Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy -
Executive Summary

Geoscience Education: A Recommended Strategy - I. Overview
II. General Recommendations
III. Recommendations by Educational Level

National Science Foundation

Directorate for Geosciences



Geoscience Education:

A Recommended Strategy

A Report Based on an August 29-30, 1996, Workshop
from the Geoscience Education Working Group
to the Advisory Committee for Geosciences
and the Directorate for Geosciences
of the National Science Foundation


NSF 97-171


National Science Foundation


The National Science Foundation (NSF) provides awards for research and education in the sciences and engineering. The awardee is wholly responsible for the conduct of such research and preparation of the results for publication. NSF therefore does not assume responsibility for the research findings or their interpretation.


NSF welcomes proposals from all qualified scientists and engineers and strongly encourages women, minorities, and persons with disabilities to compete fully in any of its research- and education-related programs. In accordance with federal statutes, regulations, and NSF policies, no person on grounds of race, color, age, sex, national origin, or disability shall be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity receiving financial assistance from the National Science Foundation.


Facilitation Awards for Scientists and Engineers with Disabilities (FASED) provide funding for special assistance or equipment to enable persons with disabilities (investigators and other staff, including student research assistants) to work on NSF projects. For more information, consult the program announcement (NSF 91-54) or contact the program coordinator at 703/306-1636.


The National Science Foundation has Telephonic Device for the Deaf (TDD) capability, which enables individuals with hearing impairment to communicate with the Foundation about NSF programs, employment, or general information. To access NSF TDD, dial 703/306-0090; for FIRS, dial 800/877-8339.


September 1997



In recent years, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has increased emphasis placed on education while maintaining its strong commitment for research support. Special attention now is being given to the integration of research and education, a term that recognizes that one of the best ways to advance scientific educational reform at all levels is to involve students actively in scientific research. Because of its long-standing relationship with the U.S. academic research community, NSF is especially well situated to engage researchers at the nation’s universities and colleges in this effort. NSF also can exert leadership by working with other agencies to advance the highest-quality scientific education and training for all Americans, as recently expressed by the National Science and Technology Council.


The mission of NSF’s Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) is to make the strongest possible contribution to the advancement of the geosciences. Traditionally, this has meant the funding of research by leading scientists as well as graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and others who assist them in the conduct of their research. But amidst concerns regarding mismatches between the supply of and demand for individuals in many academic fields, the need for reform of traditional educational systems, and the tenuous understanding of science by the public, it has become clear that GEO’s responsibility for the health of the geosciences must embrace a broader definition of geoscience education.


Both GEO and the Advisory Committee for Geosciences (AC/GEO), a group of 18 leading scientists drawn from academia, industry, and other government agencies, have made the improvement of geoscience education one of their top priorities. GEO and AC/GEO agreed that geoscience education needed to be addressed more fully within the context of GEO’s long-range planning process. As a result, GEO and AC/GEO established a Geoscience Education Working Group (GEWG) consisting of representatives of the geoscience research and educational community, including some members of AC/GEO, and NSF staff from GEO and the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR). The GEWG was chaired by Richard Somerville, an AC/GEO member from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.


The GEWG addressed geoscience education needs and opportunities during a workshop convened at NSF on August 29-30, 1996. Intensive and substantive discussions regarding GEO’s future role in geoscience educational activities were based on the premise that the health of the geosciences would benefit from enhanced integration of research and education at all levels. The consensus of the group during those discussions, including a set of recommendations for specific actions that the Directorate for Geosciences might undertake on its own or in partnership with others, is presented in this report.


Since that workshop, AC/GEO has reviewed a draft of this report, and GEO staff have evaluated the working group’s recommendations. Early in 1997, the working group’s recommendations had been integrated at a general level into the GEO Science Plan for FY 1998 to FY 2002. In addition, more specific plans for implementation of geoscience education programs were developed by the GEO Education Team, which consists of staff from all three GEO divisions who have been given special responsibilities with respect to education. In developing their plans, GEO Education Team members were aware of the many competing demands of GEO funds and the likelihood of fairly stable budgets in the foreseeable future. They therefore set priorities for the most effective use of GEO resources. Their recommendations were discussed at the May 1997 meeting of AC/GEO. One direct result of the discussions engendered by the workshop and report has been the development of a special competition for "Awards to Facilitate Geoscience Education." The Announcement of Opportunity for this competition is published as NSF 97-174; it also can be accessed from the GEO and NSF Web sites.


We invite all geoscientists to review this report and to engage in ongoing discussions regarding the improvement of geoscience education and the enhanced integration of research and education. Please consult the GEO Website for updates on planning as it proceeds, and submit comments and suggestions regarding geoscience education improvements to <>.


Robert W. Corell
Assistant Director for Geosciences


William P. Bishop
Chair, Advisory Committee for Geosciences



Geoscience Education Working Group (GEWG)


Richard Somerville, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Chair, GEWG; Member, AC/GEO, 1994-1996)

William Bishop, Desert Research Institute and U.S. Department of Energy (Chair, AC/GEO, 1994-1997)

Lawrence Braile, Purdue University

Susan Cook, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution

Linda Duguay, NSF Division of Ocean Sciences

Judith Hannah, Colorado State University

Ramon Lopez, University of Maryland-College Park

Nancy Marcus, Florida State University

Michael Mayhew, NSF Division of Earth Sciences

Joan Mitchell, NSF Division of Ocean Sciences

David Mogk, Montana State University

Theodore Moore, University of Michigan (Member, AC/GEO, 1994-1996)

Jewel Prendeville, NSF Division of Atmospheric Sciences

Robert Ridky, NSF Division of Undergraduate Education

Robert Ryan, WRC-TV, Washington, D.C.

Perry Samson, University of Michigan

John Snow, University of Oklahoma

Denise Stephenson-Hawk, Clark Atlanta University (Member, AC/GEO, 1997-1999)

Pam Stryker, Barton Creek Elementary School, Austin Texas

Marilyn Suiter, American Geological Institute (Member, AC/GEO, 1994-1997)

Peter Wilkniss, NSF Directorate for Geosciences


Advisory Committee for Geosciences (AC/GEO), 1997


William Bishop, Desert Research Institute and U.S. Department of Energy (Chair, AC/GEO)

Marcia McNutt, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (Vice Chair, AC/GEO)

Don Anderson, California Institute of Technology

Susan Avery, University of Colorado-Boulder

Eric Barron, Pennsylvania State University

Stephen Cox, Colorado State University

Robert Duce, Texas A&M University

Robert Gagosian, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Kate Hadley, Amoco

George Hornberger, University of Virginia

James Knox, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Mario Molina, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Alexandra Navrotsky, Princeton University

Joseph Pandolfo

David Schimel, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Sharon Smith, University of Miami

Denise Stephenson-Hawk, Clark Atlanta University

Marilyn Suiter, American Geological Institute


Geoscience Education:

A Recommended Strategy*




The Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) of the National Science Foundation (NSF) has long been successful at funding the research of the best scientists in its fields. Today, many forces are pressing the Foundation and this Directorate to change traditional priorities so as to emphasize education, broadly interpreted, as well as research. Some of these pressures stem from the wider world of policy and politics, such as the need for a scientifically literate general population. Other forces stem from the demographic realities of the science community itself, such as the overproduction of Ph.D. scientists relative to the ability of the traditional research marketplace to absorb them. Even if every new Ph.D. recipient could pursue a career in research, the nation would still want a large number of U.S. citizens to have a high degree of scientific understanding. Thus, strengthening geosciences education is an investment in the future of the nation and indeed the world, as well as in the future of the geosciences themselves. This report of the Geoscience Education Working Group enthusiastically embraces NSF's increased emphasis on education, endorses the principle that research and education should be well integrated, and seeks to provide guidance for developing a strong education program for the geosciences.


