Announcing High-Adventure Science: Earth's Systems and Sustainability
The National Science Foundation has funded an extension to the well-received original High-Adventure Science. High-Adventure Science: Earth's Systems and Sustainability (HAS: ESS) will continue to bring cutting edge science into the middle- and high-school classroom, this time with a particular focus on Earth's systems and using resources in a sustainable manner.
High-Adventure Science is bringing some of the big unanswered questions in Earth and Space Science to middle and high school science classrooms. Students investigate the mechanisms of climate change, learn how scientists use modern tools to find planets around distant stars, and evaluate whether underground stores of water will be sufficient to support a growing population.
Scientists get excited about what they don't know. They’re not intimidated by questions without answers; instead, they tackle them head-on like a great unsolved mystery. They look at data and evidence, make observations, formulate ideas, and ask new questions.
High-Adventure Science develops computer-based investigations around compelling unanswered questions in Earth and Space Science to help students learn science like scientists.
Each investigation includes interactive computer-based models, real-world data, and a video of scientists currently working on the same unanswered questions. Students use the models, interpret the data, and draw conclusions just as scientists would. Embedded within the investigations are explanation-certainty item sets that stimulate students to think critically in order to explore evidence and discuss the issues of certainty with the models and data.
Three new curricular units will be developed, with a focus on hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to release oil and natural gas from shale; the extraction of rare-earth elements for electronic components; and land-usage practices with respect to human development. The three original High-Adventure Science units will continue to be freely available; two of them—the climate unit and the water unit—will be further developed in HAS: ESS.
This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. DRL-0929774 and DRL-1220756. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
Click on any box to learn more about the research and development activities for High-Adventure Science. Check out the publications tab to read more about the High-Adventure Science curricula and research.
High-Adventure Science Funded
High-Adventure Science: (NSF DRL-0929774, 9/15/09 – 8/31/12, PI: Pallant, $695,075) The goal of High-Adventure Science is to bring the excitement of frontier science into the classroom by allowing students to explore pressing unanswered questions in Earth and Space Science that scientists around the world are currently investigating. While we do not expect students will be able to solve the problems posed in the curriculum, our goal is to have students experience doing science the way scientists do. It is the approach that matters— one based on thinking critically about evidence, making predictions, formulating explanations, drawing conclusions, and qualifying the level of certainty of those conclusions.
Primary Research Questions
- How do students' scientific argumentation abilities change during and after the use of High-Adventure Science investigations?
- How do students' content knowledge change during and after the use of High-Adventure Science investigations?
- How do students' justifications and considerations of rebuttal change during and after High-Adventure Science investigations?
- What types of uncertainty do students exhibit while working with complicated computational models and scientific data sets?
Read the High-Adventure Science Project Proposal »
Development of “What will be Earth’s climate in the future?”
In this investigation, students explore the question: What will be Earth's climate in the future? Students use simple climate models to explore how greenhouse gases warm the planet. With more complex models, students explore the effect of albedo and learn how positive and negative feedback loops affect the global temperature. Students analyze the relative effects of positive and negative feedback to make a prediction for the future of Earth's climate.
Try the Modeling Climate Change activity »
Development of "Will there be enough fresh water?" Curriculum
In this investigation, students explore the question: Will there be enough fresh water for the growing human population? Students use models of groundwater to discover how water flows above, through, and beneath Earth's surface. Students analyze how water is used to propose solutions that may preserve clean freshwater sources for the future.
Development of "Is There Life in Space?" Curriculum
In this investigation, students explore the question: Can there be life outside of Earth? Students use planet-hunting models to discover how scientists find new planets and perform simulated spectroscopic measurements to determine if the chemical requirements for life are present.
Try the Is There Life in Space? activity »
High-Adventure Science: Earth's Systems and Sustainability Funded
High-Adventure Science: Earth's Systems and Sustainability (HAS:ESS): (DRL-1220756. 10/1/12 – 1/31/16. PI: Pallant, Co-PIs: Lee and Norris). This project will develop additional modules for middle and high school students in Earth and Space Science classes. The goal of HAS:ESS is to research the effectiveness of curriculum materials to reliably convey an understanding of Earth's systems and the increasing role of human interaction with those systems, while also introducing important science practices and crosscutting concepts. The HAS:ESS project builds on the results of the High-Adventure Science project. The Concord Consortium (CC), in partnership with the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the National Geographic Society, is developing these modules, conducting the research and will be broadly disseminating these materials via far-reaching education networks.
