Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Big Ideas in Earth Science

Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams in Washington State

Courtesy of David Curtiss at the AAPG:

"The U.S. National Science Foundation has launched an Earth Science Literacy Initiative and developed a 14-page color brochure that outlines nine “Big Ideas” in earth science that all informed members of society should understand.

Big Idea #1: Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet.
Big Idea #2: Earth is 4.6 billion years old.
Big Idea #3: Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life.
Big Idea #4: Earth is continuously changing.
Big Idea #5: Earth is the water planet.
Big Idea #6: Life evolves on a dynamic Earth and continuously modifies Earth.
Big Idea #7: Humans depend on Earth for resources.
Big Idea #8: Natural hazards pose risks to humans.
Big Idea #9: Humans significantly alter the Earth.

As described in the background to the document, “In a frighteningly ironic dichotomy, America has one of the most advanced and educated scientific communities in the world but one of the most scientifically ignorant populations. A document of the basic “Big Ideas” of Earth science, created by the Earth science community and supported and endorsed by the major Earth science organizations, would be extremely powerful in combating these destructive elements. Again, it is not enough that the Earth science communities carry out good research. These discoveries need to be communicated to the American people, and the people need to have sufficient literacy in the geosciences to understand those discoveries.”

For this initiative, NSF partnered with the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, the American Geological Institute, American Geophysical Union, Geological Society of America, National Association of Geoscience Teachers, National Earth Science Teacher Association, Smithsonian Institution, and U.S. Geological Survey. "

Friday, July 17, 2009

NAGT Statement on Climate Change

From the July 2009 National Newsletter


The National Association of Geoscience Teachers (NAGT) recognizes: (1) that Earth's climate is changing, (2) that present warming trends are largely the result of human activities, and (3) that teaching climate change science is a fundamental and integral part of earth science education. The core mission of NAGT is to "foster improvement in the teaching of the earth sciences at all levels of formal and informal instruction, to emphasize the cultural significance of the earth sciences and to disseminate knowledge in this field to the general public." The National Science Education Standards call for a populace that understands how scientific knowledge is both generated and verified, and how complex interactions between human activities and the environment can impact the Earth system. Climate is clearly an integral part of the Earth system connecting the physical, chemical and biological components and playing an essential role in how the Earth's environment interacts with human culture and societal development. Thus, climate change science is an essential part of Earth Science education and is fundamental to the mission set forth by NAGT. In recognition of these imperatives, NAGT strongly supports and will work to promote education in the science of climate change, the causes and effects of current global warming, and the immediate need for policies and actions that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.

NAGT further recognizes that climate, climate systems and climate change are best taught in an interdisciplinary manner, integrating the many relevant sciences into a holistic curriculum approach; that climate-change topics provide exceptional opportunities for students to learn how geoscientists study past, present, and future climate systems, including the essential role of computer models in the assessment of global climate change scenarios; and that a current and comprehensive level of understanding of the science and teaching of climate change is essential to effective education. In support of these goals, NAGT sponsors professional development programs for geoscience educators, including workshops, seminars, and teacher-scientist cooperatives, and disseminates "best teaching" practices for climate change in the Journal of Geoscience Education.

A Note from the President of the National NAGT

From the July 2009 NAGT Newsletter

How will the current financial turmoil affect geoscience education? This is certainly a question on all of our minds as we watch the majority of states grapple with budget deficits, see massive losses in endowments and find our own net worth shrinking in frozen real estate markets. While such developments are troubling, they are occurring in a political environment that is favorable to science education and one where the Federal government is injecting massive amounts of capital into the system. What trends should we as geoscience educators monitor and how should we position ourselves during this period to strengthen our profession? In this President's Corner I summarize what I view as important factors related to budgets and enrollment. I encourage those of you with more expertise in these areas to voice your views using the editorial option of this newsletter.

Pay attention to budget discussions both on- and off-campus. Clearly we are entering a period of unprecedented fiscal austerity that will affect us all. Most economic experts agree this recession is deeper and will last longer than any in the post-war era. Current state reports show deficits in 48 states that total approximately 24% of state budgets; this despite Federal stimulus aid. The projections for 2011 are even worse. Most private endowments suffered similar losses. Looming budget cuts will likely have both immediate and long-term impacts. While many academics pride themselves on being altruistic, we must remain cognizant that wages (both real and indirect) affect job satisfaction. If the education community follows industry, we could face wage freezes, cuts and even retrenchment. Likewise, departments will likely be required to additionally reduce operating expenses; those reductions could impact field, lab and classroom experiences. It is incumbent on us, as educators and mentors, to remain positive about our profession during these difficult financial times. One way to do this is to build new research collaborations and seek additional support through increased funding available as part of the stimulus package. You could also monitor state budget discussions, consider becoming politically involved and find other ways to streamline operations to preserve those educational opportunities you most value.

Watch enrollment trends over the next 12-36 months. Demographic data are positive as they suggest enrollments should increase over the next two years, peaking in 2011. The same data suggest these students will be more diverse than ever before. Data from the last two significant recessions also show enrollment increased during those difficult economic times, even when graduation rates were flat. Therefore, we can expect to see more non-traditional students in our classrooms due to widespread unemployment and the growth of federally funded retraining and veterans programs. This provides an excellent opportunity for the geosciences to become a more inclusive profession. While enrollment trends appear positive for the near term, the affects of unemployment coupled with dropping home values and tight credit are unknown. Also, about the time economic experts project a rebound in the economy, enrollments are projected to fall as the number of graduating high-school students drops. As such, geoscience educators should redouble their efforts to strengthen their departments to both take advantage of and prepare for changes to enrollment trends. An excellent source of information for building a strong geoscience department can be found at

Clearly we, as a community, are in the midst of challenging times. The NAGT community needs to face these challenges together, provide support and encouragement where needed and share ideas for success when possible. Please contact me if you have ideas to share (

Dave Steer