Science education itself is in the midst of a wide-ranging reform movement in the United States. The geosciences are well suited to lead in this reform, beginning in the pre-college phase, because the geosciences provide a natural window on the world of science. Children display an innate curiosity about the physical world, and everyday events, such as weather forecasts, can be powerful examples of science in action. To be effective, education in science must begin early and take advantage of this curiosity before it is lost. Many young people emerge from the K-12 educational experience largely ignorant of science and frightened by technology. We know that many K-12 teachers lack an adequate background in science in general, and in geosciences in particular. GEO has an essential role to play in helping to train teachers, in supporting outreach by geoscientists to teachers, and in providing educational training for geoscientists themselves. A strong pre-college component provides a crucial foundation for geoscience education at all subsequent levels: undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral, as well as for the general public.


Education in the geosciences is multifaceted and includes a broad spectrum of activities. Geoscience education for undergraduates is far more complex than simply training relatively few students in the traditional geoscience major fields. It includes exposing a wide range of undergraduates to scientific principles and practices through discovery- and inquiry-based learning. Geoscience education at the graduate and postdoctoral levels is more than supporting research assistants who will be molded in the practices of their advisors. It includes providing a strong foundation in the geosciences for professionals destined for diverse careers including law, business, public policy, and education. GEO’s support for faculty is more than funding research. It includes enabling faculty to participate in public outreach, in teacher training, and in improving the educational skills of the faculty themselves.


In this report based on a workshop held at NSF on August 29-30, 1996, the Geoscience Education Working Group (GEWG) makes several concrete recommendations. The simple step of proclaiming education a high priority for GEO will send a clear signal to the geosciences community that times have changed. GEO must energetically enhance its partnership with NSF's Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) while recognizing that EHR is an unknown to most research geoscientists. GEO can help produce a document that explains EHR programs to geoscientists and guides them in submitting proposals to EHR. GEO can actively promote the educational aspects of the many university-level consortia which it sponsors, and GEO can facilitate the optimal educational use of the institutional networks associated with these consortia.


In addition, we recommend that GEO make small awards, sometimes in the form of supplements to research grants, to support promising outreach activities of individual scientists. We recommend that GEO and EHR both support research in geoscience education, helping geoscientists to work with colleagues in fields such as education and cognitive psychology, in order to facilitate development of a new generation of geoscience educators. We suggest that GEO engage administrators in the geoscience community by co-sponsoring a high-level conference to discuss the present and future of geoscience graduate education and implications for education at all levels. We encourage GEO to continue to strengthen its efforts to correct the under-representation of women and minorities in geosciences. We call for the establishment of fellowship and traineeship programs, and we endorse undergraduate research experience programs. We point out opportunities for the educational use of GEO-supported facilities. We think that GEO and EHR should jointly support computer-based geoscience teaching labs. We ask GEO to help teachers to work with geoscientists in a variety of settings and to help train geoscientists in educational issues. We encourage GEO to promote a number of avenues leading to increased geoscience outreach to teachers, students and the public.


Underlying the details of these and other specific recommendations is our deeply held conviction that GEO and the geoscience community it supports must change. For too long, research has been such a dominant priority in this community that scientists have neglected the need to communicate with people other than themselves. Now it is clear that a better and broader public understanding of the science and its significance is truly essential, and that education is the only route to achieving this goal.


Richard C. J. Somerville
Chair, Geoscience Education Working Group
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego



* Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the participants in the workshop of the Geoscience Education Working Group.


Geoscience Education:

A Recommended Strategy*


I. Overview


The American educational system has long been under stress at all levels, but movement toward reform -- especially reform of science education -- is gaining momentum. In response to this movement, the National Science Foundation recently has reaffirmed the significance of science education along with research as the agency’s priorities. 1,2,3 NSF’s education programs operate within the framework of government-wide emphasis on advancing the highest-quality education and training for all Americans, as recently expressed by the National Science and Technology Council.4,5


The Geoscience Education Working Group (GEWG) was convened in response to two conclusions drawn by the Directorate for Geosciences (GEO) and the Advisory Committee for Geosciences (AC/GEO). First, the geosciences have much to offer in the daunting task of science education reform. Second, GEO has the responsibility to engage the geoscience community in this process. This change in perspective parallels similar reassessments that are reaffirming the significance of both research and education on university campuses.6 Before turning to recommendations about ways that GEO can effectively and efficiently do this, we briefly review some of the underlying problems.


Problems at the various education levels from K-12 through postgraduate studies differ. They are outlined separately below, but some common threads run through them. First, at each level the fundamental question, "What are we educating students for?", needs to be asked explicitly, but often it is not. Second, the modern view of the importance of hands-on experience and constructivist learning applies at all education levels.7


Postdoctoral Level


Postdoctoral appointments can be a unique opportunity for a first-rate scientist who recently earned a Ph.D. to solidify research skills, build a track record, establish peer relationships, and acquire professional self-confidence. On the other hand, more Ph.D. students prepare themselves for an academic career than can be supported by the job market. As a result, postdoctoral appointments often serve as "holding patterns" for young scientists unable to find jobs as professors.


Many recent Ph.D. recipients are narrowly trained in the same specialties as their advisors, and they remain so as postdocs. Thus, when they enter the labor force, they compete directly with their former mentors for NSF funds. Given the overwhelming focus on research and grant-getting, the direction for a postdoc intending an academic career tends to be narrowly focused research. The postdoctoral appointment does little to prepare them for many aspects of scholarly life, including teaching.


Graduate Level


The traditional mode of operation of NSF disciplinary programs has been to fund graduate students as a basic part of grants to principal investigators (PIs) for specific research projects. The tacit assumption is that the student will conduct research under the supervision of the PI and pursue an academic career like that of the advisor. There is no shortage of "best and brightest" graduate students with these characteristics, and there is no personnel shortage for world-class academic researchers. On the contrary, there is a problem of overproduction of specialized doctoral scientists, few of whom have received substantive training in the educational practices they will need in future academic positions.8


It is now widely recognized that a new system of graduate education is needed to prepare students for broad competence and flexibility in the workplace. There are calls for replacing some of the current support for graduate research assistantships with internships and fellowships intended to extend students’ experience outside of funded research projects, and especially in work settings. A solid geoscience education can be excellent preparation for "non-traditional" career paths in fields such as law, business, and education.


Undergraduate Level


There has been much discussion about the need for improvement of undergraduate education in general and in the geosciences in particular, as well as a recognition of the difficult path to reform. Formidable institutional problems remain, such as how to educate (and evaluate) very large classes, a shortage of up-to-date facilities and technologies, and faculty reward systems that often fail to emphasis educational excellence.


Recognition also is growing of the need for new pedagogies and related curricula and instructional tools, along with training of faculty in their use. Too often the potential benefits of geoscience education at the undergraduate level go unrealized, as occurs in other areas of science.9 The problem is complex because of the diversity of the undergraduate population. If one asks what an undergraduate education in geoscience is for, there is not one answer.


