Encouraging Students to Think Critically About Earth's Systems and Sustainability

This article describes how the NSF funded High-Adventure Science: Earth’s Systems and Sustainability (HAS:ESS) project is developing online curriculum modules for middle school and high school classroom use. The curricula engage students with interactive computational models and analysis of real-world data as they build scientific reasoning and argumentation skills, focused around core ideas in Earth Science with particular emphasis on how humans affect Earth’s systems. Currently available modules focus on climate change and on fresh water availability. Additional modules will focus on the future of energy resources, land use and sustainability, and air pollution. In each module, students encounter core Earth Science concepts with respect to human interactions: the water cycle to understand fresh water distribution; the atmospheric greenhouse effect to understand climate change; weather patterns to understand air pollution distribution and inversions, and the rock cycle to understand fossil fuel distribution. Computational models are used as a way to help students more deeply explore complex Earth systems and the human impact on those systems. Students develop a deep understanding of the science as they engage in scientific argumentation: reasoning through real-world data and evidence from their experimentation with models to make claims and subsequently defending their claims with particular pieces of evidence.