Global Patterns

Federica Raia
University of California, Los Angeles
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Based on my research on how best to enhance students' understanding of complex systems, I utilize various activities to support pattern recognition, a fundamental skill to understanding complex systems behavior. For example, students examine data of soil moisture, insolation, surface temperature, cloud fraction, precipitation, world topography/bathymetry, aerosol optical thickness, and biosphere (from different times of the year) to identify patterns of distribution and variation at regional and global scales. The data are taken from NOAA, NASA, SERC, and NSIDC.

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Undergraduate Earth System Science course for science majors

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must have basic map reading skills, be able to identify latitude and longitude and to find the Equator, and know the names of the continents.

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity is used toward the end of the semester


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will understand:
  • the relationship between time and space in regard to global environmental data, Earth System Cycles through class discussions
  • the role of feedback mechanism in developing the patterns and emergence processes (pattern and processes)

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

  • Observe, describe, and analyze patterns
  • Analysis of mapped data
  • Comparing different sets of data
  • Formulating hypotheses
  • Formulating the next step to test hypotheses
  • Interpret data
  • Discuss the data
  • Write scientific report
  • Drawing conclusions

Other skills goals for this activity

  • Writing scientific papers
  • Oral presentation
  • Working in groups
  • Working on maps

Description of the activity/assignment

Students working in groups are initially assigned to one of the data set–expert groups. Students identify and describe patterns both on spatial and temporal scales. Students write a report on the patterns observed and the research question they raised and then formulate a hypothesis using the distribution of the other data sets used by the other groups. Students are then asked to form new groups where at least one expert on each data set is present. Students are then asked to work with all the data sets, describing global patterns and connections among different phenomena measured on local, regional and global scales. They choose one specific pattern and write a report.

This activity has been modified from the GLOBE Earth System Posters. See the activities to accompany the 2007 GLOBE poster for the GLOBE activity description (activities 1-5).

Determining whether students have met the goals

Student's presentation and reports are evaluated based on the ability to describe data, describe patterns, interpret patterns based on the evidence, identifying emergent processes and complex interaction among the Earth spheres.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

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