Earth science

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I totally agree with the editor of Science Scope this month, concerning the status of the earth sciences in many of our high schools. Many years ago when I was in high school, the science offerings started with biology, followed by chemistry, physics, and a fourth year biology elective. Earth science was not even in the course catalog—so much for the good ol’ days! Are things different now? In recent conversations on NSTA listserves, teachers were discussing the order in which students should take biology, chemistry, physics—but few of the conversations included earth and space sciences anywhere in the sequence.

It seems like an earth/space science course would be an ideal capstone course in high school—integrating physics with meteorology and astronomy, chemistry with geology and oceanography, and biology with paleontology and ecology. In essence, students would experience how the sciences are related and focus on interesting and current topics. But as of now, for many students, the upper elementary and middle school grades are the last time they’ll be formally exposed to earth science topics in school.

As middle level teachers will attest, it’s not hard to get young students interested in the earth sciences that explain and describe the world around them. The articles in this issue have lots of suggestions for activities, and I’ve noted the SciLinks topics that would support the content or include additional activities.

By the time students get to middle school, they’ve heard the word “system” in the context of the solar system or the metric system, but they may not understand what systems are. An Earth-System Approach to Understanding the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill describes a recent event in terms of the interrelationships among the biosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and atmosphere. The article also includes graphics to help students see and reflect on the connections. [SciLinks: AtmosphereBiosphere, Earth’s Structure, Water Cycle]

In the Hot Seat has an analysis of home heating options  [SciLinks: Heating Systems, Alternative Energy Homes, Solar Heated Homes, Carbon Cycle/Global Warming]

Ocean Acidification has two lessons presented to help students understand the causes of ocean acidification and its effects on coral reefs. [SciLinks: Coral Reefs, Acid Rain, Greenhouse Gases, pH]

Are you planning any outdoor events at the end of the year? The students in the article Clever with Weather collected and analyzed local data (with an emphasis on graphing) to determine the best place for a picnic. (I know of an elementary school where the students analyze weather data each morning and prepare a report for the principal to help her make a decision about whether to have outdoor recess that day). [SciLinks: Weather, Weather Instruments, Weather Patterns]

Prehistoric life is a popular topic with middle schoolers, and three articles add to that interest. In the Dinoviz project, students trace how our perceptions of what dinosaurs “looked like” over time have changed, based what was learned through research. Fossil Patterns in Time describes a 5E lesson that addresses misconceptions students may have about the geologic time scale and the occurrence of vertebrates. This is one of many excellent lessons at the ENSI (Evolution & the Nature of Science Institutes) website.  Fossil Sharks: Learning From and About the Past also has activities using fossil shark teeth to guide students through investigations of how life and environmental conditions have changed over time. [SciLinks: Geologic Time Scale, Fossils, Fossil Record, Dinosaurs, Sharks]

As the author of Fun with a Flume—Ideas for Inquiry suggests, middle schoolers don’t mind getting wet. The simple apparatus here can be used to demonstrate many concepts related to water. [SciLinks: Convection, Water Erosion, Watersheds and Pollution]

Earth’s Reflection: Albedo includes several activities to illustrate the relationship between this concept and climate change. Although students may not be familiar with this term, they can understand the concept. The authors include diagrams, suggestions for data collection, and assessments. [SciLinks: Albedo]

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One Comment

  1. Christina
    Posted March 6, 2011 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    You are exactly correct! My partner just asked me last night if I have to reteach myself as I go. I absolutely do! I’ve just finished up our Earth science unit. The last time I was exposed to this topic? 6th grade. Here’s what my science looked like after that:
    7th: Biology
    8th: Physics and Chemistry
    9th/10th: Integrated Bio/Chem
    11th: AP Bio; Integrated Physics/Technology
    12th: AP Chem

    This looks like a great resource for people like me. Thanks for the post!

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