Successful geoscience education and extension relies on a range of knowledge from numerous scientific and technical fields including math, statistics, geospatial information systems (GIS), engineering, chemistry, physics, and biology. Getting K-12 teachers competent in the hands-on, student-led learning in the geosciences by integrating technology and cultural connections into classroom curriculum can lead to competent, scientifically literate adults. These same hands on, visual approaches can be used to easily demonstrate to stakeholders (farmers, politicians, etc.) some of the more complicated processes that impact the growth of plants.
GIS Lesson Plans
Web GIS is a real world tool used by scientists. Most of this visualization is done through open source GIS software, which is freely available on both Mac and PC. Because this software is freely available, it has a lot of potential to be integrated into case studies in a classroom or university setting. Providing workshops for teachers creates a venue for problem based science in the K-12 classroom. More research needs to be done to streamline these visualizations and create lesson plans before they can be used in the K-12 classroom.
It is my goal to create an upper level course for Geospatial Modeling and Analysis in geological and environmental hydrology using open source software that pre-service teachers can take as an elective. This course would focus on how to gather data, and integrating data collection and visualization into activities at a middle and high school classroom level. This would be a student led course, with pupils defining the projects that mean the most to them, and writing the associated curricula. Combining student led research with geospatial functions will better prepare students for the diverse, technological world around them. The GIS methodologies, projects, and workshops from this class will be freely available online for teachers all over the state, and tied in with the national curriculum standards. These tools can also be used to develop decision support tools for farmers and developers.
During the last ten years, I have been running geoscience education programs focused on enriching student and teacher education through experiential education. In the future, I see a three-pronged approach to pedagogical education: continuing a citizen science program, book and resource publications that integrate technology into classrooms, and enhancing a national platform to promote geoscience undergraduate education.
Citizen Science Programs
During my Girl Scout citizen science programs, high school youth collected scientific data on soils and land formation. The data they gathered was processed into datasets and lesson plans for teachers that do not have access to outdoor facilities. In this position at Grand Valley State, I will continue these citizen science programs as fieldwork and research opportunities for pre-service teachers. Even though the research has been mostly environmental science in the past, these citizen science programs will phase into hillslope hydrology and geomorphology. Having participated in these hands on research programs, teachers can take these research areas into their future classrooms, providing metadata to better understand the scientific process. With programs like these, it may be possible to develop new assessment tools for K-12 students and teachers.
In 2012, I co-authored a book chapter on the role of Soils in Society for the Know Soils, Know Life book, which is an introductory soil textbook for 8-12 graders. In the next five years, I have the opportunity to develop an interactive teacher’s guide and web content associated with this book. It is possible to utilize the undergraduate mentees to create content that aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards. Using advances in technology, we can create interactive textbooks. Students from classrooms around the country can provide custom interactive content with their class projects. I am also submitting a case study curriculum on the geomorphological changes associated with urban development into a proposed learning-centered book on environmental and sustainability studies for a 2015 Springer publication.
At the beginning of my doctoral studies in 2011, I was appointed as the primary content writer for the soils4teachers.org website, the K-12 outreach arm of the Soil Science Society of America. There is also a soils4kids.org website. Though these websites are up, there are many content gaps that need to be filled. Both of these websites would benefit from the geoscience activities and media that teachers and undergraduates create. The Journal of Natural Sciences Education has a portal for submitting the curricula teachers develop under my mentorship. This provides a national platform for students wherever I gain employment to improve the educational quality of geoscience education.