Earth/Environmental Science

Establishing a Roadmap for Large-Scale Improvement of K-12 Education in the Geographical Sciences

This project will engage in a community-wide effort to synthesize the literature from a broad range of fields and to use the findings to create frameworks that will guide the planning, implementation, and scale-up of efforts to improve geographic education over the next decade. This will result in a set of publicly reviewed, consensus reports that will guide collaborative efforts and broaden awareness of the acute need for geographic literacy and geographic science education.

Award Number: 
1049437
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Education and Training Institute
Full Description: 

Having a geographically literate population will be critical to the economic stability, physical security, and environmental sustainability of the United States in the 21st century. Yet the U.S. still lags far behind the other developed nations in education in the geographical sciences. Recognizing the risk that geographic illiteracy poses for our country, the National Geographic Society (NGS), in collaboration with the Association of American Geographers, American Geographical Society, and National Council for Geographic Education, proposes to engage in a set of research synthesis and dissemination activities that will provide road maps for the design of assessment, professional development, instructional materials, public information, and educational research for the next decade. The work will be done by a broad range of experts from K-12 institutions as well as the geographical science and educational research communities

Building on a 25 year collaboration, NGS and its partners propose to engage in a community-wide effort to synthesize the literature from a broad range of fields and to use the findings to create frameworks that will guide the planning, implementation, and scale-up of efforts to improve geographic education over the next decade. The result of this effort will be a set of publicly reviewed, consensus reports that will guide the collaborative efforts of the project partners and the larger geographic education community, as well as broaden awareness of the increasingly significant and acute need for geographic literacy and education in the geographical sciences in our country.

This project will create three in-depth "roadmap" reports targeted at practitioners, takeholders, and policymakers. Developed by expert committees, these three reports will be on:

- Assessment frameworks for systematic monitoring and continuous improvement of geographic education programs.

- Professional development for teachers and instructional materials to support large-scale educational improvement across diverse contexts.

- Educational research agenda to set priorities and identify appropriate methodologies for research that will improve geographic education into the future.

These three reports will be summarized in an executive summary written for a broad audience of educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens.

In addition to these consensus reports, the project will also conduct research on public understanding of the nature and importance of geographic literacy, with particular attention to the key audiences of educators, policymakers, and citizens. In addition to shaping the project's reports, this research will inform the broader communications and dissemination efforts of this project and its partners.

Confronting the Challenges of Climate Literacy (Collaborative Research: McNeal)

This project is developing inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. This project examines the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science.

Award Number: 
1443024
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Sat, 10/31/2015
Full Description: 

This project is developing three inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. Climate literacy has emerged as an important domain of education. Yet it presents real challenges in cognition, perception, and pedagogy, especially in understanding Earth as a dynamic system operating at local to global spatial scales over multiple time scales. This research project confronts these issues by examining the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science. The project is a collaborative effort among science educators at TERC, Mississippi State University, and The University of Texas at Austin.

The project uses a backward-design methodology to identify an integrated set of science learning goals and research questions to inform module development. Development and review of draft materials will be followed by a pilot implementation and then two rounds of teacher professional development, classroom implementation, and research in Texas and Mississippi. Research findings from the multiple rounds of implementation will allow an iterative process for refining the modules, the professional development materials, and the research program.

This project focuses on the design, development, and testing of innovative climate change curriculum materials and teacher professional development for Earth Systems science instruction. The materials will be tested in states with teachers in need of Earth Systems Science training and with significant numbers of low income and minority students who are likely to be hard hit by impending climate change. The research will shed light on the challenges of education for climate literacy.

Formerly Award # 1019703.

Confronting the Challenges of Climate Literacy (Collaborative Research: Ledley)

This project is developing inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. This project examines the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science.

Project Email: 
Award Number: 
1019721
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Project Evaluator: 
Susan Buhr
Full Description: 

This project is developing three inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules (focus is on the Cryosphere, Climate and Weather, and the Carbon Cycle) as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. Climate literacy has emerged as an important domain of education. Yet it presents real challenges in cognition, perception, and pedagogy, especially in understanding Earth as a dynamic system operating at local to global spatial scales over multiple time scales. This research project confronts these issues by examining the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science. The project is a collaborative effort among science educators at TERC, Mississippi State University, and The University of Texas at Austin.

