in based on our field observations. By the afternoon we were really warming up our brains, working in small groups to construct a visual representation of identified rock types and the way they were deposited to unpick the geological history of the outcrop (fancy term for exposed rock). Fortunately I am also able to report, despite our proximity to a very large stream, no one went for an unintentional swim, much to the relief of our accompanying module lead and tutor.

A red sandstone outcrop with an upper conglomerate layer Sketching at the sedimentary outcrop

Day three took us to two exciting locations. We spent the morning on a tour of the working Shap Granite Quarry which was really interesting. I had described a granite sample in my first TMA so it was amazing to think how much I had progressed in my knowledge from the very first attempts at understanding the tiny lump found near my house to now. 

We were however asked not to get distracted by the ‘shiny bits’ – the wealth of pyrites found there (including iron pyrite which you may know as Fool’s Gold).

With the morning sun out again (three days in a row has to be a record in the Lake District), I am sad to report that I failed on this particular task and I am now the proud owner of a pyrite-filled pet rock (sorry not sorry!).

The afternoon took me back out onto the limestone-covered moors (I grew up in the Yorkshire Dales) and out to the fossils including the cute coral (Mr Owl for scale of course!) pictured below.

That evening we even got to take a look at the granite from the quarry under the microscope helping extend our analysis and add to our thinking.

A small plush owl in a tiny yellow hard hat stands next to a small fossilised coralMr Owl pictured with a fossil coral

We had one final morning together at a quarry where we could explore sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rock all in one neat location and it brought together our studies and our trip perfectly.

Overall the field school offers a wealth of opportunity to apply knowledge out in the field, to gain field experience which is paramount to many Geology careers and further offered us the chance to gain valuable data for our end project.

I have chosen to not submit a Blencathra project and instead take my new learning out into a field location of my choosing and apply it there, now feeling much more confident in my field skills despite not being the most practical person going.

I would highly recommend field experience to any student in Earth Sciences or indeed related Environmental Sciences. It can be nerve-wracking to take your learning offline and I was certainly very nervous but the reassuring learning environment created by tutors and fellow students soon put me at ease.

With thanks to our incredible Module Lead and Tutors for making this trip possible and incredible. Thanks also to the attendees of Trip One for making the visit so memorable (8-12 April 2023).

Like it? Share with your friends!

What's Your Reaction?

like like
disagree disagree
useful useful
fun fun
love love
lol lol
omg omg
Lou Robinson

BSc (Hons) Open Degree 2020 PGCE Primary (School Direct) Student 2020/21 Aspiring Primary School Teacher with a keen interest in STEAM and Outdoor Learning.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.