Development of "Will the air be clean enough to breathe?" Curriculum
In this investigation, students explore the question: Will the air be clean enough to breathe? Power plants and vehicles contribute to poor air quality events. Poor air quality affects human and environmental health, but demand for electricity and vehicles is growing. Will air quality suffer? Students use computational models to learn how pollutants move throughout Earth’s atmosphere and how interactions in the atmosphere create more pollutants.
Development of "What are our choices for supplying energy in the future?" Curriculum
In this investigation, students explore the question: What are our choices for supplying energy in the future? More and more people are using electricity. There are loads of electricity-using appliances and gadgets in the average home. What fuels will generate our electricity in the future. In this investigation, students explore the relative costs and benefits of electricity-generating sources, with a particular focus on drilling for shale gas.
Development of Explanation-Certainty Item sets
Making and defending claims are the hallmarks of critical thinking and scientific argumentation skills, but our curriculum doesn't stop there. To examine how students' critical thinking skills change whey they make claims based on evidence, we developed new explanation certainty item sets. These item sets consist of four separated questions that require students to:
- make scientific claims (claim)
- explain their claims based on evidence (explanation)
- express their level of certainty (certainty)
- describe the source(s) of their certainty (certainty rationale)
Nine teachers from MA and NY pilot-tested the High-Adventure Science climate, space, and water investigations. The pilot-test teachers were asked to give a pre-test and nature of science survey at the beginning of the year, test one or two of the investigations, including separate pre- and post-tests for each of the investigations.
Elaboration of the Theoretical Construct
To evaluate students' process skills, we developed a theoretical construct that enabled us to focus on two important aspects of the nature of science: 1) explanations, and 2) explanation in the context of scientific argumentation.
In the second part of the explanation certainty item set, students explain their claims. Students' explanation of their claims are scored against item-specific rubrics. A generic rubric is shown below.
Irrelevant (Score 0)
Did not write anything, wrote unrelated text
No link (Score 1)
Elicited non-normative ideas or restated the question
Partial link (Score 2)
Elicited one or more normative ideas
Full link (Score 3)
Used two ideas that are meaningfully connected
Complex link (Score 4)
Used three or more normative ideas that are meaningfully connected
In the fourth part of the explanation-certainty item set, students explain their rationale for choosing a particular certainty rating. Students certainty rationales are scored with a rubric that groups student explanations into personal and scientific categories.
Description of categories
No Information (Score 0)
No response, simple off-task responses, restatement
Did not respond, wrote "I don't know" or similar answers, provided off-task answers, restated scientific claim or certainty rating
Personal (Score 1)
Question, general knowledge/ability, lack of specific knowledge/ability, difficulty with data, authority
Did/did not understand the question, did/did not possess general knowledge/ability necessary to answer the question, did/did not learn the topic, can/cannot explain/estimate, did not know specific scientific knowledge, did not make sense of data provided in item, mentioned teacher, textbook, or other sources
Scientific-Within Investigation (Score 2)
Specific knowledge, data
Referred to/elaborated a particular piece of scientific knowledge directly related to the item, referred to a particular piece of scientific data provided in the item
Scientific-Beyond Investigation (Score 3)
Data/investigation, phenomenon, current science
Recognized the limitation of data in the item, mentioned that not all factors are considered, elaborated why the scientific phenomenon addressed in the item is uncertain, mentioned that current scientific knowledge or data collection tools are limited
Twelve field-test teachers were asked to administer a pretest, with questions covering content related to all three investigations, and a nature of science survey at the beginning of the year, two or three of the investigations, with separate pre-and post-tests for each investigation, and an end-of-the-year post- test (with the same questions as the beginning-of-the-year pre-test). Teachers from Nevada, Indiana, Montana, New Jersey, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Michigan, Massachusetts, and New York participated in the field-testing.
Results from Classroom Tests
Students were tested with pre/posttests consisting of multiple items followed by constructed response explanation items. Students showed significant pre/ post score gains on all three curricular modules, with the effect size being 0.52 standard deviation (SD) for the climate change module, 0.69 SD for the freshwater availability module, and 0.71 SD for the life in space module.
Read the High-Adventure Science Project Final Report »
Formative Research: Scaffolding Design Studies
We will test three scaffolding features incrementally with three teachers local to the research and development teams.
- Study 1: Explore the benefits of argumentation scaffolds focused on claim, justification, and certainty considerations on student learning.
- Study 2: Maximize integrated understanding of complex Earth systems.
- Study 3: Investigate model-based experimentation scaffolds focused on exploration of variables that illustrate understanding of how Earth's systems interact.
We will draw data from students using pre- and post-tests, student artifacts from the modules, and surveys. From teachers, we will use survey and interview data.
Formative Research: New Curriculum Design Studies
Using the knowledge and practices from Year 1 design studies, the new curriculum investigations will incorporate best practices. Year 2 design studies will result in iterative revision of the curriculum modules.
