Teaching about Systems

Wednesday 11:30am-1:30pm UMC Aspen Rooms
Poster Session

Session Chairs

Tim Lutz, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Ellen Metzger, San Jose State University
Earth Observing Laboratory's Advanced Education Opportunities in Support of Inquiry-based Geoscience Instruction
Alison Rockwell, National Center for Atmospheric Research

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Note: This presentation was originally scheduled for Thursday, but has been moved to Wednesday due to a scheduling conflict. Exposure to high-quality and engaging inquiry-based learning experiences can be instrumental to a student's decision to pursue a degree in a STEM-related field. In response to the need for increased access to authentic and career-relevant experiences, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL) offers a range of advanced educational activities that promote an interdisciplinary approach to geoscience instruction. The NSF Educational Deployment Program provides direct access to several of the NSF Lower Atmosphere Observing Facilities including mobile radars or soundings systems for classroom instruction and hands-on learning experiences at home institutions across the United States. Students can remotely access and operate EOL's S-Pol Dual Polarization Doppler radar to collect data in real-time during significant weather events such as blizzards and thunderstorms. EOL's student internships provide valuable and unique experiences to prepare science and engineering students for successful careers through mentorship and exposure to real-world problems and activities. Instructors and students can take advantage of EOL's web-enabled activities to virtually connect to our Mission Coordinator displays, which allows students to directly interact with field campaign operations around the world.
Exploring Geoscience Methods: an InTeGrate module for pre-service secondary science teachers
Scott Linneman, Western Washington University
James Ebert, SUNY College at Oneonta
Jeff Thomas, Central Connecticut State University

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This InTeGrate module gives pre-service secondary science teachers the opportunity to use and reflect on geoscientific thinking. The module begins with an exploration of how geoscience methods are similar to and different from the stereotypical experimental scientific method. Then, students use methods of geoscience (e.g., systems thinking, multiple converging lines of evidence, developing spatial and temporal frameworks) in a data-rich, interdisciplinary exploration of the human impacts of global climate change. They will use spatial and temporal data, data visualizations and Google Earth to address the scientific question "To what extent are coastal communities at risk due to climate change?" and the socio-scientific issue "To what extent should we build or re-build coastal communities?" Finally, pre-service teachers explore high-quality, freely available curricular resources to develop a standards-based, interdisciplinary lesson that embeds geoscientific thinking and content as part of biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics or social science instruction. Pre-service teachers further explore societal impacts in the lessons that they develop. The module can be taught in 6-12 hours of class time, plus substantial homework.
Earth Systems Thinking: An InTeGrate Module That Can Be Used In Any Course
Lisa Gilbert, Williams College
Karl Kreutz, University of Maine
Deborah Gross, Carleton College

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One of the themes of the InTeGrate program's pedagogical approach is to foster systems thinking. The concept of systems thinking is addressed in individual InTeGrate modules designed to address specific geoscience topics (e.g., climate change, agricultural sustainability, hazards) for introductory geoscience and environmental science courses. However, the earth system is a complex topic that cannot be fully explored in the context of content-specific lessons. Consequently, we are creating the Earth Systems Thinking module to provide a foundation for the incorporation of systems thinking throughout all of the InTeGrate materials. This module is designed to be used in conjunction with other InTeGrate modules or could be used as a stand-alone module for instructors searching for a way to add a discussion of the earth system to their classes. Students prepare to address complex systems issues for a sustainable future by 1) identifying the parts of a system and explaining how the parts interact, 2) developing skills to model complex systems using data and examples relevant to the course, and 3) applying a systems approach to evaluate a societal challenge. This InTeGrate module helps fill a key need to educate students about the importance of the systems approach, uses examples that involve data and the construction and manipulation of systems models, and helps students approach complex, interdisciplinary problems. In this presentation, we will describe the themes that are present throughout the module and share the materials we present to help students gain experience and skills creating, working with, and analyzing complex systems.
Transdisciplinarity: Systems thinking in the classroom
Tim Lutz, West Chester University of Pennsylvania

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For two and a half centuries humans have developed advanced systems to create ever-increasing economic and social progress. But the interaction of these systems with other earth systems have brought many basic resources (e.g., biocapacity, soil, fresh water) into overshoot, threatening the basis for progress and even existence. To bring the planet to the brink in this time required vast knowledge of earth, and well-educated, highly skilled geoscientists provided it. Better education of this kind is not what we need; aiming to develop our students' higher order geoscientific skills and making them competitive in the workforce is not sufficient. If we are serious about sustaining the human endeavor then we must help create for ourselves and our students a transformative sense of awareness and responsibility for the whole earth system. If not us, then who? Transdisciplinarity prioritizes holism and recognizes the behavior of complex, dynamic systems – like earth – as sources of the patterns and metaphors from which sustainability might emerge. Transdisciplinary teaching embodies the character of complex systems by embracing qualities such as interconnectedness and recursion; it probes the validity of boundaries. This poster explains how I've begun to ground three of my courses, including two 300-level courses for geoscience majors, in a transdisciplinary framework. For example, in an environmental geology course, the textbook concept of earth as a system is made more encompassing by using the framework of cybernetics, the study of how complex systems organize themselves, communicate among their subsystems, and control themselves. In this framework, the geologists are parts of the system. In an introductory course, topics are not covered as discrete content but are discovered in an ongoing recursive cycle. A main purpose of this presentation is to engage and encourage faculty who may be apprehensive of stepping away from traditional teaching methods and roles.
EarthLabs: A Resource for Earth System Education
Nick Haddad, TERC
Kathy Ellins, The University of Texas at Austin
Susan Lynds, University of Colorado at Boulder
Anne Gold, University of Colorado at Boulder

