Shaping the Future of Undergraduate Earth Science Education > Panel 7

Panel 7

How Can We Promote Lifelong Learning, K–12 Education, Professional Training, and Outreach to the Public in the Earth and Space Sciences?

Ellen Metzger (Chair),
Ed Buchwald,
Ben Domenico,
Michelle Hall-Wallace,
Karen Havholm,
Dan Jax,
Marilyn Suiter,
Laure Wallace


The academic community must affirm the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) for K-12 education and extend the NSES to the postsecondary level by implementing NSES-based instruction for all students. Earth system science provides an ideal framework to implement NSES for undergraduates and K-12 teachers (preservice and inservice) and to facilitate lifelong learning.


As standards based education has come to the forefront of K-12 education, academic institutions must respond to the continuing effects these standards will have on higher education and lifelong learning. It is likely that students who enter campuses with backgrounds formed by NSES-based instruction will expect and demand similar learning opportunities in their undergraduate career, and they will carry the lessons learned in their undergraduate experience forward into their personal and professional lives.

For K-12 Earth and space sciences educators, the NSES set forth the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities that should guide K-12 science teaching and learning. In addition to content, the NSES include science pedagogy, professional development, assessment, and program standards.

Academic institutions have a direct relationship with the success of the NSES in the education of preservice and inservice science teachers, which must be consistent with the NSES. On a bolder scale, academic institutions must recognize that the NSES provides a coherent vision for teaching science to all students. Just as K-12 educators recognize the inherent value of interactive learning and coherent presentation of scientific concepts, so too should their academic colleagues who must extend the concepts of NSES to undergraduates and beyond.

Adoption and extension of the NSES in postsecondary education will require substantial commitment from Earth and space sciences faculty, department chairs, and university administration. Current undergraduate teaching practices will require significant modification to be consistent with the NSES recommendations for inquiry-based learning, cooperative learning, integrated science, and ongoing and appropriate assessment of teaching and learning. Faculty and administrators will need to be provided with professional development opportunities, time, and resources to reorient teaching to meet the NSES expectations. Institutions will need to reward and recognize teaching in ways that are equal to that for research accomplishments.

For the Earth and space sciences community, Earth system science provides the ideal framework for implementing the NSES for undergraduates. As educators clarify the relevance of the interacting Earth system in defining the quality of everyday life, they begin the process of engaging all students to be lifelong scientific thinkers, regardless of ultimate career choices.

All students must be engaged as critical thinkers who understand and use the interdisciplinary nature of science as well as they comprehend the roles of politics, ethics, culture, and economics. Students must learn to make intelligent, informed decisions not only about legislative and public policy issues but also about science and technology that affects them, their families, their communities, and the world.

Development of a coherent learning environment requires that educators approach issues in local, regional, national, and international contexts, and from scientific perspectives that reflect the diversity of human experiences. This will require the combined efforts of many: research institutions; academic science and education departments; K-12 teachers; technology experts; science and technology centers; museums, aquaria, zoos, and observatories; industry; scientific and teaching professional societies; government agencies (city, county, state, federal); and public and private funding organizations.

Members of these various groups should take advantage of this opportunity to transcend perceived barriers and bring together multiple perspectives to truly interdisciplinary thinking. Successful change occurs when it is based on grass roots efforts and when it is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. The recommendations for lifelong learning provide a starting point for this change.


Undergraduate education is integrally connected to all levels of instruction, from K-12 through postgraduate education in formal institutional settings, to informal lifelong learning activities. To promote universal understanding and appreciation of the Earth system, we recommend:

To All Scientists and All Educators

Become informed about the spirit and form of the NSES in order to promote them more effectively. (Joint recommendation with Panels 3 and 5)

To Academic Institutions

  1. Incorporate the full breadth of scientific literacy in the entrance requirements at the postsecondary level as spelled out in the NSES. This implies that NSES-based K-12 Earth and space sciences be accepted as a laboratory science at college entrance.
  2. Extend and implement the NSES at the postsecondary level for all students. This will require change in content articulation and teaching style for many.

To the National Science Foundation and Other Funding Sources

Encourage all educational initiatives to conform with the NSES. Include NSES-based educational components in research grants initiatives.

To Developers of Educational and Technological Materials

  1. Coordinate development of educational materials to avoid redundancy and encourage development of materials in neglected fields. (Joint recommendation with Panel 3)
  2. Coordinate self review, peer review, and dissemination of materials.
  3. Establish broad-based collaborative efforts.
  4. Provide training in the use of curriculum materials.
  5. Promote development and modification of materials for the K-12 community, informal educators, and the general public.
  6. Support software development, technical support, training, consulting, and dissemination of multimedia Earth system science and NSES materials. Establish standards for data formats and software tools. (Joint recommendation with Panel 4)

To All Stakeholders With Interests in Undergraduate Earth System Science Education

  1. Speak with a common voice to affirm and promote NSES and Earth system science.
  2. Publicize and promote implementation of the NSES and Earth system science at the K-12 level, on college campuses, to society memberships, to the general science community, to informal educators, and to the public at large through publications, workshops, and public presentations.
  3. Develop a coherent, sustainable, and open consortium, linking the educational missions of K-12, undergraduate, graduate, and informal science communities. All participants in the consortium should share in and reinforce common efforts in faculty development, curriculum development, and dissemination (Joint recommendation with Panel 5)

    The consortium would have the following characteristics in form and function:

    Provide leadership and a common voice for the Earth and space sciences community:

    • governance would be directed by the member institutions;
    • a permanent staff who would be employed with expertise in science, science education, curriculum development, and instructional and other related technologies, as well as materials dissemination and software support; and
    • one- to two-year rotating positions would be provided for the scientific community to participate.
    • The benefits of the central organization include:
    • better coordination and less redundancy in the development of curricular materials:
    • development of standardized software and other technology tools for accessing research data;
    • more efficient dissemination of instructional materials; and
    • opportunities for a broader integration of disciplines in Earth and space system science.