- Study 1: Fall Trial. Initial versions of all three modules will be tested. The focus on this design study will be how curriculum modules support student learning.
- Study 2: Winter Trial. This version will be based on results from Study 1. We will test whether revisions reduce identified problems from Study 1.
- Study 3: Spring Trial. Additionally-revised modules will be tested.
Summative Research: Comparison Studies
In Year 3, 18 teachers will participate: 12 implementation teachers from diverse schools and 6 reference teachers. We will explore how students develop in four learning outcomes as they experience multiple HAS:ESS modules over time. We will also conduct another study to compare the yearly gains of students with the HAS:ESS curriculum modules to those of students with conventional curricula. Implementation teachers will field test between three and five curricular modules.
- Implementation teachers will implement an early-year pretest and end-of- year posttest as well as pre- and post-tests around each module.
- Reference teachers will implement an early-year pretest and end-of-year posttest. The students will represent a reference for student learning outcomes gained without use of the HAS:ESS curriculum.
The systems thinking item sets posed in High-Adventure Science curriculum and assessments are designed to help students: recognize the parts of a system and how they interact; understand the dynamic behavior and emergent phenomena that occurs when parts interact; and focus on the flow of energy and matter throughout a system. Download the Systems Thinking Assessment.
The High-Adventure Science investigations are freely available on our web portal. If you choose to register your classes, you will be able to collect student data electronically and generate reports of student work. See the Portal User Guide for instructions about using the web portal.
The explanation-certainty questions posed in the High-Adventure Science investigations are a useful way to assess students’ critical thinking. The teacher guides include suggestions on how to use the range of student responses to evaluate their critical thinking skills and to prompt discussions.Is there life in space?
Students learn how scientists use modern tools to locate planets around distant stars as they consider the probability of finding extraterrestrial life.
- Activity 1: The Vastness of Space
- Activity 2: Moving Stars and Their Planets
- Activity 3: Hunting for Planets
- Activity 4: Habitable Conditions
- Activity 5: Looking for Signs of Life
Operating System: Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux
Required software: Java 1.4+, Flash 9+, and a PDF reader
If you experience technical difficulties in running the activities, contact Amy Pallant at email@example.com.
Articles and Papers
Pallant, A. (2013). No Simple Answers—How models and data reveal the science behind environmental topics. The MEES Observer. May.
Pallant, A. (2013). The Future of Fracking: Exploring Human Energy Use. @Concord 17(1) 10-11.
Pallant, A., Lee, H-S, & Pryputniewicz, S. (2013, April) Promoting Scientific Argumentation with Computational Models. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Puerto Rico.Lee, H-S, Pallant, A., Pryputniewicz, S. & Liu, O.L, (2013, April) Measuring Students' Scientific Argumentation Associated with Uncertain Current Science. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Puerto Rico.
Pallant, A., Damelin, D., & Pryputniewicz, S. (2013). Deep Space Detectives. The Science Teacher. 80 (2). 55-60.
Pallant, A., Lee, H-S., & Pryputniewicz, S. (2012). Modeling Earth's Climate. The Science Teacher. 79 (7), 31-36.
Pallant, A., Lee, H-S., & Pryputniewicz, S. (2012). Exploring the Unknown. The Science Teacher. 79 (3), 60-65.
Pallant, A & Lee, H-S. (2012). Summary of High-Adventure Science Final Report: Goals and Findings. DRL-0929774.
Pallant, A & Lee, H-S. (2012). High-Adventure Science Final Report to the National Science Foundation. DRL-0929774.
Pallant, A. (2011). Looking at the Evidence: What We Know. How Certain Are We? @Concord, 15(1), 4-6.
Pallant, A. (2011). Modeling the unknown is high adventure. @Concord, 14(1), 6-7.
Pallant, A & Lee, H-S. (2011). High-Adventure Science Annual Report to the National Science Foundation. DRL-0929774.
Pallant, A. & Lee, H-S, (2011, April) Characterizing uncertainty with middle school students' scientific arguments. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST), Orlando, FL.
- Climate Modeling: Using History to Inform the Future
- What will Earth's climate be in the future? In this video, created for the High-Adventure Science project, Dr. Mark Chandler, a climate scientist for NASA, discusses supercomputer models designed to simulate Earth's systems and explore the answer to this question.
- Fresh Water: Using Water Responsibly
- Will there be enough fresh water for the growing human population? In this video, created for the High-Adventure Science project, Dr. Holly Michael, a hydrogeologist at the University of Delaware, discusses mathematical models of groundwater flow and the human impact on water supplies around the world.