Exploring Earth Systems Science: The Interactive GLOBE Earth System Poster

This page authored by Amy Ellwein, Western State College of Colorado, based on an original activity by the GLOBE Program around the GLOBE Interactive Earth System Poster. This activity was used in a recent professional development course for in-service teachers - Using Scientific Data for Multi-Disciplinary Science Instruction - that I team-taught with Matt Nyman, University of New Mexico.

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In this introduction to Earth Systems Science, students use images depicting global environmental data (insolation, surface temperature, precipitation, cloud fraction, aerosols, etc.) throughout the course of 2007 to explore connections and patterns in the climate system. In groups, students explore single images of a single data set, then explore how those data change through the course of a year. They move on to exploring relationships between two variables for a single month as well as throughout one year. Groups report out to the class about their findings.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications

Learning Goals

  • Explore, analyze, and interpret patterns in a spatial and temporal display of data.
  • Develop descriptions and explanations using evidence.
  • Communicate observations, descriptions, and explanations through oral presentation and in writing.

Methods of Geoscience

Good observations, as well as spatial and temporal pattern recognition, are key to successfully completing this activity. The datasets used lend themselves to discussions of data collection methods and technology, the graphical display of data, and the processes and interactions that lead to the patterns.

Context for Use

As an introductory college-level lab exercise, this activity takes about 2-3 hours to complete. I print color copies of the maps and laminate them for use in an interactive combined lab-lecture course of 20-24 students.

Designed for secondary students, this activity is easily modified for a wide range of learners (like Discovering Plate Boundaries), but I find it very useful as an introduction to Earth's climate for a course I teach for pre-service teachers (Habitable Planet) and in workshops for in-service teachers.

Description and Teaching Materials


Print and laminate the individual images found in the GLOBE 'Earth as a System' Learning Activities (http://classic.globe.gov/fsl/html/templ.cgi?earth_system). This will yield 36 individual images - six images at two month intervals for each of six datasets (insolation, surface temperature, cloud fraction, precipitation, aerosols, and 'biosphere').

Also print Student Handout for Exploring Earth Systems Science Activity (Acrobat (PDF) 69kB Jun6 12) for a detailed description of the activity (written by Ellwein, modified for a recent professional development course for in-service teachers).

Brief Description

Step 1: Group students into 6 groups - each group receives one image depicting one dataset. Students are asked to 1) identify what kind of information is displayed, units of measure, ranges of values, etc., 2) describe patterns in the data, and 3) answer guiding questions.

Step 2: In the same group, students receive 6 images depicting the same data over the course of one year. Students are asked to answer questions that guide their interpretation of annual patterns in their data.

Step 3: Two groups of students are combined (along with their datasets) to find relationships between two datasets over the course of a year.

Steps 4 and 5: In original groups, students explore and define patterns in all six datasets for one month and then for all datasets six months apart.

Step 6: Groups apply what they have learned by answering questions that help them construct hypotheses about the Earth System and Earth's climate.

Students can access an interactive version of the datasets online at The GLOBE Interactive Earth System Poster: http://www.globe.gov/wist/earthsysposter.jsp

Teaching Notes and Tips


References and Resources

The GLOBE Interactive Earth System Poster: http://www.globe.gov/wist/earthsysposter.jsp
The GLOBE 'Earth as a System' Learning Activities: http://classic.globe.gov/fsl/html/templ.cgi?earth_system