Another Node On the interNet
Department of Geology
Wright State University
John C. Butler
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204
From the Assocaite Editor
School reform is something that seems to have no boundaries. Although most of the readers are not professionally engaged with K-12 schools, most of the readers have children or grandchildren who are involved. This month I have asked Bill Slattery from Wright State University to describe one ongoing effort at changing schools.
USING THE INTERNET TO BUILD SCIENTIFIC LITERACY IN K-12 SCHOOLS
The past decade has seen significant changes in the K-12 education. The National Science Education Standards recognized the necessity of studying Earth science at all grade levels as an essential component of scientific literacy. Many states have followed suit, developing statewide science education standards for K-12 science education that have placed Earth science on an equal footing with Physical and Life sciences. The wiring of the nation’s classrooms for internet capability became a national priority.
Earth science is by its nature, interdisciplinary. The simultaneous development of the internet and of science standards for K-12 education have created unprecedented opportunities for the teaching of Earth science in America’s schools. Great news, but it doesn’t come without challenges. In the past, Earth science has rarely been a required subject in our nation’s primary and secondary schools and therefore many practicing K-12 educators have had little, if any, Earth science in their own academic preparation, especially those certified to teach in the critical middle school grades four through eight. And, many classroom teachers need to find ways to infuse internet technology into classroom learning experiences. These needs are being admirably met by exemplary programs developed for K-12 education that link Earth science content and the use of the internet.
The GLOBE program (http://www.globe.gov/), a joint effort of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, The National Science Foundation, The Environmental Protection Agency, and the Departments of Education and State, links scientists, teachers, and students in over 85 countries to study and research the dynamics of the Earth’s environment. Research scientists studying the areas of Atmosphere/Climate, Hydrology, Soils, and Land Cover/Biology use data collected by schoolchildren to test models of environmental change. Obviously, to have validity, these data must be collected using strict protocols and similar instruments. To accomplish this, GLOBE relies on training franchises. These are usually, but not always, composed of faculty from colleges and universities. Faculty from prospective franchises are trained in the GLOBE protocols during week long “train-the-trainer” workshops, and are then asked to conduct GLOBE protocol workshops for K-12 teachers in their area. There are currently over 100 state and local franchises within the United States. The franchises secure funding for workshops and recruit local teachers. Typical workshops are several days in length, use previously trained GLOBE teachers as facilitators, and provide participants with the basic skills needed to involve their students in collecting atmospheric, hydrological, soil, and landcover/biology data. Using instruments that meet the specifications developed by GLOBE scientists to assure consistent and accurate measurements K-12 students engage in daily data collections and use the internet to report their measurements to the GLOBE database. The data base is searchable by several different parameters allowing GLOBE teachers to develop classroom projects using the over four million measurements collected by GLOBE schools around the world. The GLOBE website also archives guided inquiry activities that can be used by classroom teachers to prepare students for data collection, and to extend student knowledge beyond the collection of data. GLOBE immerses K-12 students in the scientific method, and sparks the interest of students who have been traditionally turned off by science. A teacher I know from a GLOBE school in New Miami Township, Ohio tells the story of the kid who accidentally transposed the school’s longitude and latitude while entering data into the GLOBE database. The next day, the teacher’s cell phone rang, and after a brief conversation, the teacher handed the phone to the student who entered the data the previous day. Someone from GLOBE was calling to question the entry. That day, the attitude of every child in the class changed. “They” really cared about the classes’ work. The teacher relates that from that day forward data was collected with a special attention to detail, and that kids would ask when their next turn to collect data would come, as they wanted to make certain they were in school that day.
Another program focuses on teachers, rather than students. The Center for Educational Technologies (http://www.cet.edu/) at Wheeling Jesuit University, under the NASA Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE) Project has developed three different Earth system internet courses for elementary, middle, and high school teachers. The Middle school version is based on specific events, using deforestation, volcanic eruptions, sea level changes, and hurricanes as springboards to explore the interactions between the lithosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere components of the Earth system.
Participants develop their content knowledge of the linkages between Earth systems by working in teams asynchronously over the internet to study each event in three week learning cycles. In week one of each cycle, learning groups are formed to explore the impact of the event on one of the Earth’s spheres (atmosphere, biosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere). During week two, new groups are formed to include representatives from each of the previous week’s sphere groups, and an Earth system diagram is developed linking the interactions and feedback loops between the four spheres. During week three, teachers have the opportunity to develop a lesson plan for their classroom based on the concepts they have explored, and have the opportunity to receive feedback from other teacher participants. Assessment is based on clearly stated evaluation rubrics. Participants earn extra credit by developing an Earth systems analysis of local problems impacting their communities. Examples of some problems of this type are tire fires, flooding events, or chemical spills. Teachers who have taken this course have reported that their knowledge of Earth System science grew, and that they feel more comfortable incorporating links between science and technology into their own classrooms.
Much of my work as a science educator brings me into contact with K-12 teachers. Most of them are astonished to find that programs such as these exist. There are probably equally commendable efforts linking technology and Earth science that they, and I, don’t know about. The geoscience community and our learned societies recognize that it is in our best interest to support and nurture Earth science education. But we don’t do a good job of getting out the message. How do we best reach K-12 educators to inform them of professional development opportunities? The answer to this question is critical. Presently, many geology departments are experiencing a downturn in enrollment. Becoming involved with the professional development of K-12 teachers is a way to increase enrollment now, and to develop a new generation of students, literate in science and computer technology, that will become the geoscience students in our institutions in just a few short years.