Virtual Fieldwork and Critical Zone Observatories as Vehicles for Teaching “Three Dimensional” (NGSS) Science

Friday, 19 December 2014: 3:25 PM
Don Duggan-Haas1, Robert M Ross1, Louis A Derry2 and Tim White3, (1)Paleontological Research Institution, Ithaca, NY, United States, (2)Cornell Univ, Ithaca, NY, United States, (3)Penn State University, University Park, PA, United States
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) offers a vision for K-12 science education that has important differences from common and long-standing classroom practice in many ways. NGSS’s three dimensions (Scientific and Engineering Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Disciplinary Core Ideas), coupled with the recognition that it takes years to develop deep understandings of big ideas, do not mesh well with common K-12 (or K-16) teaching practices. NGSS also infuses systems and complexity into the K-12 curriculum.

The Critical Zone lies between the bottom of the groundwater and the tops of the trees -- the layer of the Earth system where most life resides. Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) are NSF-funded observatories in markedly varied ecosystems throughout the US, where interdisciplinary teams study the interplay of geological, biological, physical, and chemical sciences. The work being done in CZOs is three-dimensional science that is both deepening the scientific community’s understandings of Earth systems and providing a cutting edge and highly relevant model for K-12 science education.

Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs) are multi-media representations of actual field sites that are intended to mimic fieldwork by allowing for open-ended inquiry. The Paleontological Research Institution has developed tools and strategies to build VFEs of any site that use consistent formats, yet allow for inquiry to take multiple directions. Working together with CZO scientists, PRI staff are developing VFEs and accompanying curriculum materials for each CZO site. Ready-to-use VFEs act as models that teachers and students can use to create VFEs local to their schools. VFEs, like CZOs, facilitate use of interdisciplinary science to better understand the environment. A local VFE can be built up over time with contributions from students and teachers in middle school sciences, high school biology, Earth science, and environmental science -- classes where most curriculum units relate to processes outside the classroom door. A local VFE can also be used in chemistry and physics classes, where these sciences can be applied to understanding the environment. The Southern Sierra CZO draft VFE will be shown to demonstrate the concept and seek feedback.