ERIC Identifier: ED359049
Publication Date: 1993-03-00
Author: Mayer, Victor J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Earth Systems Education. ERIC/CSMEE Digest.
National concerns about the quality and effectiveness of science teaching
have resulted in several major efforts directed at restructuring the nation's
curriculum, including Project 2061 of the American Association for the
Advancement of Science (AAAS, 1989) and the Scope, Sequence, and Coordination
project of the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA, 1992). A third
effort is the Earth Systems Education program centered at The Ohio State
University and the University of Northern Colorado (Mayer, editor, 1992). Its
philosophy and approach to science content is consistent with the better-known
projects but differs in significant respects, especially in its focus on planet
UNDERSTANDING PLANET EARTH
Over the past two decades there
have been tremendous advances in the understanding of planet Earth in part
through the use of satellites in data gathering and super computers for data
processing. As a result, Earth scientists are reinterpreting the relationships
among the various science sub-disciplines and their mode of inquiry. These
changes are documented in the "Bretherton Report," developed by a committee of
scientists representing various government agencies with Earth science research
mandates (Earth Systems Science Committee, 1986). These advances also prompted
the organization of a conference of geoscientists and educators in April, 1988,
to consider their implications for science curriculum renewal. The 40 scientists
and educators, including many scientists from the agencies responsible for the
Bretherton Report, developed a preliminary framework of four goals and ten
concepts about planet Earth that they felt every citizen should understand
(Mayer and Armstrong, 1991). Through subsequent discussions with teachers and
Earth science educators at regional and national meetings of the NSTA, a renewed
concern emerged for a more adequate treatment of planet Earth in the nation's
INFUSION THROUGH TEACHER ENHANCEMENT
In Spring of 1990, the
Teacher Enhancement Program of the National Science Foundation awarded a grant
to The Ohio State University for the preparation of leadership teams in Earth
Systems Education--PLESE, the Program for Leadership in Earth Systems Education.
The program was designed to infuse more content regarding the modern
understanding of planet Earth into the nation's K-12 science curricula.
In preparation for PLESE, a planning committee composed of ten teachers,
curriculum specialists, and geoscientists met in Columbus, Ohio in May, 1990, to
develop a conceptual framework to guide the program. Preliminary work included
the analysis of the Project 2061 report for content related to Earth systems.
The committee used this analysis combined with the results of the 1988
conference to develop a framework consisting of seven understandings. This
Framework for Earth Systems Education provided a basis for the PLESE teams to
construct resource guides and to select teaching materials for use in infusing
Earth systems concepts into the science curriculum in their areas (Mayer, 1991).
The program has worked with over 180 teachers in three member teams including an
upper elementary teacher, a middle school teacher, and a high school teacher
during three-week long summer programs. These teams have conducted Earth Systems
awareness workshops in their states, communities, and at national NSTA
conferences. During the summer of 1993, selected participants prepared resource
guides for use at each of the three grade levels.
EARTH SYSTEMS EDUCATION FRAMEWORK
The PLESE Planning
Committee intentionally arranged the understandings of the Earth Systems
Education Framework into a sequence (Mayer, 1991). The first emphasizes the
aesthetic values of planet Earth as interpreted in art, music, and literature.
By focusing on students' feelings towards the Earth systems, the way in which
they and others experience and interpret them, students are drawn into a
systematic study of their planet. An aesthetic appreciation of the planet leads
the student naturally into a concern for the proper stewardship of its
resources: the second understanding of the framework (Mayer, 1990). A developing
concern for conserving the economic and aesthetic resources of our planet leads
naturally into a desire to understand how the various subsystems function and
how we study those subsystems: the substance of the next four understandings. In
learning how the subsystems function, students must master basic physics,
chemistry, and biology concepts. The last understanding deals with careers and
vocations in science, bringing the focus once again back to the immediate
concerns and interests of the student (Fortner, editor, 1991).
EARTH SYSTEMS EDUCATION AND SCIENCE CURRICULUM
Teachers using the Framework to develop their resource guides
saw its application for the development of integrated science curricula, an
objective of both Project 2061 and NSTA's SS&C effort. What could be more
natural than developing K-12 science curricula using the subject of all science
investigations--planet Earth--as the unifying theme? Any physical, chemical, or
biological process that citizens must understand to be scientifically literate
can be taught in the context of its Earth subsystem. That is the thought that
has guided a number of teachers and curriculum specialists in considering the
implications of Earth Systems Education for the nation's science curriculum
reform efforts (Mayer, et al., 1992).
The Earth Systems Education effort also seeks to implement a more holistic
philosophy of the nature of science into what has been criticized as a
reductionist curriculum. Stephen Gould, occupant of the Agassi Chair of
Paleontology at Harvard University has characterized the nature of science as it
is presented in today's schools in the United States:
Most children first meet science in their formal education by
learning about a powerful mode of reasoning called "the scientific
method." Beyond a few platitudes about objectivity and willingness
to change one's mind, students learn a restricted stereotype about
observation, simplification to tease apart controlling variables,
crucial experiment, and prediction with repetition as a test.