The only path through undergraduate education with which GEO has traditionally had any real (though limited) concern is that of the student who is headed for a geoscience program at the graduate level. But this is a small fraction of the undergraduate population. All undergraduates, and ultimately the public at large, would benefit from improved geoscience education.10


Besides the range of careers that would benefit from a geoscience education, there is the important, if intangible, goal of training undergraduates (as at all levels) in "scientific habits of the mind," "scientific practice," and "reasoning from evidence." These qualities generally are developed through some form of "hands-on," discovery-based, or inquiry-based learning across a broad curricular front.11


Finally, it is well-recognized that scientific literacy, interest, curiosity, and internalization of the process of discovery and analysis begins in elementary school, and that too often that is short circuited by inadequate teacher preparation. Students training for careers in pre-college education need help at the undergraduate level in understanding the process of science and becoming scientifically self-confident. GEO’s role in these fundamental infrastructural and pipeline issues deserves careful consideration.


K-12 Level


GEO’s traditional "educational" focus has been on training graduate students for an academic career, with some attention paid to those undergraduates who intend to follow this career path. Although GEO has not previously placed emphasis on K-12 education, the quality of students entering college -- their knowledge base, their ability to solve problems and present results, their intellectual self-confidence, and their open-yet-skeptical habits of mind -- are formed during their progression from Grades K-12.


Colleges and universities can play a fundamental role in bringing about widespread reform at the K-12 level.12 Important elements are development of (1) closer relationships between education schools and science programs, (2) partnerships with local school systems, and (3) hands-on science education programs. Many universities are making advances in all three areas. Some of these are member universities of GEO-sponsored consortia and involve geosciences content. A critical element of GEO’s future planning with respect to improving geoscience education is determining appropriate ways through which GEO can use its resources, particularly its contacts with a substantial university network, to nurture and advance these initiatives.


Informal Education


Much attention has been given to the report on Science and Engineering Indicators - 1996, which noted the American public’s low level of understanding of the facts and concepts of science, despite the pervasive use of the products of science.13 Ironically, the same report disclosed widespread public interest in science. Part of GEO’s responsibility is to further public understanding of the content of geoscience and the process of science in general.


In the long run, public understanding of science in general and active processes of nature in particular -- and ultimately public support of the scientific enterprise -- will depend on the quality of public education. This is why geoscience education, both in school and out of school, deserves GEO’s attention. The geosciences have a natural advantage in the arena of discovery-based learning, and it is in this community’s interest for geoscientists to be in the vanguard of the educational reform movement.




Although much of the focus of education is on students, the need also exists for providing support for teachers. This is especially true in colleges and universities, where faculty members serve in critical capacities as both researchers and educators. Faculty need assistance to transfer their professional expertise to the K-12 classroom, to help train present and future teachers, and to provide continuing education for the community at large. We believe it is essential that GEO does all it can to foster a significant change in the prevailing university culture. Rather than viewing educational activities as a dilution of focused research efforts, we should consider education to be an investment of time, energy, and resources that adds value to the research mission through greater application, understanding, and appreciation of science by a wider audience.


"Changing the culture" is a formidable long-term challenge that will depend on the actions of many individuals. Faculty need help in connecting with existing educational programs that work. Such programs involve "best teaching practice," student-centered learning, discovery and inquiry, new pedagogies, research on how students really learn, and evaluation and dissemination of educational activities and materials.



* Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this report are those of the participants in the workshop of the Geoscience Education Working Group.



II. General Recommendations


This section contains some general recommendations that resulted from GEWG discussions. Those recommendations considered by the GEWG to be of the highest priority are highlighted in boxes.




The GEWG recognizes that GEO already is providing considerable support for geoscience education. This primarily has taken the form of student support through regular research grants, although GEO has also participated in established programs at the agency, directorate, and division levels.


The current pattern of GEO’s support for education has developed largely in an ad hoc way. To a great extent, GEO has deferred to the Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR) for support of educational activities. This document is testimony to the fact that GEO now sees itself assuming greater responsibility for support of geoscience education. To fulfill this responsibility, leadership is of paramount importance:


GEO can do much for the community for little cost simply by publicly establishing education as a directorate priority, by communicating an intellectual framework within which education programs which it sponsors should operate, and by facilitating the diffusion of quality education programs.



Resources are limited now and for the foreseeable future. Thus, an important element of GEO leadership is to proactively enhance its partnerships with other organizations, each of which has its own programs, networks, resources, and special expertise that can contribute toward improvements in geoscience education. The following paragraphs describe some of the ways that GEO has worked with different partners to advance geoscience education.


NSF’s Directorate for Education and Human Resources

The NSF Directorate for Education and Human Resources has provided substantial funding for geoscience and environmental science education projects. Total support for the period from FY 1990 to 1996 exceeded $100 million. This support generally has come as the result of favorable reviews of proposals submitted to EHR; GEO has played little if any role in most funding decisions. EHR support for geoscience education has taken place largely within three divisions; a description follows.


Programs of the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) regularly fund undergraduate educational projects in the geosciences, environmental science, and geography. The geoscience community receives substantial benefit from these programs. Working with DUE, the American Geophysical Union conducted a major workshop on November 15-17, 1996, to help lay the groundwork for a special initiative within EHR devoted to the geosciences.


Within the Division of Research, Evaluation, and Communication (REC), the Application of Advanced Technology Program funds a number of high-quality geoscience projects. Examples include (1) the University of Michigan’s Weather Underground, which provides K-12 students with Internet access to environmental and real-time meteorological data; (2) the University of Colorado’s Kids as Global Scientists program, which also uses Internet telecommunication of meteorological data in conjunction with middle school curricula in 50 locations worldwide; and (3) the Princeton Earth Physics Project, a collaborative effort of Princeton University and the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS), which puts user-friendly seismometers and associated software in classrooms around the country and links them via the Internet with each other and with IRIS’s Data Management Center in Seattle.


The Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education (ESIE) funds a range of projects in the geosciences. Examples are (1) participation of pre-college teachers in Earth Sciences Research Experience for Undergraduates Sites; (2) Project LEARN, a middle school teacher training program located at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and (3) Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory’s EarthView Explorer, which distributes large data sets via the Internet.


EHR’s programs "push the envelope" with respect to systemic reform, course and curriculum development, faculty and teacher enhancement, instructional materials development, instrumentation and laboratory improvement, and informal education, through participation by teachers, professors, scientists, and science educators. It is important that geoscientists in education have access to these resources. It is widely perceived by geoscientists that EHR funding is difficult to obtain, but this impression largely results from the inadequate information that most geoscientists have about EHR programs and the rules under which EHR program officers operate. GEO can provide an important service by brokering interactions between EHR programs and scientists and educators working in the geosciences.


GEO, with help from EHR, should produce a document for geoscientists that gives information about EHR programs. This document should contain a practical guide describing what it takes to produce a successful proposal and descriptions of a number of previously funded projects.


University Consortia

GEO sponsors a number of large consortia, each of which supports attractive educational programs. Chief among these consortia are the following:


University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which has 62 member universities and 19 affiliate members within the U.S. UCAR supports a large number of educational programs aimed at the full range of educational levels, including public outreach. UCAR’s Web site [] summarizes these programs and also provides links to education programs of member universities.


UCAR’s Unidata program provides a widely used system for accessing on the Internet real-time meteorological data as well as analysis and management tools. Approximately 140 universities constitute the formal Unidata network. The system is widely used to access data for educational purposes. Unidata is establishing a mini-grants program to foster the creation and sharing of educational materials among Unidata members. The Unidata Web site is [].


Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology (IRIS) has a network of more than 90 members. IRIS remains active in the development of the Princeton Earth Physics Project (PEPP). New classroom seismometers were developed specifically for the project by private vendors. These instruments and Web-based curricular materials will be distributed to K-12 classrooms by university members of IRIS. Schools will access seismograms from the IRIS Data Management Center and will contribute their own data to the international network via the Internet. More information about IRIS is available from its Web site []. The PEPP Web site is [].


