With renewed attention to global environmental challenges, understanding how Earth’s systems work is essential to both thinking about those challenges and finding potential solutions. Teaching about human interactions with Earth systems requires that students apply relevant science concepts to these challenges. For example, students should understand the water cycle when exploring freshwater distribution, the atmospheric greenhouse effect when studying climate change, and nutrient cycling when investigating soil quality and food production. In the High-Adventure Science project, students have the opportunity to explore these and other Earth systems and discover how system components interact to produce emergent behaviors.
One promising way to engage students is to have them consider important unanswered questions that scientists around the world are actively exploring. In High-Adventure Science modules, students learn about the human impact on Earth’s systems. Students explore science that is relevant to their lives and engage in authentic science practices, such as making predictions and considering the variability and uncertainty associated with data and predictions based on the data.
High-Adventure Science, funded through a series of grants from the National Science Foundation, developed a plan for incorporating contemporary science into classrooms. The resulting curricula and dynamic computer models enable students to become thoughtful, scientifically literate citizens.
We developed six online curricular modules for middle and high school Earth and environmental science classes. The modules cover freshwater availability, land resource management, air quality, climate change, energy choices, and the search for exoplanets.
Five design principles guided the development of the modules:
- Engage students in real-world frontier science
- Use open-ended questions to frame each module
- Have students interpret data collected by scientists
- Immerse students in experimentation with dynamic computer models depicting complex Earth systems
- Support students’ evidence-based scientific argumentation while considering sources of uncertainty
Our research focused on scientific argumentation with uncertainty and system dynamics thinking. Our analysis of several thousand students showed that students significantly improved their scientific argumentation ability after engaging with High-Adventure Science modules.
As part of the scientific argumentation research, we developed a taxonomy of students’ uncertainty attributions. This taxonomy is the first such attempt to characterize the developmental trajectory of secondary school students’ uncertainty attribution. The taxonomy represents the degree to which students understand the role of uncertainty in science, in particular the strengths and limitations of the evidence used in a scientific argument.
We also studied students’ system dynamics thinking to assess their understanding of complex systems and developed rubrics to categorize students’ written explanations into qualitatively different levels. This framework tracked students’ uses of stocks and flows when they explained causal mechanisms associated with complex systems.
Join the nearly 100,000 users of these research-based modules and bring the excitement of frontier science to your secondary Earth science or environmental science classroom!