The project uses a backward-design methodology to identify an integrated set of science learning goals and research questions to inform module development. Development and review of draft materials will be followed by a pilot implementation and then two rounds of teacher professional development, classroom implementation, and research in Texas and Mississippi. Research findings from the multiple rounds of implementation will allow an iterative process for refining the modules, the professional development materials, and the research program.

This project focuses on the design, development, and testing of innovative climate change curriculum materials and teacher professional development for Earth Systems science instruction. The materials will be tested in states with teachers in need of Earth Systems Science training and with significant numbers of low income and minority students who are likely to be hard hit by impending climate change. The research will shed light on the challenges of education for climate literacy.

Confronting the Challenges of Climate Literacy (Collaborative Research: Ellins)

This project is developing inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. This project examines the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1019815
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Sun, 08/31/2014
Full Description: 

This project is developing three inquiry-based, lab-focused, online Climate Change EarthLabs modules as a context for ongoing research into how high school students grasp change over time in the Earth System on multiple time scales. Climate literacy has emerged as an important domain of education. Yet it presents real challenges in cognition, perception, and pedagogy, especially in understanding Earth as a dynamic system operating at local to global spatial scales over multiple time scales. This research project confronts these issues by examining the challenges to high-school students' understanding of Earth's complex systems, operating over various temporal and spatial scales, and by developing research-based insights into effective educational tools and approaches that support learning about climate change and Earth Systems Science. The project is a collaborative effort among science educators at TERC, Mississippi State University, and The University of Texas at Austin.

The project uses a backward-design methodology to identify an integrated set of science learning goals and research questions to inform module development. Development and review of draft materials will be followed by a pilot implementation and then two rounds of teacher professional development, classroom implementation, and research in Texas and Mississippi. Research findings from the multiple rounds of implementation will allow an iterative process for refining the modules, the professional development materials, and the research program.

This project focuses on the design, development, and testing of innovative climate change curriculum materials and teacher professional development for Earth Systems science instruction. The materials will be tested in states with teachers in need of Earth Systems Science training and with significant numbers of low income and minority students who are likely to be hard hit by impending climate change. The research will shed light on the challenges of education for climate literacy.

A Learning Progression-Based System for Promoting Understanding of Carbon-Transforming Processes

This project builds on prior efforts with learning progressions, and is focused on key carbon-transforming processes in socio-ecological systems at multiple scales, including cellular and organismal metabolism, ecosystem energetics and carbon cycling, carbon sequestration, and combustion of fossil fuels. The primary project outcomes will be coordinated instructional tools that are useful to professionals at all levels in the science education system--classroom teachers, professional developers, and developers of curricula, standards and assessments.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020187
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Mon, 08/31/2015
Project Evaluator: 
Rose Shaw
Full Description: 

This project--led by science educators at Michigan State University, the National Geographic Society, the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory (NREL) at Colorado State University, the Berkeley Evaluation and Assessment Research (BEAR) Center, and AAAS Project 2061, and including schools in California, Colorado, Maryland, Michigan, and Washington--builds on prior efforts with learning progressions, and is focused on key carbon-transforming processes in socio-ecological systems at multiple scales, including cellular and organismal metabolism, ecosystem energetics and carbon cycling, carbon sequestration, and combustion of fossil fuels.

The project uses an iterative design research process to develop and refine a suite of tools for reasoning and test efficacy of those tools in geographically and culturally diverse schools. The project team is:

1. Refining and validating a detailed learning progression framework covering the middle and high school years; ultimately, the framework will describe the development of students' capacity to use fundamental principles such as conservation of matter and energy to reason about carbon-transforming processes at multiple scales.

2. Refining 'Tools for Reasoning' that make hidden scientific principles - matter, energy, and scale - visible to students; the power of these tools lies in their flexible use for different processes, systems, scales, and curricular contexts.

3. Developing and refining flexible teaching strategies that engage students in cognitive apprenticeship in the practices of environmental science literacy: a) inquiry and argumentation, b) explanations and predictions, and c) decision-making about environmental issues.

4. Using and refining existing summative assessments, and developing and testing formative assessment tools; these assessment tools will provide teachers and researchers with immediate information about their students' intellectual resources and will be linked to the learning progression framework.