Southern California Earthquake Center (SCEC) is a multi-university Science and Technology Center co-funded with the U.S. Geological Survey. Its Education and Knowledge Transfer programs are co-funded with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. SCEC has an ambitious educational outreach program that emphasizes hands-on learning and participation of non-traditional students. At the pre-college level, partnerships have been developed with several education organizations, including the Palos Verdes School System. At the undergraduate level, a large number of students have worked directly with scientists through SCEC’s intern program. SCEC’s Web address is [].


Center for High-Pressure Research (CHiPR) is a Science and Technology Center centered at SUNY-Stony Brook. Other participating institutions are the Geophysical Laboratory of the Carnegie Institution of Washington and Princeton University. CHiPR has been running a very successful Research Experiences for Undergraduates Site in the technically demanding field of high-pressure mineral physics. At the pre-college level, CHiPR offers a teacher-training program designed to integrate student research projects into the curriculum. Several other programs targeting student groups, individual motivated students, and the public focus on the geology and hydrology of Long Island as well as studies of the Earth’s deep interior. A new program features Web-based interactive learning and use of Java tools. The CHiPR Web site is [].


The Center for the Analysis and Prediction of Storms (CAPS) is a Science and Technology Center at the University of Oklahoma. Its educational outreach program through the Oklahoma City Public Schools includes (1) a fifth-grade program featuring a variety of science projects, (2) presentations to teachers and students, and (3) a junior high research experience in microclimate in the Arbuckle Mountains. CAPS offers an undergraduate fellowship program that allows students to work with Center scientists. A Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site is operated by the university’s Weather Center, a partnership of several organizations, including CAPS and NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory. The Web address for CAPS is [].


The Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate (C4) is a Science and Technology Center based at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego. Other members are Oregon State University, the University of Maryland-College Park, NCAR, the California Space Institute, SeaSpace Corporation and three European institutions. In addition to special educational efforts at the graduate and undergraduate level, C4 has developed an innovative set of activities focusing on K-12 and informal education in cooperation with the Stephen Birch Aquarium-Museum at Scripps. Products of this effort include Forecasting the Future, a classroom curriculum and activity guide focusing on global climate change with an associated teacher-training program, and "Next Wave," an interactive environmental education center that teachers and students can access via the Internet. The C4 Web site is []; the "Next Wave" can be accessed at [].


The institutional networks associated with GEO-sponsored consortia represent an enormous educational resource, especially when viewed collectively. GEO’s promotion and facilitation of the optimal use of these networks would in itself have huge educational benefit nationwide.


Professional Societies

Another set of partners that share GEO’s goal of improving geoscience education are professional societies that serve many segments of the geoscience community. Together, these societies constitute a large geoscientific network. Many have ambitious educational outreach programs. GEO already has close ties with these organizations, which are a valuable potential resource through which GEO can serve its community. These professional societies can play especially valuable roles in stimulating collaborations among scientists and educators and in outreach to the public. Among the major professional societies with whom GEO has substantive interactions are:


Other Organizations

Like the professional societies, numerous other organizations have innovative educational programs and networks. Some of the other organizations that GEO will look to work with are:

The amount of staff time needed to nurture effective partnerships with such organizations should not be underestimated, but the rewards for geoscience education may be considerable.


Other Federal Agencies

Other federal agencies have strong educational programs, including:

GEO can build on the cooperative research programs it has established through its partnership with these agencies, most notably the U.S. Global Change Research Program, as it focuses more attention on the education arena. The GEWG is aware that an NSF-wide Environment and Global Change Education Program already is under development, and this seems a natural vehicle for interagency cooperation in education.


Teacher- and School-Based Organizations

To effectively inform students and the public about the nature and importance of new geoscience knowledge, researchers need to seek the help of those who know best how learning is achieved -- teachers. Scientists have much to learn from pre-college teachers and undergraduate instructors. Even with the best intentions, many researchers failed to communicate effectively with external audiences. Effective integration of the outcomes of GEO-funded research into classroom instruction needs effective partnerships with teacher and school organizations such as:

To succeed in improving geoscience education, GEO also needs to work with state-based networks. Such partnerships will facilitate the development of curricular materials, teacher training, the dissemination of research findings via exhibits and other media, and many other activities.


Small Grants to Facilitate Educational Outreach


Many geoscience researchers take education seriously and devote considerable personal energy to it. They typically have a scientific curiosity about the learning process. Some would like to develop innovative educational activities at a relatively "local" level, but to do so incurs some real costs. These researchers commonly are frustrated by the fact that support usually is not available for such educational activities from either GEO or EHR.


GEO should establish a program of small awards to support educational outreach activities of individual geoscientists that seem particularly promising. Awards may commonly take the form of supplements to active research grants.


Scientists can and should become involved in science education, yet there is only modest external incentive for these efforts, and many scientists need substantial education and training themselves to be effective contributors. An important, if intangible, effect of the recommended program would be to foster the cultural change that will help those scientists who want to engage in true education reform.


This kind of program should be highly selective. GEO would fund a limited number of activities following a rigorous review of applications. Although these activities might directly impact relatively few students, they would offer promise of substantial positive outcomes. As a result, many of the scientists may be eligible for enhanced funding from EHR. An important criterion would be the degree to which researchers engage teachers and/or science educators in the work; another would be incorporating mechanisms for sharing the results of the activity widely in the community, for example via the Worldwide Web. The program could serve a number of different purposes:


Undergraduate Course and Curriculum Development

Small awards would provide seed money for initiating development of innovative course and curriculum materials at the undergraduate level. Successful projects would be in a good position to approach the Course and Curriculum Development Program in the Division of Undergraduate Education for full development. Such projects would involve translation of real-time data, large databases, and analytic tools into meaningful classroom activities.


Partnerships with appropriate colleagues in science education and cognitive psychology would ensure that the materials are being developed at appropriate levels for the intended audience, and that the impacts on student learning are adequately evaluated. GEO can facilitate engagement with those who have been successful in curriculum development. Discovery is essential in both the research and the educational enterprises, and this should be emphasized through direct research by students and through such delivery mechanisms as modeling, simulation, visualization, quantification, and other graphical representations.


Awards should be made to a variety of academic institutions ranging from research universities to liberal arts colleges, small state colleges, and community colleges. Programs should be designed so that they impact future teachers as well as students.


Bringing "Cutting-Edge" Research Into the Education Mainstream

Researchers with a particular interest in integrating science and education and whose projects have an attractive educational application at any level should be encouraged to develop an outreach effort as an "add-on" to their research proposal. Supplemental funding would provide support for appropriate dissemination of information to the public, possibly through museums, videos, or nature centers, or additional funds might facilitate training for teachers in topics related to the researcher's project.


Including science educators and/or teachers as partners in the development of an education component of a research project would be essential. An excellent approach is to involve teachers on an individual basis or through summer institutes or "one-day workshop" programs. The outreach efforts of many universities can be successful projects requiring only modest outside support. Researchers and educators who form coherent teams and conduct successful projects would be well situated to seek support for future efforts from appropriate programs in the Division of Elementary, Secondary, and Informal Education or other EHR divisions.


Partnerships To Implement the National Science Education Standards

Academic researchers play a crucial role implementing the National Science Education Standards. They will need to work in partnership with individuals and organizations that have considerable expertise and experience in K-12 and informal education, including teachers, education departments, education societies, science societies engaged in educational outreach, school boards, museums, and aquariums. Developing and sustaining such partnerships likely will require some additional funds; however, a little funding often goes a long way. Efforts to help implement the standards will take many forms, such as workshops in local areas or at education conventions where innovative curriculum projects like Blue Skies or Seismic Sleuths may be demonstrated.


Geoscience Education in Two- and Four-Year Colleges

Though not usually recipients of GEO research support, community colleges and small four-year colleges play an increasingly important role in the education of undergraduates. A program of small grants could be quite valuable in supporting exploration of how dispersed learning technologies could connect geoscience academic programs at research universities with small college and community college networks.


Web-Based Resources

For geoscientists, the world is a laboratory. Direct experience in the field is important to students at all levels. Although most would not want to trade the real world for a virtual one, multimedia technology will play an increasingly important pedagogic role in geoscience education in the coming years.


It is important to recognize that the virtual university will be a rapidly growing phenomenon in the near term, and the Worldwide Web will facilitate new forms of communication and interaction.14 It will become increasingly possible to deliver content-rich geoscience courses, based in a real-world research context, involving high-quality real time or archive data, and aimed at promoting analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills. A prototype is the Geographer’s Craft and Virtual Geography Department project at the University of Texas at Austin.15


A valuable component of a small grants program could be the support of partnerships that can initiate the development of innovative Web-based projects in the geosciences. Many of these projects would have the potential for later full-scale support from EHR or other organizations. To maintain high quality, materials posted on the Web will need to be mindful of the importance of appropriate indexing, abstracting, and hyperlinking of materials. Long-term maintenance of Web sites also will be needed, as will easy access so that students and faculty will readily be able to find useful materials.


The Promise of Communications Technologies


The imagination of the public has been captured by movies such as Twister, Dante’s Peak, and Jurassic Park, by television such as the Nova series and National Geographic specials, and by videos, for example those on The Weather Channel. This popular interest stems from the inherent fascination that people have with the power and fury of nature and its potential impact on our lives. The challenge for geoscientists is to build unique educational opportunities that take advantage of this public interest without compromising the integrity of the science. Given the traditional lead of the geosciences in scientific telecommunications, for example space sciences and meteorology, we should explore the integration of virtually instant information exchange into our national science education efforts. The geosciences are ideally situated to aid reform in science education through the use of new communications technologies that facilitate more project-based learning opportunities for all ages.


GEO major goals with respect to education are consonant with a recent report from the Office of Technology Assessment titled Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection.16 That report outlines five strategies:


Technology that can drive educational reform is evolving rapidly, and it is crucial that GEO help the scientific community to position itself at the cutting edge. A government initiative to develop the "Next Generation Internet" has been announced. President Clinton has proposed that every school and library in the U.S. be provided with free access to basic Internet services. The implications for educational innovation are clear; the geoscience community needs to fully embrace the opportunities.


NSF has made initial awards in the new Collaborative Research in Learning Technologies (CRLT) program aimed at frontier research on integration of technology with learning at all educational levels. CRLT supports basic research by multi-disciplinary teams employing state-of-the art applications of artificial intelligence, telecommunications, and other technological tools. In FY 1997, CRLT will become part of a broader effort on Learning and Intelligent Systems (LIS). GEO can be instrumental in helping the geoscience community take full advantage of these initiatives.


Research On Geoscience Education


Reform of science education must be predicated on research on learning and teaching materials and practices that are developed from that research. The geosciences currently have a much weaker research base than a number of other fields, such as physics. Several physics education research groups have been established in universities that grant discipline-based Ph.D.s. The National Science Education Standards places geoscience on a par with the physical and life sciences. 17 This development provides opportunities for a major educational breakthrough, but it also offers challenges:


A program of research on geoscience education is needed to address these challenges. Such a program constitutes a formidable challenge in its own right, because such research is more demanding in many ways than is research about the natural world.


Working with EHR and other organizations, GEO should establish a program of support for research on geoscience education that will engage geoscientists with colleagues in education, cognitive psychology, and other fields, thereby forming the basis for a new generation of geoscience educators.


Engagement of Administrators


The nature of graduate education is changing as the social contract between science and society changes. A conversation involving leading members of the geoscience community is needed to explore the implications of these changes.


GEO should work with geoscience professional societies and distinguished bodies such as the National Academy of Sciences to convene a high-level conference of administrators to discuss the present and future of geoscience graduate education and implications for education at all levels.


A high-level conference focusing on the future of graduate education in the geosciences would include deans, center and program directors, and department heads. If successful, such a conference could take place every two or three years. Precedence for such a conference may be found in the May 1995 Physics Department Chairs Conference []. Another good model is the biannual Meeting of the Heads and Chairs of Atmospheric Science Programs. A similar gathering of geoscience administrators could produce a report to provide a foundation for future action on this topic.


Geoscience Education and Underrepresented Groups


Students do not all arrive at the kindergarten door with equal experiences, opportunities, and aspirations. Social and economic realities begin their impact long before that time. By society limiting, even inadvertently, access to the full range of opportunities for science learning, many students fail to gain the skills necessary to assess the validity of evidence or the logic of arguments, and they frequently are misinformed about the nature of science endeavors. Our nation is producing a generation of students who cannot take full advantage of the benefits of science. This problem is especially severe for many minority students, which reduces their pursuit of scientific careers.


GEO should continue to recognize the problem of underrepresentation of minorities and women in the geosciences and should increase its efforts to correct this problem by encouraging participation of people from these groups in all of its programs.


Greater exposure of minority students to what geoscientists do and to the possible careers in geosciences is critical to increasing the representation of minorities in the geosciences. This may be most appropriately done at the primary, secondary, and undergraduate levels, but it should also carry over into graduate and postgraduate educational settings.


Enhanced recruiting efforts need to begin at an early age and continue on through to college. Efforts need to be aimed at retention. There has to be continuity, information flow, and links among programs at various levels so that talented students continue in a pipeline that will lead them to careers in the geosciences. To some extent, a competition exists among disciplines for talented members of underrepresented groups, and if the geosciences do not do a better job of attracting and retaining a significant number of capable and interested individuals, they likely will be lured away by well organized programs in fields such as the biomedical sciences. At the undergraduate level, for example, capable students who begin a course of study in the geosciences at the freshman and sophomore levels can be given the opportunity to work as interns; during their junior and senior years they can gain experience as a members of a research team.


The infrastructure problems and culture of minority institutions also need to be addressed. For example, undergraduates who do not have ready access to the Internet and Worldwide Web do not have full access to the real world of "doing science." Well planned outreach and networking activities are essential. GEO should continue to support activities that introduce students to the broader world and help them to establish a network of contacts. Support for programs such as the 1995 Hampton Diversity Conference and the Hampton-ASLO Minorities in Aquatic Sciences Mentoring and Meeting Participation Program for Students is vital.


The majority of African Americans who receive a doctoral degree received their undergraduate degree from a Historically Black College or University. However, no state-of-the-art, viable undergraduate geosciences programs exist at any of the 117 historically black institutions of higher education. This situation must be remedied if the number of African Americans pursuing careers in the geosciences is to increase.


GEO should pursue an initiative with EHR and with geoscience-oriented federal agencies to establish state-of-the-art geoscience programs at a few institutions with large minority student enrollments.


One of the most critical elements of career development is the availability of role models. Though the situation for women has improved, there are few role models for minority students at many institutions. GEO should encourage professional societies to develop programs to help graduate students attend their meetings, because the professional society meetings enable female and minority students to interact with many more female and minority scientists than they normally would encounter at their home institutions. The participation of women and minority students should be encouraged by providing travel awards for graduate and postdoctoral students.



The GEWG believes that it is important for GEO to communicate directly with many audiences about the most exciting things going on in geoscience education, as well as in geoscience research. GEO should give serious consideration to determining how best to do this. Four possible avenues are:


Annual Geoscience Research-as-Education Workshop

An annual workshop series featuring the best examples of projects that integrate geoscience research and education could be established. These workshops would become a vehicle for researchers and educators to meet and develop connections among themselves. Complementing the workshops could be a high-quality workshop report series and the posting of examples on the Worldwide Web, making use of multimedia whenever possible. Such products would be useful to education professionals and public audiences.


An Education Link on the GEO Web Site

Public access to the Worldwide Web is increasing at a very rapid pace. The addition of pages focusing on geoscience education to GEO’s Web Site could provide an organic, informative, useful, and exciting means of sharing the results of the best geoscience education projects and future opportunities. Education pages on the GEO Web Site and links to sites elsewhere would constitute a valuable resource for teachers, students, scientists, and the general public.


Colloquium Series

GEO should consider establishing a special colloquium series to encourage geoscience departments to conduct at least one education colloquium each year. These colloquia would build an infrastructure for education research with specific application to the geosciences and encourage acceptance of education as an important responsibility for geoscientists.


Video Production

The whole world is the laboratory for geoscientists, who travel to the most interesting places on Earth to make observations in order to understand how the Earth system functions. Where we cannot go, we have clever tools to help us probe and sample remotely. The images associated with both direct and remote observation make for fascinating video presentations, which capture the imagination of the public. There is much potential benefit to the science from partnerships among GEO, video companies, television stations, and corporate sponsors to increase the output of high-quality geoscience-related videos.


III. Recommendations by Educational Level


Geoscience stimulates interest in science for students of all ages. Nearly everyone is interested in the natural world with which we interact every day. Furthermore, societal needs in the critical areas of energy, the environment, and natural hazards are strongly related to the geosciences.


High-quality geoscience education is essential for the future health of the geosciences because it directly affects the attraction and training of future scientists. It is equally important in developing scientific literacy among all members of society and for increasing awareness about, interest in, and enjoyment of the Earth for all people. Science literacy and broad competence in analysis of scientific issues require the geosciences to reach the broadest possible audience. This is why it is essential for GEO’s education program to address each educational level -- graduate and post-graduate, undergraduate, pre-college, and public.


Graduate and Postdoctoral Education


At the graduate level, faculty researchers have focused their efforts on the training of students for careers in research. But many of these students have not found jobs in research, and many incoming graduate students now are looking at alternative careers that do not emphasize research. While it is important for these students to develop a sense for research and the scientific process, it is also important to provide them with additional training and skills. This might take the form of internships with industry, museums, non-profit organizations, or government agencies. The current system of grant support does not foster such a hiatus in training, however, because research projects depend on students as workers. Current realities clearly make alternative forms of graduate student support a necessity. The same is true for postdoctoral support.


Mechanisms need to be developed for funding students directly via traineeships and fellowships. These forms of support would shift more responsibility to the student. Partnerships with industry and other organizations should be developed to improve communication among students, academic departments, and future employers regarding the jobs that are and will be available and the training required for individuals to fill those jobs.


Changes also are needed at the masters level, which increasingly needs to be considered as the "professional degree" for many students, because about three-quarters of all M.S. recipients will be going into non-academic jobs. Increasingly, industry will require masters-level professional training.10


GEO should establish a fellowship/traineeship program -- ideally in partnership with EHR -- that would provide students with solid grounding in interdisciplinary geoscience, while making them flexible, innovative, and broadly competent in the workplace.


New mechanisms for graduate and postdoctoral support might include the following:


GEO Postdoctoral Fellowships

Awards made to individuals would encourage innovative independent projects. Fellowships could involve novel cross-disciplinary research, mentoring, pedagogical development, or educational technologies as well as industrial or international connections. For those seeking new approaches to the integration of research and education, mentorship by both a scientist and an educator would be appropriate. Cost-sharing should be expected from the university.


GEO Graduate Traineeships

Traineeships would be made to individuals or departments and would support innovative interdisciplinary or dual professional degree programs. The aim would be production of a cadre of exceptionally competent and versatile professionals, who are intellectually well grounded in geoscience research. Programs for individuals could involve multiple institutions. Traineeships could involve innovative educational components, such as new pedagogies or the use of technology in education. A traineeship program would be consistent with the recommendations of the National Science Board Task Force on Graduate and Postdoctoral Education.


Masters Degree Fellowships

GEO might play a useful role in developing prototypes of masters fellowships programs that produce technically competent and adaptable professionals. One type of program could follow the REU-Site model, where groups of students work in teams that expand and diversify their knowledge and skills through the conduct of multidisciplinary research activities in real-world settings.


Certain programs could explicitly involve a dual-career framework, in which students could combine geoscience training with applications in areas such as law, economics, planning, journalism, or international affairs. Other kinds of programs could support students pursuing masters degrees in preparation for teaching at the pre-college level. Fellowships should be available to experienced teachers wishing to increase their geoscience expertise.


Retooling for Education Fellowships

At the same time that geoscience Ph.D. recipients find it harder to fill traditional academic positions , there is a huge and growing need for educators with strong knowledge of the geosciences, both in the K-12 teaching arena and in the conduct of geoscience education research. GEO should provide a path for those who want to make the transition by providing Retooling for Education Fellowships to recent Ph.D. and M.S. recipients. A number of these fellowships might also be made available to more senior scientists who wish to shift fields but need some additional resources in order to do so.


These fellowships would provide limited support to the recipient while she/he carries out a predetermined program to achieve the goal, whether it be teacher certification (K-12) or a program of geoscience education research. Partnerships should be developed with EHR and the National Science Teachers Association (for the K-12 component) to ensure timely and accurate information that proposers could use in developing their plan.


GEO Research Training Groups (RTGs)

RTGs integrate research and education in a multidisciplinary context. GEO should consider establishing its own RTG program or participating in a cross-directorate effort within NSF that follows the RTG model established by the NSF Directorate for Biological Sciences. Awards would be made to groups formed from multiple disciplinary organizations and would be focused on significant multidisciplinary problems. The central objective would be broad training of students in an excellent research environment. RTGs could include undergraduates, graduate students, and postdocs. Award budgets would involve a broad range of activities supporting student participation, but the expected outcome of the projects would be advances in significant problems in the geosciences. An RTG program would be a logical point of entry for GEO into efforts now underway to develop a coherent NSF-wide strategy for promoting environment and global change education. [Editor’s Note: Starting in FY 1998, GEO will participate in the NSF-wide Integrated Graduate Education Research Training (IGERT) competition, which uses the RTG model.]


Undergraduate Education


Over the last year, EHR has conducted a major review of undergraduate education. The results of that review are reported in Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology.18 There are important recommendations within this report that will have an impact on undergraduate education into the next century. Perhaps the most significant recommendation is one that calls for all undergraduate students to have the opportunity to learn science in relevant contexts through direct inquiry. A related recommendation calls for all students to be empowered through the development of life-long learning skills. A parallel study by the National Academy of Sciences reached consonant conclusions.19 GEO can advance the goals articulated in these reports in a number of specific ways:


Expanded and Diversified Support for REU Sites

Fieldwork is a defining aspect of the geosciences. It therefore needs to assume a central role in undergraduate geoscience education. One of the best vehicles for providing undergraduate students with field opportunities is the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Anecdotal evidence indicates that the REU program has been notably successful in providing hands-on experience and cooperative learning – both in the field and also in the laboratory. It has attracted numerous young people to the geosciences, including many from underrepresented groups, and has also proven to be an important cornerstone for many others who have gone into other professional fields. Many of the skills that students acquire through research experience are useful during the rest of their lives, even if they do not pursue careers as researchers. The REU program is of clear value to the goal of producing a geoscientifically literate populace, and it has been of value in encouraging the integration of research and education at undergraduate institutions.


