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People, the Education Agenda

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weather balloonOver the next decade, environmental stresses in society such as those associated with population growth, pollution, dwindling resources, extreme weather, climate change, land-use changes, and space weather are expected to become even more acute and costly. A balanced strategy to respond to these stresses should include efforts to use the best available scientific data to reduce scientific uncertainty and advocate responsible mitigation and adaptation. An effective strategy must also include an educational component to ensure a competitive workforce for the 21st Century. Thus, the geoscience community must develop adequate knowledge, information, and capability for prediction and assessment, as well as an agenda to develop informed and educated leaders to make decisions. Geoscience education at a broad range of levels is essential to ensure appropriate tools and effective leadership are in place. A new, innovative program of Earth system science training and education at all levels should be initiated and developed now to foster an informed citizenship.

By their very nature, the geosciences are an integrating educational theme. While one may learn mathematics, anthropology, biology, physics, economics, and other "single" disciplines, Earth system science is a crossroad where many of these disciplines intersect and impact our everyday lives. As the technological infrastructure envisioned later in this plan is realized, educators will be able to access laboratory experiments from around the world in real time or retrospectively. The excitement of the geosciences will be conveyed to a much wider audience through the capabilities and flexibility of 21st Century technologies. For this agenda, GEO educational efforts must make investments at several levels.


NSF focus should continue to be on graduate training for future research scientists. However, these researchers must be skilled in the broader Earth system sciences and sensitive to important environmental decision making issues. GEO will balance graduate-level research fellowship and training opportunities to ensure students broaden their Earth system science experiences. GEO will also explore the need to create a master's level geoscience teaching degree. GEO will work with the NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) to provide opportunities for geoscience education proposals with both strong program content and strong pedagogy. In a similar way, GEO will work with other NSF units and other organizations to enhance the quality of instruction and provide practical experience for individuals pursuing geoscience-related careers. GEO will actively contribute to NSF-wide activities to support integrated graduate education and research training that will focus on interdisciplinary topics and promote innovation.


About half of America's youth enroll in institutes of post-secondary education, providing leverage for improvements in undergraduate education. Science-based education (particularly for non-science majors) can be transformed through new and emerging instructional technologies and active, hands-on, inquiry-based study. Geosciences education at the college level can be made appealing, interesting, and relevant, at the same time being rigorous and quantitative. The geosciences may be unique in the integration of disciplines to inspire students. Already there is a broad range of efforts underway to develop undergraduate level Earth system science materials. However, these largely individual university-based efforts should be more widely accessible to institutions of higher education and to the broader community. Systemic changes incorporating successful elements of these experimental programs need to be encouraged. GEO will invest in programs that utilize emerging information technologies to disseminate geoscience education content, use new pedagogies, and incorporate novel assessment techniques. There is also a need to link the teaching communities using these materials, particularly those that use web-based approaches. Undergraduate education should address all categories of students including geoscience majors, pre-professionals, and general education students. Therefore, GEO will seek to expand opportunities for undergraduate research experiences by including students on research teams, increasing educational access to research facilities, and developing state-of-the-art computer-based teaching labs tailored expressly for the geosciences.

ncar scientists helping students ncar scientists helping students with experiment


Numerous opportunities exist for improvement in geoscience education in elementary, secondary and informal settings. The geosciences provide a natural and accessible window on the world of science. Nearly every child displays a curiosity about the Earth. The dynamic character of the atmosphere, ocean, and solid Earth provides numerous opportunities for discovery and personal growth. Enhancements in geoscience education can have profound impacts on people in pre-college classrooms and in informal science educational settings, including museums and science centers as well as through films, television, video, compact discs, and other multimedia. Kindergarten through grade (K-12) activities that can attract more individuals into the geosciences will help ensure that there are well-informed geoscience researchers and leaders in the future. As experience in K-12 geoscience education investment grows, additional coordination and collaboration will be needed to develop effective programs. GEO will form active partnerships with EHR, professional organizations and other groups engaged in K-12 education efforts.


As with most of the sciences, women and specific ethnic groups continue to be under- represented in geosciences. GEO encourages and supports efforts to engage individuals from these groups in geoscience research and education. GEO will increase its efforts to address the under-representation of women and minorities in the geosciences by encouraging their active participation in its programs. GEO supports special Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) site activities that assist under-represented groups. GEO will also expand its support for diversity-enhancing activities at science and technology centers, and will substantially increase its support for focused activities designed to provide students from under-represented groups with opportunities to learn about and participate in geoscience research.


GEO will play a catalytic role in the reform of science education in pre-collegiate and non- classroom settings. To optimize its impact, GEO will work with EHR, other NSF units, other Federal agencies, university consortia, professional societies, and private-sector firms. GEO also will work to improve the education curricula in collegiate settings. Enhancement of undergraduate geoscience courses should expose a wide range of students to scientific principles and practice through discovery-based and inquiry-based learning. These efforts will emphasize the value of observational, conceptual, and analytical skills as the foundation for many careers, including education and public service. Because the job market for geoscientists is changing rapidly, education and training at graduate and postdoctoral levels will emphasize sound intellectual and technical foundations for pursuit of diverse careers where geoscience knowledge will prove invaluable. Geoscience education should be made more attractive to women and under-represented ethnic and racial groups encouraging them to pursue careers in the geosciences, increasing diversity in the community.

By targeting geoscience education as a high priority, GEO expects to encourage many geoscientists who are naturally inclined to pursue educational activities to engage in innovative geoscience educational activities. Because experience has demonstrated that some of the most significant advances in education occur when research scientists work together on collaborative teams with educators, GEO will work to facilitate the formation of such collaborations. Strategies to be explored include supplements to research awards supporting team-building efforts and awards enabling educators to work on projects and at major facilities with geoscience researchers. GEO also will promote the development of educational alliances among researchers and educators in university-level consortia and will explore the potential for working with professional societies that share its goals for improved geoscience education.

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