5. Developing, field testing, and assessing the effectiveness of six middle school and six high school units that use project tools and enact project principles; the units introduce students to fundamental principles, engage them in reasoning about carbon-transforming processes at organismal scale, and at landscape and global scales. Each unit includes a) an online formative assessment and b) activity sequences that use tools for reasoning and teaching strategies.

6. Developing, field testing, and assessing professional development materials in both face-to-face and facilitated online forms; the materials introduce teachers to learning progressions in environmental science literacy, assessment tools, tools for reasoning, teaching strategies, and teaching materials and activities, and also address difficulties that teachers encounter in using learning progressions and enacting teaching strategies.

The primary project outcomes will be coordinated instructional tools that are useful to professionals at all levels in the science education system--classroom teachers, professional developers, and developers of curricula, standards and assessments.

Supporting Scientific Practices in Elementary and Middle School Classrooms

This project will develop a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020316
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Fri, 08/31/2012
Full Description: 

Research on student learning has developed separate progressions for scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling. Engaging Learners in Scientific Practices develops a learning progression that characterizes how learners integrate and interrelate scientific argumentation, explanation and scientific modeling, building ever more sophisticated versions of practice over time using the three common elements of sense-making, persuading peers and developing consensus. The learning progression is constructed through improvements in students' performance and understanding of scientific practice as measured by their attention to generality of explanation, attention to clarity of communication and audience understanding, attention to evidentiary support, and attention to mechanistic versus descriptive accounts. The project is led by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Texas, Wright State University, Michigan State University, and the BEAR assessment group. Two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 4th to 5th grade in Illinois and two cohorts of 180 students each are followed for two years from 5th to 6th grade in Michigan The elementary school students will work with FOSS curriculum units modified to embed supports for scientific practices. Two cohorts of 500 middle school students are followed for three years from 6th to 8th grade as they work with coordinated IQWST units over three years. The outcome measures include analyses of classroom discourse, pre- and pos-test assessments of student learning, and reflective interviews grounded in students' own experiences with practices in the classroom to assess their growth across the dimensions. The BEAR team is responsible for validation and calibration of the frameworks and instruments, and design of the scheme for analysis of the data. Horizon Research performs the formative and summative evaluation. The project will produce an empirically-tested learning progression for scientific practices for grades 4-8 along with tested curriculum materials and validated assessment items that support and measure students' ability in the scientific practices of explanation, argumentation and modeling. In the process of development, an understanding is gained about how to design and test this learning progression. The framework is articulated on a website for use by other researchers and developers. The project also builds capacity by educating several graduate students.


Project Videos

2019 STEM for All Video Showcase

Title: Science Storylines

Presenter(s): Brian Reiser, Kelsey Edwards, Barbara Hug, Tara McGill, Jamie Noll, Michael Novak, Bill Penuel, Trey Smith, & Aliza Zivic


Studying Topography, Orographic Rainfall, and Ecosystems (STORE) with Geospatial Information Technology

This project is using innovative Geospatial Information Technology-based learning in high school environmental science studies with a focus on the meteorological and ecological impacts of climate change. The resources developed are using ArcGIS Explorer Desktop and Google Earth software applications to increase students' learning and interest in science and careers and will be adaptable for teachers to improve classroom implementation.

Lead Organization(s): 
Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1019645
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Project Evaluator: 
Haynie Research and Evaluation
Full Description: 

STORE is developing and piloting classroom uses of GIS-based interactive data files displaying climatological, topographical, and biological data about an especially ecologically and topographically diverse section of mid-California and a section of western New York State, plus projected climate change outcomes in 2050 and 2099 from an IPCC climate change model. Both areas contain weather stations. The participating students and teachers live in those areas, hence the place-based focus of the project.

To help teachers make curricular decisions about how to use these data with their students, the project has, with input from six design partner teachers, produced a curriculum module exemplar consisting of six lessons. The lessons start with basic meteorological concepts about the relationship between weather systems and topography, then focus on recent climatological and land cover data. The last two lessons focus on IPCC-sanctioned climate change projections in relation to possible fates of different regional species. Technology light versions of these lessons send students directly to map layers displaying the data for scientific analysis. Technology-heavy versions address the additional goal of building students' capacities to manipulate features of geographic information systems (GIS). Hence, the technology-heavy versions require use of the ARC GIS Explorer Desktop software, whereas the technology light versions are available in both the ARC software and in Google Earth. Google Earth makes possible some student interactivity such as drawing transects and studying elevation profiles, but does not support more advanced use of geographic information system technology such as queries of data-containing shape files or customization of basemaps and data representational symbology.

