Exploring Earth's Dynamic Systems

Tuesday 1:30pm-2:40pm
Share-a-thon Part of Tuesday


catherine etter, Cape Cod Community College


The activities demonstrated emphasize systems thinking by illustrating the interconnectedness of Earth's systems and the feedback mechanisms driving environmental change. By exploring the interactions between Earth's spheres and components, students develop a systemic understanding of complex Earth science phenomena and recognize the importance of considering multiple variables in scientific analysis.

This presentation shows educators a diverse array of activities to enrich their Earth science curriculum and engage students in authentic scientific inquiry. By incorporating interactive simulations, educators can foster critical thinking skills, data analysis proficiency, and systems thinking among their students. Join in exploring innovative approaches to teaching Earth science and inspiring the next generation of Earth scientists and environmental stewards.


The Earth's Dynamic Systems Lab aims to illustrate the interconnectedness of Earth's systems by depicting global and local climate change variables, biogeochemical cycles, and natural versus anthropocentric challenges. Through an interactive online tool, students explore the relationships between various Earth system components and understand how changes in one component can affect others. Students utilize the Understanding Global Change Interactive tool to construct global and local relationships. For climate change they identify key components such as solar radiation, greenhouse gases, air temperature, snow & ice cover, and sea level rise, and depict their interactions using arrows to indicate directional influences.

The lab demonstrates the complexity of Earth's systems and the interdependence of its components. Students observe how changes in one aspect, such as greenhouse gas levels, can trigger cascading effects throughout the entire system, leading to alterations in climate patterns, ice cover, and sea levels. This activity enhances student comprehension of complex Earth system dynamics. It promotes systems thinking by encouraging students to consider the interconnectedness of environmental phenomena and recognize feedback loops within the Earth system. Furthermore, the students interpret data and draw conclusions about the implications of climate change on global and local scales.


Earth's Dynamic Systems Lab is the third lab for the asynchronous online Earth Science Course for science and nonscience majors. It is then integrated throughout the semester. This lab serves as an introduction to the sciences, potentially sparking interest in sustainability, blue economy and climate action. The wide age range (14-90) of the target audience suggests that the lab is intuitive and engaging enough for young students, yet sufficiently sophisticated to challenge and inform adult learners. For environmental technology majors, this lab is an integral part of their curriculum, providing them with practical insights into the dynamic interactions within Earth's systems. It enables these students to apply theoretical knowledge in a simulated environment, preparing them for real-world applications in environmental monitoring, climate change mitigation, and sustainability initiatives. For non-science majors, this lab is a unique opportunity to understand the significance of environmental science in everyday life. It demystifies complex concepts such as global climate change and its local impacts, making science relevant and interesting. This approach encourages a broader appreciation of science and its role in addressing global challenges, potentially influencing personal and community actions towards sustainability.

Why It Works

Each activity offers hands-on exploration and interactive components that actively engage students in the learning process. By utilizing real-world datasets, simulation tools for model-building and showing phenomenon and online resources, students are immersed in dynamic learning experiences that promote active participation and deeper comprehension of Earth science concepts.

The activities are designed to foster critical thinking skills by encouraging students to analyze data, formulate hypotheses, and draw evidence-based conclusions. Through inquiry-based learning approaches, students develop the ability to evaluate complex Earth science phenomena and make informed interpretations of geological and biological processes.

The activities align with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) standards, ensuring that educators can seamlessly incorporate them into their curriculum to meet learning objectives. By addressing cross-cutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas, the activities facilitate a holistic understanding of Earth science principles and prepare students for success in STEM fields.

Relevance to Real-World Issues: The activities address pressing global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, providing students with opportunities to explore the implications of human activities on Earth's systems. By contextualizing scientific concepts within real-world issues, the activities empower students to become informed citizens and advocates for environmental sustainability.