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David Barnard Thompson 1932-2013

Geoscience educator and founder member of the Association of Teachers of Geology

David Barnard Thompson, known to many as ‘DBT’, was born and educated in Manchester before being among the very first intake of students at Keele University, which he left, in 1954, with a first class honours degree.

In 1967, David became a founder member of the Association of Teachers of Geology (ATG) – the organisation which has supported geology teaching and geology teachers ever since (becoming the Earth Science Teachers’ Association (ESTA) in 1988).  David not only founded ATG/ESTA; he ‘was’ ATG/ESTA for many years, as a Council member for 37 years, for a very long stint as Editor of the journal between 1979 and 1986, and as President from 1986 until 1988. 

In appreciation, David was granted Honorary Life Membership of ESTA in 1990.  This underplays the critical role David had in guiding ESTA and in marshalling the troops for battle every time that Earth science education was under threat.  He played high-profile roles in influential committees, in lobbying, and in examination assessment, maintaining and developing the role of Earth science education in this country for many years. 

In 1972, after 15 years' teaching in Manchester, David was appointed lecturer in geology and science education at Keele University, and promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1977.  He taught his students how to educate children to think, how to engage them in learning and how to aspire to become ‘the professional teacher’ that David always was.  Many new teachers learnt from him and prepared to pick up the baton at a later date.

David received several long-term visitors from abroad.  One of them, Nir Orion, wrote: “I met … many young Earth-science education researchers who came to Keele from all over the world like pilgrims, to learn from David about the essence of Earth-science education.  We all came because David is one of the two founders of modern Earth-science education.  David was the best person in the world to learn from about Earth-science education … and about the essence of EDUCATION in general.  David was a born educator and was one of the few researchers whom I met during my career, who could teach and educate by being a role model and not by lecturing.” Nir went on to transform school-level Earth science education in Israel.

David was given an Honorary Award by the International Geoscience Education Organisation at its Conference in Hilo, Hawaii in 1997 for his contributions to geoscience education worldwide, while the profound influence that David has had on geoscience education in this country was recognised by the Geological Society in 2002 in awarding David the R H Worth Prize.

David has been a truly inspirational figure in geoscience education, science education and geology.  His work has inspired generations of teachers both in this country and abroad – but even more importantly, these teachers have gone on to inspire generations of young people to become involved in geology.  They in turn learned a whole variety of skills crucial to them in later life and often developed a hobby for life as well.

Written by Chris King