These classic "billiard ball" modes of simple physical systems
grant no uniqueness to time and object--indeed, they remove any
special character as a confusing variable--lest repeatability under
common conditions be compromised. Thus, when students later
confront history, where complex events occur but once in detailed
glory, they can only conclude that such a subject must be less than
science. And when they approach taxonomic diversity, or
phylogentic history, or biogeography--where experiment and
repetition have limited application to systems in total--they can
only conclude that something beneath science, something merely
"descriptive," lies before them (Gould, 1986).
The commonly held image of science that is reinforced in our classrooms is
that of controlled laboratory experiments conducted by a balding man wearing a
white lab coat. Basic to the Earth Systems Education approach is to give a more
comprehensive understanding of the nature of science and its intellectual
processes including the historical descriptive approaches commonly used by the
earth and biological sciences (Mayer, et al., 1992).
Earth Systems Education efforts also take a constructivist approach to
learning both in workshops conducted by the staff and in the curriculum
restructuring efforts. Most learning goes on in small collaborative groups
working on real issues and problems dealing with the Earth System. Another basic
tenet is that curriculum restructuring must be a "grass-roots" effort. Teachers
are the curriculum developers. Other individuals, be they university professors,
professional association staff, state or local level administrators, serve a
facilitating function. The curriculum itself must be developed and therefore
owned by the teachers who teach it (Mayer, et al., 1992).
EARTH SYSTEMS EDUCATION PROJECTS
Several projects are
underway to test aspects of Earth Systems Education. The oldest and furthest
along is the implementation of an integrated Biological and Earth Systems (BESS)
science sequence into the high schools in the Worthington (OH) School District
(Fortner, et al., 1992). It is a required sequence replacing both Earth science
at the 9th grade and Biology at 10th. The sequence is organized around basic
Earth systems issues such as resource supply, global climate change, and
deforestation. The program incorporates collaborative learning and
problem-solving techniques as major instructional strategies. Current technology
is also used including on-line and CD-ROM databases for accessing current
scientific data for use in course laboratory instruction. Ten additional Ohio
and New York school systems are now studying the BESS program for its
implications for their curriculum restructuring efforts.
Other efforts at elementary, middle, and high school levels are now underway
in school districts in New York, Colorado, Ohio, Oregon, and Illinois.
The time appears to be ripe for the first total
restructuring of the science curriculum since the current high school course
sequence was established in the late 1800s. The dramatic changes that have taken
place in science, in the understanding of how science is learned, in the
evolving demands of technology, and in the pressures they place on our
environment require this restructuring. Earth Systems Education offers an
effective strategy. As a first step, it infuses planet Earth concepts into all
levels of the K-12 science curriculum. In the long run, it provides an
organizing theme for a K-12 integrated science curriculum that could effectively
serve the objectives of scientific literacy and at the same time provides a
basis for the recruitment of talent into science and technology careers.
American Association for the Advancement of
Science. (1989). Science for all Americans. Washington, DC: Author.
Earth System Science Committee. (1988). Earth system science. Washington, DC:
National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
Fortner, R. W., (Ed.). (1991). Earth systems education [Special issue].
Science Activities, 28(1).
Fortner, R. W. (1992). Down to earth biology: A planetary perspective for
biology curriculum. The American Biology Teacher, 54(2), 76-79.
Fortner, R. W., et al. (1992). Biology and earth systems science. The Science
Teacher, 59(9), 32-37.
Gleick, J. (1987). Chaos: Making a new science. NY: Penguin Books.
Gould, S. J. (1986). Evolution and the triumph of homology, or why history
matters. American Scientist, 74, 60-69.
Mayer, V. J. (1988). Earth systems education: A new perspective on planet
Earth and the science curriculum. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University.
Mayer, V. J. (1989). Earth appreciation. The Science Teacher, 56(3), 22-25.
Mayer, V. J. (1990). Teaching from a global point of view. The Science
Teacher, 57(1), 26-30.
Mayer, V. J. (1991). Earth-system science: A planetary perspective. The
Science Teacher, 58(1), 31-36.
Mayer, V. J. (1991). Framework for Earth systems education. Science
Activities, 28(1), 8-9.
Mayer, V. J. (Ed.). (1992). Earth systems education: Origins and
opportunities. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University.
Mayer, V. J., & Armstrong, R. E. (1990). What every 17-year old should
know about planet Earth: The report of a conference of educators and
geoscientists. Science Education, 74(2) 155-165.
Mayer, V. J., et al. (1992). The role of planet Earth in the new science
curriculum. Journal of Geological Education, 40(1), 66-73.
The National Science Teachers Association. (1992). Scope, sequence, and
coordination of secondary school science: The content core. Washington, DC: