Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A Review of TERC's* Earth Exploration Toolbook

The Earth Exploration Toolbook (EET) is much more than a set of digital online classroom activities related to earth and environmental science. It is that - a very good set of activities accompanied by excellent supporting documentation - but it is also a guide to learning how to access any available online science datasets and analyze them with the appropriate software tools. As such, this is not only a resource for educators, but as TERC points out, citizens and policy makers might also make good use of the Toolbook.

The Earth Exploration Toolbook at last count contained 43 active chapters and two retired chapters. Retired chapters used datasets and/or analysis tools that are no longer readily accessible. A useful index categorizes chapters by both earth/environmental science topic (eg., atmosphere, biosphere, climate, etc.) as well as by technology tool used to obtain and analyze the data (eg., spreadsheets and image analysis, etc.).

Anyone may use the Toolbook to learn new skills with which they may then find and analyze online earth/environmental science data for themselves. This is the feature that surprised me most about the site. I was expecting a set of classroom activities, and as I said, each chapter can be used in that fashion - a stand-alone classroom activity complete with background information, objectives, and detailed instructions for students. But the Toolbook can serve another purpose, enhancing the professional development of teachers or anyone else with an interest in better understanding current topics by improving their ability to find and explore online earth and environmental science datasets. Do not overlook this opportunity.

As for the individual chapters, 17 of the 43 are directly related to the atmosphere and/or climate. Other topics include biosphere, earth's cycles, geography, human dimensions, hydrology, oceans, solar system and astronomy, solid earth, surface processes, and time/earth history. Most chapters make use of spreadsheets, but many also involve image analysis tools and GIS mapping tools. Additional technology tools include online graphing, data portals, and modelling.

The supporting documentation is simply outstanding. Beware, these are not, for the most part, activities you can complete in a single hour. For example, "Climate History from Deep Sea Sediments" estimates at least three hours will be needed.

Every chapter comes with a brief opening description, then detailed teaching notes. Teaching notes include an example output of the activity, target grade level, goals, rationale, brief science background, pre-requisites, specific instructional and assessment strategies (including questions), content standards met, and time required. Every chapter focuses on a case study, and provides detailed information and background preparatory to tackling the assignments. Only then come the detailed step-by-step instructions for accessing online data, acquiring the analysis tools, and performing the data analysis and interpretation.

The step-by-step instructions are detailed, well-documented and illustrated, and include many screen-captures to guide the novice. The "Climate History from Deep Sea Sediments" chapter mentioned above includes 34 screenshots (!), most of them provided as pull-down images available with a click of the mouse, but not cluttering up your screen unless and until you require them.

The step-by-step instructions contain the meat of each chapter, and include many interpretive questions for you to consider as you access, view, and analyze the datasets. Each chapter concludes with an array of additional questions and resources for follow-up and extension activities. Expect to save online data and new software tools to your computer as you work through a chapter.

This is a resource worth exploring and utilizing. It will take some time, but it will be time well-spent. Expect to learn skills you will employ again. If you are a teacher, expect to help your students acquire skills they will use in their future as well as in your class.

On an introductory "About the Earth Exploration Toolbook" page is a paragraph addressing the question, "Why teach with data?" If you needed another reminder that science is a process of discovering new knowledge and not a matter of memorizing facts, this is it. Don't miss it.
- - - - - - -
* TERC was founded in 1965 as the Technical Education Resource Centers, and is located in Cambridge, MA. The Earth Exploration Toolbook is a National Science Foundation-funded collaboration between TERC and the Science Education Resource Center at Carleton College in Northfield, MN.

No comments:

Post a Comment