Thursday, February 3, 2011

Welcome to the ReaL Earth System Science Blog!

Regional and Local Earth System Science is a National Science Foundation funded project of the Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth that strives to help people study their local environment to help build their understandings of the Earth system.

We expect that the primary audience (and that some of our authors) of this blog will be educators -- both in and out of school. But we also hope to offer things to the genuinely curious person who wants to better understand our home planet and the piece of it that's in his or her backyard. 

In the ReaL Earth System Science project, we are developing curriculum resources while also engaging teachers in professional development. All of the work is driven by the question: Why does this place look the way it does? The "place" in question changes, but is intended to start with environments local to the school, (or wherever the learner may be) and to then use this understanding of the local environment to understand regional and global environments and processes. Materials development includes a series of regional Teacher Friendly Guides to the Earth system science of the U.S. 

The core of the professional development experience is engaging teachers in the creation of Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs). VFEs use electronic media to create representations of sites near participants' schools, thus adding to the materials we create in a way that engages our teachers as partners. 

Canyon Lake Gorge, Texas is a brand new gorge that formed after more than 30 inches of rain fell in just over a week. Our first teacher workshop of 2010 included the gorge as one of our field sites.

VFEs aren't intended to replace actual fieldwork -- we place a very high value on engaging students in the face-to-rock study of their local environment. VFE creation is intended to engage teachers in the close study of their local environment with an eye towards engaging students in actual fieldwork. Further, VFEs can be used to both prepare students to enter the field and as a way to process this work after the fact. In the ideal situation, students are co-creators of VFEs. 

This blog is intended as a space for sharing resources related to the project. It will include project staff writing about resources they've created, but more importantly it will be a place for project teachers to share their work. Look to this blog to find:

  • Resources created by project staff to help teachers and their students study environments at scales ranging from the microscopic to the global;
  • Teachers sharing resources they've created;
  • Discussions about pedagogy and curriculum design;
  • "How tos" on the use of technological tools for the creation of materials for learning and teaching;
  • Information about our professional development offerings; and;
  • more!
We are more concerned with engaging people effectively in investigating why places looks the way they do than we are interested in arriving at a specific answer. While we certainly hope and expect that the educators that we work with, and the students that they work with, will be able to tell the story of how their particular environment came to be the way that it is, ultimately we believe it is more important that the learners in our charge learn how to investigate than to describe the particular processes that created their local landscape.

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