2023 Biggs Award for Excellence in Earth Science Teaching

Presented to Glenn Robert Dolphin

Glenn Robert Dolphin

Glenn Robert Dolphin
University of Calgary


Citation by Nicole LaDue

Today we recognize Glenn Dolphin for his pedagogical innovations, collegiality, and creativity. Glenn, also known to some in New York State as “Flipper”, is a philosopher-educator. As a high school teacher, Glenn quickly became a leader and mentor to teachers on the New York State ESPRIT listserv. He shared place-based laboratory activities he developed based on his graduate training in sedimentology that engaged high school students in geologic data analysis using New York lithology. His activities helped hundreds of teachers expose thousands of students to the stratigraphy of New York. He continues supporting New York teachers through workshops and the ESPRIT listserv even today, demonstrating his lasting commitment to professionalism in K-12 teaching.

As Glenn’s teaching practice and curiosity grew, he pursued a PhD from Syracuse University where he studied mental models and reasoning about historical context of the tectonic revolution. This work laid the foundation for his ongoing work engaging students in scientific reasoning through case studies as an associate professor at the University of Calgary. In his classroom, Glenn engages students in scientific debates and reasoning with evidence. His students evaluate their own mental models and to test their hypotheses by evaluating data. This is the hallmark of a conceptual change educator.

Glenn also brings creativity into his classroom. He collaborated with drama faculty and students to do historical dramatizations of women geologists’ experiences in the male dominated science within the context of geologic revolutions. Students are excited by this unconventional approach, particularly in large enrollment introductory courses he teaches. They enthusiastically praise his ability to pique their curiosity and think about science a new way. His philosophy of education extends to unconventional grading practices which respect the individual needs, as highlighted by a particular student with a learning disability that expressed relief that she felt she could be successful in a science class.

In recent years, Glenn has expanded his work to studying the impact of metaphors in teaching and learning and the efficacy of virtual outcrop models as a teaching tool. He is a thoughtful colleague, cultivates rich geoscience learning experiences for his students, and is highly deserving of this honor.


Response by Glenn Robert Dolphin

Thank you. It is quite amazing to me that others might recognize my teaching. As I thought about my response to the award to try and understand my path to this point at this point, I recalled an idea expressed by historian Dr. Mott Green, from his biography of Alfred Wegener. Green, when describing the circumstances that would eventually make Wegener so famous in the geosciences said something to the effect that Wegener was not the author of his own life. In fact, it was those around him who authored his story. This notion really resonated with me as I considered all of circumstances, the serendipitous occasions, the love and support of so many people impacting my path. As such, I see my life as a conglomerate (I love metaphors), with innumerable authors contributing the pebbles, and would like to acknowledge some of them.

As a kid, my dad suffered poison ivy, having accompanied me during some local fossil hunting. He also took me to dig for Herkimer “diamonds”. It was raining, so my mom stayed in the car with my three siblings (for hours). Mom was a saint. Dom Iacovazzi was my ninth-grade earth science teacher, my wresting coach, and later my supervising teacher when I did my student teaching. He taught me the importance of knowing the students. In college, Drs. Tim Lowenstein and Bob Demicco helped me to understand geology as a process, and more importantly, that your personal life must be in order if your professional life is to mean anything. In graduate school, I studied under their former supervisor, Dr. Lawrie Hardie, where I began to understand the importance of distilling problems to first principles. It was not the most important pebble, however. That happened during my PhD candidacy exam. My failure of this exam taught me the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Though it came late for me, my teaching now emphasizes that distinction for my students.

I did a short stint in the groundwater industry, then began teaching at my alma mater. Dom and Phil Childs, my former eighth grade science teacher, supported my eclectic teaching approach, while Lyn Kozuboski (art teacher) taught me one of my most important lessons, “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than for permission.” Dr. Tom O’Brien taught me the importance of open inquiry. Drs. Douglas Allchin, Mike Clough, and Michael Matthews taught me about the importance of history and philosophy of science in science teaching. Dr. Jim Ebert pushed me to be active professionally and demonstrated the importance of authentic research in science education.

Dr. HsingChi von Bergmann encouraged me to enter a PhD program in science education. While at Syracuse University, Dr. John Tillotson helped me understand the relationship between education research and effective teaching and Dr. Sari Biklen taught me how to imagine the world through the eyes of others. It was my most painful lesson, but also the most liberating. After starting at the University of Calgary, Drs. Leslie Reid and Wendy Benoit, Frank Stahnisch, Robert Kelly, and Nicole Ladue, my nominator, have been great mentors, helping me to thrive in the post-secondary environment.

I’ve mentioned only a few names here, each being an author of my story, opening doors, marking trails, creating opportunities. They are the pebbles in the conglomerate of my life, with my wife, Lu, and my girls, May, Pearl, and Ruby, the cement holding it all together. At first, I was uncomfortable with the idea of letting go of my agency, that I am not the author of my story, but the way I see it, my agency exists in all of the stories I am helping to write for my colleagues and especially for my students.