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Earth materials, features, and processes

By Mary Bigelow

Posted on 2008-10-22

Science Scope cover, October 2008Which branch of science seems to attract lifelong learners? You can make a strong case for the life or physical sciences, but my vote would go to the earth sciences! We spend time stargazing at night, watching the weather channel, learning about geologic features at national and state parks, reading about topics such as climate change and prehistoric events, and wondering when the next earthquake, tsunami, or volcanic eruption will occur.
And yet, for many students, their experiences in elementary and middle school are the capstone of any formal classes in the earth sciences. In high schools, earth science is often an elective (if it’s on the schedule at all). So hats off to all teachers who spark an interest in lifelong learning in this branch of science.
This issue of Science Scope has lots of suggestions for teaching fundamental concepts, taking students out into the natural world, bringing the world (such as the Antarctic) to them via the Internet, simulating a geology conference (an authentic learning experience), and discovering what can be learned from dinosaur fossils.
Check out a selection of related resources on the topic of Investigating Earth Science in the SciLinks database. You’ll find more than 60 websites on a variety of topics to whet your appetite. Or go to the SciLinks site and enter keywords related to what you’re studying: volcano, tectonics, oceanography, galaxy, rock cycle, weather, dinosaur, weather. (Note: if you can’t find a topic in SciLinks, add a comment to this post, and we’ll work on adding the topic and related sites to the database.)
Some sites recently added in the area of earth science were suggested by FREE (Federal Resources for Excellence in Education):

  • The Paleontology Portal where students can learn about prehistoric life in the U.S. by state or time period and search fossil images and paleontology collections from several museums.
  • DLESE Teaching Boxes help teachers create activities on earth science topics with digital resources, education standards, and lesson plans.
  • Enduring Resources for Earth Sciences Education has a collection of maps, documents, and other resources for teaching about the earth and earth’s processes.

Don’t forget to check out NSTA’s other recent publications, even if you teach at different grade levels: the January 2008 issue of The Science Teacher Our Changing Earth, and the September 2008 issue of Science and Children Astronomy.
Beyond our school experiences, most of us rely on informal science institutions such as museums, observatories, and national/state parks to continue learning. Last month, I had the opportunity to visit northern Arizona. Visiting the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, Canyon De Chelly, and the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff was a dream adventure for a science teacher!
In an NSTA listserve, a question was raised as to what were the best places in the U.S. to study geology. Most of the suggestions were National Parks in the western U.S. (similar to my adventure). But one response noted that the best place to study geology is in your own neighborhood!

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