Skip to main content
Sign In

Network: Faculty and Staff Resources, News and Events

Network: Faculty and Staff Resources


Marlow is All About Exploring, Not Just Reading

The volcanoes in Hawaii are a popular trek.

Imagine you’re a K-12 student studying volcanoes. There are films, photos and words describing these enormous vents in the Earth’s crust. Right ... cool ... when’s the test? Now imagine your teacher is describing his or her on-site experience, navigating the rocky terrain, feeling the steamy heat radiating from the mouth of the volcano or standing next to the orange and golden glow of the boiling lava in the dead of night. Whoa! Suddenly it’s personal, it’s real and exciting and maybe someday you’ll get to do the same!

You don’t have to tell Mike Marlow about the importance of experiential learning. Marlow, associate professor in science education in the School of Education and Human Development, has been a pioneer in the ‘field,’ having taken students on learning excursions all across the United States for 40 years now.

“We have been in Hawaii when PuuOoo was erupting 1,400 feet in the air, lava was running down the mountain and into the ocean a half-mile wide. We have dived with 14 large manta rays in the water with us,” Marlow recalls. “On Kili we have gotten the majority of the teachers to the top in each group -- something about being from Colorado.”

Marlow, a faculty member at CU Denver since 1994, started taking geology students to Hawaii while teaching in Michigan and soon after began taking teachers. “I’ve been doing that since the mid-70s,” he explains. “I began by leading geology trips all over the U.S. This evolved into field studies for teachers to places like the Hawaii volcanoes.”

In addition to the 29 groups of teachers visiting Hawaii, Marlow’s students have explored Kilimanjaro, rafted the Grand Canyon and conducted dinosaur fossil digs in Galapagos, Micronesia, Peru/Chile Machu Picchu, Easter Island and Wyoming.

In Hawaii, Marlow and his students spend time on the active volcanoes, such as Kileaua, Mauna Loa, and the inactive volcanoes throughout the islands.  “With the geology students we did lava and soil chemistry, structural and environmental impacts,” he explains “With the teachers, we do more learning and observing volcanic structures and activity; comparing the newest earth -- on Hawaii -- to the oldest in the major chain, Kauai.”

Marlow has witnessed the positive impact these expeditions have had on his students and the breadth of their teaching abilities. “Experiential learning is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill and value directly from an experience within the  real world environment,” he explains. “We think the very best teachers have great stories -- experiences -- that make them who they are, impact their choices and open them up to doing science with their students, not just telling them or having them read about science.”

Marlow’s activities are listed at