A Destination in Time

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Science  17 Jun 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6036, pp. 1360
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6036.1360-b

Deep time, the scale used to measure evolutionary, geologic, and cosmological events, is a difficult concept to teach. By using Google Earth, Parker created a locally adaptable analogy that can be used to teach the relative order of events and the comprehension of the magnitude of deep time. A distance scale of 0.5 mm, a distance still visible to the eye, to 1000 km, a distance that most students have traveled, was correlated to a time scale where 18 years, the average age of Parker's introductory college students, was set to equal to 0.5 mm. Big Ben, a familiar reference point for the students located 126 km away from the lecture hall, was used as the point corresponding to the origin of Earth. By overlaying this newly created linear scale onto a corresponding Google Map, students were able to match key events, such as the extinction of the dinosaurs or the emergence of eukaryotic cells, to the distance that familiar landmarks were from the lecture hall. As for measuring his own success, on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being very good, Parker scored a 4.5 from his students, with the majority indicating that they were “blown away” at finally appreciating the true magnitude of deep time.

J. Coll. Sci. Teach. 40, 23 (2011).

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