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Reducing the effects of human activity on the environment, including climate, and coping with natural events such as hurricanes, landslides, and droughts all call for greater public understanding of how the Earth system works. For these reasons, effective Earth science education is essential to the future of our nation and our planet. The EarthLabs project was developed in response to this need. EarthLabs (www.serc.carleton.edu/earthlabs) is a portal for a growing collection of freely available Earth science curriculum units, all of which highlight the biogeochemical processes that regulate the cycling of matter and energy through Earth's spheres—the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, cryophere, and biosphere. Within each unit, resources for educators include science background information, equipment and materials lists, downloadable materials for printing, suggestions for the use of students notebooks and for leading class discussions, assessments, answer keys, and links to resources for extending student engagement beyond the content of the units. Resources for students, on a separate but linked web site, include text, videos, hands-on labs, data sets, interactive computer visualizations, and links to real-time scientific data. Originally conceived of as a resource for high school teachers and students, EarthLabs curriculum units have been used successfully across the range of levels between middle school and undergraduate courses. This poster will provide an overview of the EarthLabs project with its student and educator web sites, the current set of nine curriculum units, and a special collection of climate resources recently developed for educators interested in the four newest units that address climate literacy. It will also highlight ways in which EarthLabs units have been used in the undergraduate classroom.
Civic Agriculture and Food Systems: A systems approach in content and practice
Rachel Seman-Varner, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Susan Clark, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ
Hannah Scherer, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State Univ

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The Civic Agriculture and Food Systems (CAFS) minor at Virginia Tech uses a systems approach to teach undergraduate students about sustainable agriculture and food systems. The CAFS minor is unique in that it integrates transdisciplinary content, collaborative teaching, experiential learning and community engagement throughout the curriculum. The minor includes course content that examines food systems dynamics spanning sociology, economics, agricultural ecology, and the natural sciences. For example, a lesson in the Ecological Agriculture course examines the complex dynamics of insect and disease pest, weeds, herbivores and insect predator niches and their feedbacks on vegetable production; students learn about these systems relationships both in the field (at the university farm) and in the classroom. The four core courses in the minor were developed by a collaborative curriculum taskforce of scientific experts, pedagogy experts, and community partners across several disciplines. There is a systems approach here as well, with the interactions and evolution of curriculum between the interdisciplinary teaching team of each course and the taskforce. Students are challenged to make connections and understand feedbacks by participating in experiential learning exercises that include in-depth case study analysis of food systems, fieldwork in partnership with operating farms and gardens, and in-class cooperative learning activities. The culminating capstone course is based around individual student-lead projects involving community-based partners. The capstone projects have deliverable goals with an exploration of the long-term impacts on the local food system, and a dissemination plan that includes a final presentation at a university-organized poster showcase of student engagement. These transdisciplinary, collaborative and experiential elements use a systems approach to teach complex social and environmental issues around sustainable agriculture and food systems. Systems thinking and critical problem solving are essential to the development of visionary leaders and the future of sustainable agriculture and food systems.
An Education in Sustainability: Perspectives from a Geologist-Philosopher Collaboration
Ellen Metzger, San Jose State University
Randall Curren, University of Rochester

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Earth system science, with its integrative investigations of our planet's complexly interacting components, must play a pivotal role in addressing pervasive and accelerating challenges to sustainability. The roles of the humanities and social sciences in achieving sustainability are frequently overlooked, however, and this is reflected in recent and growing recognition within the geoscience community that this science is a crucial but insufficient guide for humanity's pursuit of a more sustainable trajectory. While there is much discussion of the merits of "crossing borders" to topple disciplinary silos, there has been little progress in successfully bridging disparate disciplinary cultures and developing robust cross-disciplinary conceptualizations of the problems, basis for solutions, and related vocabularies and tools of analysis. In hopes of advancing the ongoing conservation, the goal of our work is to develop a concise and systematic argument for the importance of education in sustainability that is informed by an iterative synthesis of our respective disciplinary perspectives on sustainability and sustainability education, interwoven with key ideas from psychology, economics, and policy-making. This presentation offers an overview of our attempts to clarify the nature, forms, and value of sustainability, catalog the obstacles to achieving it, identify the kinds of efforts needed to overcome those obstacles, and articulate an ethic of sustainability with lessons for governments, organizations, and individuals. We also examine the dynamics and costs of linked socio-economic-educational complexity, and articulate a vision of education in sustainability with practical guidance for fulfilling this vision across diverse subject domains and levels of education.