GEO should expand and diversify its participation in the REU program (and possibly other REU-like programs) for a number of purposes, such as encouraging dual-profession programs, engaging teachers, attracting minority students, and organizing collaborations among undergraduate institutions with complementary expertise.


Through REU awards or similar vehicles, students may simultaneously benefit from interactions with colleagues and scientists at a distance through evolving technology while "doing" science locally as individuals or in small groups.


Educational Use of Geoscience Facilities

Some facilities supported by GEO can be used for educational purposes more extensively than has been done in the past.


In cooperation with other organizations, GEO should help identify and acquire additional funding for GEO-supported facilities that would increase the use of the facilities available for educational purposes.


To provide additional support for facilities while expanding their use for educational purposes would be a "win-win" situation. Students would have the opportunity to gain hands-on research experience, often with state-of-the art hardware, while the facilities would obtain additional funding to sustain educational and other activities. Additionally, some students who use the facilities and then assume positions in industry likely would want to continue making use of the facility, thereby providing an additional source of revenue through user fees.


Educational Technology in Undergraduate Settings


Much more needs to be done to take advantage of new technologies when presenting the geosciences to students. In many respects, the geosciences are the most visual of all disciplines. They also may be among the least amenable to the traditional lecture format of teaching. The need to display and manipulate large databases is an important characteristic of the geosciences that should be an integral part of undergraduate education. Some excellent computer-based educational materials are becoming available. NSF will do a great service to undergraduates by continuing to develop and make use of these materials, thereby encouraging both science and computer literacy.


GEO should explore with EHR the possibility of joint support for state-of-the-art computer-based teaching labs uniquely tailored to the geosciences.


Small Grants for Undergraduate Institutions


The relative lack of research facilities and opportunities at many predominantly undergraduate institutions, particularly the smaller state institutions that teach the majority of college students, limits opportunities to integrate research and education. A model for change might be a "small grants for undergraduate institutions" program, which would allow faculty at undergraduate institutions to apply for modest awards that could be used to purchase small equipment, provide student stipends, finance travel to field or lab sites, or pay laboratory user fees. Alternatively, such awards could facilitate collaboration with colleagues at research universities. Such collaborations could be an effective means for overcoming the isolation often experienced by faculty at small undergraduate colleges. Direct inclusion of undergraduate students in such activities is a natural complement to faculty efforts, but it should not be required. Such a program might be carried out through the Research in Undergraduate Institutions (RUI) program, including the Research Opportunities Awards (ROA) component. The challenge for GEO would be to ensure rigorous review while avoiding the administrative burden of numerous small grants.


While faculty at predominantly undergraduate institutions often need special help with maintaining active research programs, it must be recognized that some such institutions have developed an ongoing commitment to high-quality geoscience education, application of advances in our understanding of how students learn, and outstanding new approaches to educating not only geoscience majors but the general citizenry. Faculty at research universities stand to benefit from this expertise, and it is important that GEO foster collaborations with undergraduate institutions that are mutually beneficial.


Mid-Career Faculty Support


Unless teaching is elevated and rewarded at the same level as research within the universities, education will remain a distant priority for tenured faculty. The present NSF-wide CAREER program, which is directed toward faculty in the first years of their academic appointments, is intended to address this problem. An alternative program worthy of GEO’s consideration would be directed toward tenured faculty, many of whom have the interest and job security to undertake innovative educational activities. Annual "Distinguished Educator Awards in Geosciences" would convey to geoscientists and to academic organizations the importance of integrating of research and education at all levels. Funds provided through such awards would also enable enhanced efforts of experienced researcher-educators.


Pre-College Education


The pre-college years mark the beginning -- and for many students, the end -- of interest in science. The K-6 years are especially important. The elementary and middle school experience will largely determine whether a child grows up feeling empowered to participate in an increasingly technological environment. The primary goal of education must be to engage students in the thoughtful and creative exploration of science as a means of gaining knowledge, skills, and intellectual self-confidence they will use throughout their lives. Because it is of such fundamental importance, the GEWG believes that GEO should make pre-college education one of its highest priorities. The following statement by one of the GEWG members, Bob Ryan, expresses the collective view of the group:


There is reason for deep concern about the general public's lack of understanding of science and the continuing message in our elementary and secondary schools that "science is only for the bright kids." We are facing a watershed generation, and, yes, a social crisis in the country, which has its roots in the ability of today's young people to find a place in an increasingly competitive science- and technology-based world. It is critical that we do everything we can to ensure that everyone has an opportunity for a productive future. That means making sure that every young person has an understanding of science, what it really is, and why it is important. The "window" on this new world is most naturally the science of the world around us -- the geosciences. The only contact most Americans have with science or someone who is or tries to be a scientist is the daily TV weathercast.


Science’s basic message is that one forms a conclusion only after a careful, rigorous process that tests an idea and that involves a search, be it by experiment or some personal investigation, that leads to understanding. What a wonderful message for young people, whether they go into the sciences (in its broadest meaning) or not. This is a message and a view of what science really is that will serve individuals well throughout their lives. It is a lesson that should be very easy to teach, but that, unfortunately, few teachers ever convey. We have an obligation to make sure that every young person, particularly the disadvantaged, have an understanding of what science is and an opportunity to discover for themselves and to see the joy of making the conclusion the last step rather than the first step. No science offers this opportunity of discovery like the geosciences.


There is no higher priority for geoscience education than using this vehicle to open the world of science to the young people of the country. We now have a generation of adults ignorant of science and frightened by the technological revolution taking place. In an ever-more competitive world, we cannot afford to lose a second generation. We must critically look at the K-6 programs (7-12 is too late), select the most successful, find out what makes them successful (use the scientific method if all else fails), expand on them, get the word out, and develop more teacher "networking" programs. Make successful investigators actively reach out to the educational community, and publicize what works and why. Use the network of NSF-supported scientists to get to work at the grass-roots level to share successful educational efforts so that every school district knows about these programs and so that every young person can have a chance for a bright tomorrow by at least having been exposed to what science really is.


In the view of the GEWG, GEO can contribute substantively in three ways: by supporting the development of strong education programs that will produce teachers competent in the geosciences, by supporting outreach by geoscientists to teachers, and by providing training in education for geoscientists.


Geoscience Education Programs

Although the geosciences have long been a component of pre-college curricula, they almost universally have been overshadowed by the life and physical sciences. At the elementary level, teachers have traditionally been trained in the humanities, not in the sciences. Thus, the instructional implications of the new National Science Education Standards are enormous. A large cadre of teachers well-trained in both geosciences content and pedagogy will be needed. For geoscience majors, this represents an employment opportunity; for the education community, this is an opportunity to add teachers well-trained in the geosciences.


At present, most undergraduates interested in careers in both the geosciences and in teaching must choose between a geoscience major and an education major. Further, large introductory courses commonly represent the only training in science offered to prospective teachers, especially those aiming for elementary or middle school. Large lectures model precisely the wrong approach to geoscience education and do little to excite a student, especially one who harbors some fear of science. In light of the new National Science Education Standards, teachers must better educate themselves in order to educate their students effectively.


The program of research on education recommended in an earlier section could respond to these problems. High-quality interdisciplinary programs of this type could develop new paradigms for effective geoscience education, while engaging a cadre of students who could deliver them to pre-college classrooms. The GEWG reiterates its view that GEO sponsorship of such a program would pay high dividends, both through the institutions supported and the models they would establish for others.


