This project is developing new instructional materials for middle school earth science classes that incorporate emerging cyber-enabled technologies such as Google Earth as a transformative data analysis tool. The materials emphasize the use of claims, evidence, and reasoning in the exploration of volcanoes, earthquakes, and plate tectonics, leading students through a process of discovery to help them build a deeper understanding of the driving forces and resulting manifestations of plate tectonics.
Cyber-Enabled Earth Exploration (CE3) is a research and development project aimed at motivating and challenging students in science, which has been identified as one of the reasons the U.S. lags behind other nations on an array of economic and educational indicators (National Center on Education and the Economy 2006). The project will develop new instructional materials for middle school science teachers that help create a compelling classroom culture of scientific discovery, engage students in the creative opportunities that abound in science, and inspire them to pursue the high school science coursework needed for future careers in science.
The materials will incorporate emerging and widely available technologies such as Google Earth to engage middle school students in exploring an essential science question, “Does the Earth’s structure affect you?” The use of computer technologies has been shown to successfully motivate middle school students (Pelligrino 2000), and the use of an integrated Earth system science approach provides the knowledge base, methodologies, and global context to make science accessible, relevant and meaningful for middle school students.
A complete learning unit and teacher’s guide will be developed by a team of experts in K-12 curriculum design, geology, and geography, using a Learning-for-Use curriculum design framework. The materials will be tested for ease-of-use and effectiveness in approximately ten classrooms across Montana, which include both large and small class sizes, urban and rural communities, and white and Native American students. Participating teachers will provide feedback to help guide revision of the materials, which will subsequently be disseminated to the national K-12 community.
The intellectual merits of CE3 include: (1) creation of an innovative, technology-rich curriculum that engages students and teachers in authentic scientific questions about essential Earth systems science concepts; (2) introduction of the use of Google Earth as a new and potentially transformative data analysis tool for teachers and students; and (3) strengthening of curriculum models that help students acquire skills in problem solving, information management, communication, the integration of quantitative and qualitative data, and critical and creative thinking skills.
The broader impacts include: (1) partnering among researchers and educators to develop, test, adapt, and disseminate new research-based approaches to science teaching, (2) participation of underserved rural and tribal schools in state-of-the-art educational practices, (3) development of next-generation instructional materials that will be made available to K-12 educators across the country, (4) dissemination of project results through several multidisciplinary conferences, and (5) geosciences learning materials that incorporate the societal implications of earth processes, which better prepare students to become engaged global citizens.