Answer keys are provided for each lesson. Teachers have in addition access to geospatial data files that display some storm systems that moved over California in the winter of 2010-2001 so that students can study relationships between actual data about storm behavior and relationship to topography and the climatological data which displays those relationships in a summary manner. This provides the student the opportunity to explore differences between weather and climate.

To increase the likelihood of successful classroom implementation and impact on student learning, the professional development process provides the conditions for teachers to make good adaptability decisions for successful follow-through. Teachers can implement the six lessons or adapt them or design their own from scratch. The project requires that they choose from these options, explain on content representation forms their rationales for those decisions, and provide assessment information about student learning outcomes from their implementations. The project provides the teachers with assessment items that are aligned to each of the six lessons, plus some items that test how well the students can interpret the STORE GIS data layers.

All of this work is driven by the hypothesis that science teachers are more likely to use geospatial information technology in their classrooms when provided with the types of resources that they are provided in this project. In summary, these resources include:

1.     tutorials about how to use the two GIS applications

2.     sufficiently adaptive geospatial data available in free easily transportable software applications

3.     lessons that they can implement as is, adapt, or discard if they want to make up their own (as long as they use the data)

4.     supportive resources to build their content knowledge (such as overview documents about their states' climates and information about the characteristics of each data layer and each data set available to them).

 

The growth and evolution of the teachers' technological pedagogical content knowledge is being tracked through interviews, face-to-face group meetings, and classroom observations. Also being tracked is the extent to which the teachers and students can master the technology applications quickly and on their own without workshops, and how well teachers provide feedback to the students and assess their learning outcomes when implementing STORE lessons. As the project moves into its third and final year, we will be studying outcomes from the first classroom implementation year (i.e. year two of the project) and determining to what extent the professional development strategies need to be revised in relation to how the teachers are responding to the project resources and forms of professional support. In the end, the project will contribute to the knowledge base about what professional development strategies are appropriate for getting teachers to use these types of resources, what decisions teachers make about how to use the resources for different courses and student groups they teach, and what are the outcomes of those uses in terms of curricular material, instructional strategies, and student learning.

Reasoning Tools for Understanding Water Systems

This project builds on current learning progression research to study the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning on development of middle school students' capacities to understand the Earth's hydrologic systems. The project applies a design-based research approach using iterative cycles of Tool design/revision, teacher workshops, and small-scale pilot tests of Tools through classroom experiments with teachers and students in Montana and Arizona.

Lead Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020176
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/15/2010 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

This exploratory project, led by faculty at the University of Montana, Michigan State University, and the University of Arizona, collaborating with teachers from the Missoula, MT schools, builds on current learning progression research to study the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning on development of middle school students' capacities to understand the Earth's hydrologic systems. The project applies a design-based research approach using iterative cycles of Tool design/revision, teacher workshops, and small-scale pilot tests of Tools through classroom experiments with teachers and students in Montana and Arizona.

The central research question being addressed is: How can learning progression-based Reasoning Tools support students in using models and representations to engage in principled reasoning about hydrologic systems? This question will be answered by analysis of data from assessments of student learning, student clinical interviews, teacher assessments, classroom observations, and teacher focus groups.

The Reasoning Tools project will contribute insight into the challenge of developing students' environmental science literacy and the reasoning skills needed to make informed citizenship decisions about 21st century water issues. Project outcomes will include materials for teaching middle school students to reason about hydrologic systems, theoretical and practical insights into the effects of teaching Tools for Reasoning, strategies for supporting students and teachers in use of the Tools, and refinements of a water systems learning progression framework.

The Leonardo Project: An Intelligent Cyberlearning System for Interactive Scientific Modeling in Elementary Science Education

The project designs and implements technologies that combine artificial intelligence in the form of intelligent tutoring systems with multimedia interfaces (i.e., an electronic science notebook and virtual labs) to support children in grades 4-5 learning science. The students use LEONARDO's intelligent virtual science notebooks to create and experiment with interactive models of physical phenomena.

