On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
Developing Student Understanding of Complex Systems in the Geosciences
Carleton College
Cutting Edge > Complex Systems > Workshop 2010 > Participants and Their Contributions > Colleen Buzby
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Colleen Buzby, Northwestern University

I am a project coordinator and curriculum developer in the Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP) at Northwestern University. I work on the Watershed Dynamics project, an NSF-funded Earth Systems Science Project (ESSP) in partnership with the GLOBE (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment) Program Office. We have written high school curriculum materials that support student inquiry using desktop and web-based GIS software to explore data relevant to the water cycle. The project teaches students about the complexity of the water cycle and different variables that impact it. For the Water Availability unit, we built a custom web-GIS interface with the National Geographic FieldScope project to visualize and analyze geographic data. We wrote curriculum materials to help teachers and students investigate the nuances and complexities in the data, and understand that the water availability varies across the US and throughout the year.

In developing this project we worked closely with scientists to select a dataset that showed interdependent variables. We used the North American Regional Reanalysis data to show precipitation, evaporation, and surface runoff data. Students can analyze the data to find regions of high and low values, and regions where the values are not comparable. From here students are asked to identify additional inputs and outputs to the system they need to learn about.

We used the reanalysis data in an educational GIS, and made special modifications to enhance visualization and analysis. We used the FieldScope we-based GIS for easy remote access to the data. We also created map tables so that students could visualize multiple datasets that would obscure one another in a typical GIS screen. A mp table displays different datasets alongside one another and is linked, so that as you move one, the others move. This linking was useful because students can collect data at a single point from each map. Giving students this ability allows them the chance to draw conclusions from the data. In particular, they learn that the values in this dataset do not represent the complete water budget and they need to get more data to understand the big picture.

Another aim of this project is to support teacher professional development. We want to support teachers so that they can use the tools and educational materials to study the Earth as a system. At workshops with high school teachers, we find they are looking for ways to connect this content to other units and draw connections. After teachers use the GIS tool, they brainstorm what other units they could incorporate these lessons into so that there is integration of the water cycle into other units. Teachers often suggest ecosystems and biomes connections, groundwater, and weather. At a teacher workshop on March 6, 2010, a teacher said, "it was nice to be able to brainstorm with other teachers about how they would use the curriculum in their classroom and bring in other concepts and ideas." Based on these observations, we believe that teachers are learning how to teach systems science and incorporate it into their classroom. Student data will need to be analyzed next.

This project is one example of the four Earth Systems Science Projects working with the GLOBE Program. Together these projects teach K-12 students about the processes of the Earth.

This work is supported in part by NASA and the National Science Foundation under NSF grant GEO-0627923. However, any opinions, findings, conclusions, and/or recommendations are those of the investigators and do not necessarily reflect the views of NASA or the Foundation.


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