In 2007, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance (MMSA) received funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Environmental Literacy Program for K-12 Education for the Earth as a System is Essential: Seasons and the Seas (EaSiE) project. The overarching goal of EaSiE is to transform the traditional middle school study of terrestrial seasons and weather into an exploration of the dynamic interactions between Earth’s land, oceans, atmosphere and living world. The EaSiE project fills a critical need for a relevant, contextual curricular theme for middle school learning by incorporating NOAA resources to integrate authentic Earth systems science content into existing instructional units. Development of these materials - in association with appropriate standards-based middle school learning goals and pedagogy, supported by substantive professional development and collegial networking - formed the rationale for this project.
"This is the first year I've understood all my curriculum as being connected because of the systems thinking I've learned from the EaSiE project. The whole year flowed better. That one week in the summer changed my approach entirely from whatever I used to do to a total systems approach to my teaching."
- Anonymous EaSiE Project Teacher
Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire middle school teachers worked with NOAA scientists and the MMSA to develop a relevant, unifying systems theme related to seasonal and climatic changes in the Gulf of Maine. Teachers were selected to participate in the EaSiE project based upon diversity of contexts, including geographic, demographic, current curriculum, amount of time available to teach particular topics, and availability of technology. Through workshops, field trips and online discussion, teachers gained a deeper understanding of weather and climate, examined instructional strategies that support student learning, and developed lessons and podcasts that incorporate NOAA resources to support student thinking about Earth as a system in the context of their “own backyard” – the Gulf of Maine.
During the first weeklong summer institute, EaSiE project teachers were grounded in the national and state science standards and research on student learning related to the unifying theme of “Systems” by conducting a Curriculum Topic Study (CTS) (Keeley, 2005). CTS was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation. The CTS project produced a set of tools and resources that enable science and mathematics educators to examine and apply content, curricular, instructional, and assessment findings related to the topics they teach. As EaSiE project teachers discussed the implications for the teaching and learning of systems, it quickly became apparent that the “Systems” lesson would provide a solid foundation for the fundamental idea that weather and climate can be considered as an interacting set of processes taking place in the atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. As students developed the ability to think and analyze in terms of systems, patterns and trends became more important than “naming the parts”.
For many EaSiE project teachers, the guiding questions of the “Systems” lesson became the cornerstone of not only their weather and climate units, but of their entire curriculum. But the commonality stopped there. Due to the diversity of project participants and their students, there was not going to be a “one size fits all” series of lessons. It was evident that subsequent EaSiE project weather, climate, and data lessons needed to be tailored to meet their context.
During the next two years, teachers and project partners reconvened at spring and fall workshops and participated in an online discussion forum to share lessons and receive feedback. Summer institutes provided additional opportunity to learn from NOAA partners, further develop weather, climate, and data lessons and lesson extensions, and plan for implementation during the next academic year. The result was the creation of core “Weather & Climate” and “Data and Graphing” units that all teachers employed, with a rich variety of additional applications, extensions, assessments, and podcasts. The EaSiE units integrate national and state science standards and the Ocean Literacy Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts related to Earth as a system, weather, and climate:
- The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
- The ocean is a major influence on weather and climate.
- The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
- The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
Many of the enrichment lessons also support the Climate Literacy Essential Principles. Although the lessons focus on phenomena and data from the Gulf of Maine, the core ideas and pedagogical approach are suited for all geographic regions.
The EaSiE lessons that teachers refer to are available on the project via this web site. As you read the teachers’ experiences and download the EaSiE lessons from the web site, you will see how students benefited from exploring weather and climate from an Earth systems perspective. It is our hope that you, too, will be inspired and obtain ideas for how you can use NOAA resources to integrate the Ocean Literacy Essential Principles with state and national science standards into your role as a teacher, leader of professional development, or NOAA partner.