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020229
Funding Period: 
Sun, 08/15/2010 to Tue, 07/31/2012
Full Description: 

The project designs and implements technologies that combine artificial intelligence in the form of intelligent tutoring systems with multimedia interfaces to support children in grades 4-5 learning science. The students use LEONARDO's intelligent virtual science notebooks to create and experiment with interactive models of physical phenomena. With this technology, students' models 'come alive' as interactive multimedia artifacts that combine animation, sound, and narration. The curricular focus is on physical and earth sciences, and the technology supports multimodal interactive scientific modeling for four curricular units: forces and motion, magnetism and electricity, landforms, and weather and climate. A central feature of this environment is PadMates, which are intelligent virtual tutors that support science learning through interactive scientific modeling.

The PIs investigate the cognitive mechanisms by which learning occurs. Specifically, they study the central issues of problem solving (strategy use, divergent thinking, and collaboration) and engagement (motivation, situational interest, presence) with respect to achievement as measured by both science content knowledge and transfer. With diverse student populations in 60 classrooms drawn from both urban and rural settings, the studies determine precisely which technologies and conditions contribute most effectively to learning processes and outcomes.

The products include technologies and findings that should be the basis of a framework to inform the future development of similar systems. The impact should be substantial on all learners given the potential power of the technology to scaffold learning at an important developmental stage.

Data Explorations in Ecology Project (DEEP)

This project evaluates the benefits of using different types of place-based ecological data in high school science classrooms. This project will assess the use of first-hand (collected by students) and real-time second-hand data in teaching science and critical thinking skills. The guiding question for the project is "Does using place-based, first-hand ecological evidence, and relating that to place-based, second-hand data, improve students' environmental science literacy, nature of science understanding, and knowledge of ecological concepts?"

Partner Organization(s): 
Award Number: 
1020186
Funding Period: 
Wed, 09/01/2010 to Sat, 08/31/2013
Full Description: 

This project evaluates the benefits of using different types of place-based ecological data in high school science classrooms. This project will combine and assess the use of first-hand (collected by students) and real-time second-hand data in teaching science and critical thinking skills. The guiding question for the project is "Does using place-based, first-hand ecological evidence, and relating that to place-based, second-hand data, improve students' environmental science literacy, nature of science understanding, and knowledge of ecological concepts?" Other questions the proposed project will explore include: How can teachers best engage students in understanding and evaluating critical environmental problems through the use of data? Does the use of real-time data in the classroom help connect students with science content and/or the scientific research community? What knowledge and skills do teachers need in order to make effective use of the data being made available to them by ecological monitoring networks such as National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON)?

To answer these questions, a place-based, ecology curriculum, the Changing Hudson Project, will be used along with data and field trips provided by regional partners. A quasi-experimental study in high school classes in the Mid-Hudson Valley of NY will compare different instructional models, providing preliminary evidence of the relative strengths and limitations of different approaches. A range of formative assessment methods will be used to describe and assess students' understanding of ecology, and their engagement, motivation and capacity for collecting, analyzing, and applying ecological data. The evaluation will include pre-and post-assessments given to students in the treatment classrooms and in a comparison classroom in the same schools. Questionnaires, focus group interviews, and student portfolios will be used to assess student understanding and dispositions in sample classrooms.

This proposal addresses an exciting and interesting area of research regarding the inquiry approach to science and the utility of cyber-enabled science investigations. Many K-12 teachers find it difficult to expose students to the real environment. Field trips can be expensive, and liability concerns scare many teachers and especially school administrators away from allowing students to experience natural settings outside of the classroom. This phenomenon is lamented by ecologists and has led to a movement to get kids outside more. The concern is that students today have a 'Nature Deficit Disorder,' as coined by Richard Louv in his book 'Last Child in the Woods.' Advocates of cyber-learning propose that technology provides a solution by allowing students to experience the outside world virtually, and that they can collect and analyze ecological data from the comfort of their classroom desks. Virtual experiences may be better than no experience at all, but how do they compare with first-hand experiences? This proposal aims to determine how virtual experiences compare to real-life experiences with regard to understanding ecological concepts, analyzing ecological data, and drawing scientifically-reasoned, valid conclusions.

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