By Elaine Larson
What do fresh water availability, climate change, the future of energy, air quality, land management, and the search for life in space have in common?
They are all topics investigated through a comprehensive new collection of online lessons for middle and high school Earth and environmental science classrooms, developed with funding from NSF and in partnership with The Concord Consortium, a prominent non-profit educational research-and-development organization.
The lessons are built around well-researched online modules that utilize dynamic interactive computer models and real-world data to help students examine contemporary unanswered questions in Earth science.
Students explore evidence and discuss the issues of certainty—and uncertainty—with the models and data. Each lesson in the collection includes five activities with complete directions for classroom integration, alignment to national standards, and additional resources for student learning.
The entire collection can be found at http://nationalgeographic.org/education/high-adventure-science/.
But you can explore the lessons individually by following the links below.
What is the future of Earth’s climate?
Earth is warming due to increased greenhouse gas emissions. What will Earth be like in the future? In this lesson students learn about how increased greenhouse gas emissions affect some positive and negative feedback loops in Earth’s climate system. Along they way, they explore how scientists can be certain that Earth is warming without being entirely certain about how much the temperature will increase.
What are our choices for supplying energy for the future?
We use a variety of sources (mainly coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydro) to generate electricity. With a push to move away from fossil fuels, what mix of energy sources will be able to meet the electricity demands of the world’s growing population? What about the environmental impacts of those energy sources? This lesson asks students to consider costs and benefits of different energy sources for generating electricity. A particular focus is given to natural gas extracted from shale formations through the hydraulic fracturing process. Students make arguments about the effects of various energy sources (including natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydro, solar, and wind) based on data from the United States’ Energy Information Administration, Department of Energy, and Environmental Protection Agency.
Will there be enough fresh water?
We humans need clean fresh water every day. So do other organisms. And the human population keeps growing. How can we make sure there’s enough water for all the people and for the environment? In this lesson students explore the relationships between sediments’ porosity and permeability, rainfall, and humans’ actions on groundwater flow and the freshwater supply.
Will the air be clean enough to breathe?
Air pollution has many negative health effects. Although many places, especially in the United States, have cleaner air today than just four decades ago, there are still places in the world, even in the United States, that regularly suffer through smog events. What causes pollution in some areas but not in others? Students explore the relationships between pollution sources, geography, weather, and air quality, and make predictions based on the data.
Can we feed the growing population?
The amount of farmland is limited and the human population is increasing. Will the existing farmland be able to produce enough food? This lesson engages students in using maps and graphs to explore how humans have changed Earth’s landscapes. They use interactive models to explore the soil-level effects of different land management strategies, including tilling and crop selection.
Is there life in space?
Are we alone in the universe? So far, life has been discovered on only one planet in one solar system, but scientists have discovered thousands of planets in thousands of different solar systems. Might one of those hold life? Explore how scientists find planets beyond our solar system and how they evaluate their potential for sustaining life. Students use models to find planets via the Doppler and transit methods, and they make arguments about planets’ potential for habitability.