Dr. Dave Bice: Using Modeling Earth Systems in Modeling the Earth System at The Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus
About this CourseThis is an intermediate- to advanced-level course, required for the Earth science and policy major at Penn State. Prerequisites include a calculus class and a chemistry class in addition to an introductory-level earth science class.
Learning about Earth systems through experimentation with numerical models
This course attempts to teach students to think like a modeler and learn about Earth system dynamics through the construction and experimentation with computer models. At Penn State, this is a required class for a new major on Earth science and policy, and its prerequisites include calculus, chemistry, and introductory Earth science. There were no traditional lectures in this class; students came to each class period having completed the background reading. The class periods were working sessions in which the students worked through exercises that guided them through constructing and then experimenting with models created in STELLA (a visually-based program for creating models). This kind of "flipped" format was new for me, and I was pleased with the way it worked — the class sessions were lively, and I realized that they provided an opportunity for me to show them how to troubleshoot, which is a skill that undergraduate students rarely get a chance to learn.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsI used the course materials almost exactly as they appear on the site. I made a few modifications during the pilot, all of which are reflected in the revised materials.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The course was taught in a 14-week semester; we went through the 10 modules in sequence, one per week, and I added another week on the economics of climate change. The final three weeks were devoted to independent final projects, including presentations to the class.
AssessmentsThis course involved three forms of assessment — weekly quizzes (20% of their grade), weekly modeling exercises (60%), and a final project (20%). The quizzes were based on online readings and were downloaded and submitted through our course management system. The modeling exercises were also accessed online and submitted in a drop box. The final project asked students to choose a system, identify a hypothesis, and design and construct a model on their own to address the hypothesis. They were asked to communicate their process and results in both a formal descriptive paper, as well as an op-ed targeted at a general audience. The students enjoyed all aspects of this class, but found the final project to be challenging — this required a fair amount of additional consultation with me outside of class sessions.
I would say that my students did surprisingly well in terms of meeting the course goals (best demonstrated in their final projects). The students were able to overcome some real challenges in creating their models, which I was impressed by, especially considering where they were at the beginning of the class.