Outreach to Teachers

The GEWG recommends that GEO exercise leadership, make careful investments, and establish partnerships that provide initial stimuli to encourage individual geoscience researchers to reach out to K-12 teachers as part of their research programs. Efforts would ideally involve the same teacher(s) over a period of years, have a significant field experience component, and be structured not only to build the geoscience skills of teachers in a particular area but also to provide opportunities for the teachers to translate their experiences to activities for use in their classrooms. The initial goal would be the establishment and nurturing of many small efforts nationwide in which individual researchers work with K-12 teachers. In the long run, these "grass-roots" efforts will do much good for K-12 education and change the "culture" of the geosciences with regard to the relationship between university researchers and K-12 teachers. A few of these efforts undoubtedly would grow into larger sets of activities, many of which would attract support from EHR and other sources. Through these partnerships, teachers would become better equipped to implement the National Science Education Standards. The likely vehicle for supporting such partnerships seems to be the "Small Grants to Facilitate Outreach" program recommended above.


"Hands-on, minds-on" science is best at all levels. Even as adults, we need practical experiences for conceptual development. Internships and joint projects are imperative for this, but they could also be further developed to include classroom teachers. Projects such as Teachers at Sea and Science in the Stratosphere have teachers working with scientists. These kinds of programs provide eye-opening experiences of how science is really being done. Teachers reenter their classrooms with new insights and excitement about science after participating in them.


GEO should work with EHR to expand opportunities for teachers to participate in GEO REU Sites and to explore other vehicles for teachers to work with geoscientists.


We also recommend that GEO explore mechanisms for supporting, through the societies, workshops based on current geoscience curriculum projects that could be conducted by geoscientists in local areas or at educational conventions such as NSTA. Through their members, consortia such as IRIS, with appropriate training and preparation, could conduct workshops for teachers in their local areas. Workshops could cover important topics such as plate tectonics, the global climate system, and ocean chemistry. These workshops would include connections to current data, fundamental science principles, and technology. Teachers would also receive curriculum and support materials.


Education of Geoscientists

If geoscientists are to become meaningfully involved in science education reform at the pre-college level -- and also at other levels -- they must have an understanding of the issues commensurate with their desired scope of involvement. Geoscientists need training in pedagogical terminology, best practices, and evaluation so that they can better communicate with education partners. There are organizations that can provide excellent training. A notable example is the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, which has been running workshops on effective and innovative teaching for faculty and graduate students at national scientific society meetings.


GEO should help sponsor regular workshops for training geoscientists in educational issues that address a range of level of scientist involvement.


Workshops to educate geoscientists about education can take a number of different forms. For those seeking basic guidance, one-day or half-day workshops (possibly held in connection with scientific society meetings) may be appropriate for conveying "how to" advice. This kind of information also can be disseminated through publications and/or Web sites. For those interested in more significant levels of involvement, two- to three-day workshops targeted at specific topics, such as teacher workshops or curriculum development, would be of great value. Several workshops could be held regionally each year. Finally, those seeking in-depth involvement might participate in week-long institutes that prepare geoscientists to play proactive roles in systemic reform efforts involving entire school districts or larger entities. These extended workshops would be stand-alone meetings drawing participants from across the country to a site where an exemplary reform effort can be showcased.


State-Based Alliances


One possible vehicle for implementing many activities aimed at improving pre-college geoscience education emphasizes partnerships at the grass-roots level.


GEO should provide leadership by forming a small consortium of key geoscience-oriented federal agencies and professional/scientific societies to develop state-based alliances for geoscience education.


State-based alliances could be a valuable mechanism for implementing the National Science Education Standards 17. Models are provided by the Network of Geographic Alliances, sponsored by the National Geographic Society, and the Teacher-Scientist Alliance Institute, sponsored by the American Physics Society. In keeping with the theme of integrating research and education, the alliances should be anchored in academic geoscience programs at the major research universities. They should be led by individuals who are competent in the pedagogy of the geosciences, who have experience in working with pre-college teachers, and who are committed to the program over the long term.


The state-based alliance approach recognizes that K-12 education in the U.S. is inherently a state and local function that differs considerably from state to state. The alliance approach can be structured to address the current lack of geoscience educators on the faculties of colleges of education. The alliances can be provided with block funding (perhaps on a matching basis with the state) and be charged with developing programs that bring together geoscience researchers, teachers, and community organizations to implement the science education standards in their states. The alliances could play a role in awarding small supplements to GEO-funded researchers desiring to work with teachers. They should involve all individuals and groups interested in geoscience education within the state, including instructors of the lower division (freshman and sophomore) classes at two- and four-year institutions.


Establishing a network of alliances would be an ambitious undertaking, but it would not have to be done instantaneously. Indeed, it should start small, do things right, and grow. It would require long-term support, just as the entire process of improving geoscience education requires a long-term commitment.


Data Collection by Pre-College Students

One significant way in which students can learn about the geosciences is to collect data that is used in geoscience research. Data collected by students can contribute to the research effort, often providing observations over a much larger geographic area than would otherwise be feasible.20 Such programs therefore make for good science and good education. Two examples of successful geoscience research programs that effectively make teachers and students members of research teams are The Princeton Earth Physics Project and Weather Underground. Both of these programs are supported by EHR but make use of GEO-funded facilities.


Working in cooperation with EHR, GEO should explore ways to encourage the development of programs that involve pre-college students in data collection. GEO could play a particularly valuable role in facilitating the dissemination of student-collected data via consortia member institution networks.


Public Understanding of Science


Better understanding by the citizenry of how the Earth works is vital to the future health of society. Without this understanding, we will lack the political will to take steps to counter growing environmental stresses. It is also true that

there is a great deal of interest, even hunger, for [geoscience] knowledge on the part of the average person. Many regret not having had [geoscience courses] in school…. If you ask the average 3rd grader what (s)he is interested in the answer typically includes dirt, rocks, volcanoes, earthquakes, dinosaurs. People are naturally attracted to the Earth.... Yet most of us live in urban areas surrounded by our own edifices and out of touch with nature. Traditionally, teachers have been ill-prepared to teach science; what is taught is esoteric, certainly not Earth-based, and hard to apply to daily life. Certainly there is no overarching view of the natural world. What is the result? Though people generally express faith in the ability of science to solve societal problems, ignorance of science is widespread -- only 6% of U.S. adults are science literate.21 Most people’s knowledge of science is spotty and idiosyncratic, which probably accounts for the growing frustration of the public with the claims of scientists.22


Informal science education is an excellent vehicle for conveying the sense of wonder embodied in science and for exciting people of all ages with the prospect that they can learn more about what they see in museums and other such settings. Moreover, the geosciences are blessed with an abundance of beautiful images that can stimulate the public imagination and interest. To this end, GEO should encourage the creation of exhibit projects that feature geoscience themes. To do so will require several actions. GEO will have to build a partnership with the EHR Informal Science Education Program. GEO will also have to collect information on development of good informal science projects and disseminate that information to researchers and educators.


GEO can invest seed money to allow scientists to create pilot museum projects that could help launch larger and more ambitious efforts. An example of this is the Electric Space project, a 750-square foot pilot project jointly funded by GEO and the NASA Space Physics Division. The experience gained from that project led to a much larger effort funded by the Informal Science Education Program. A new 3,800-square foot exhibit about the solar-terrestrial space environment (featuring beautiful images of the Sun and aurora, plus many hands-on interactive displays) will be seen by an estimated 2 million to 3 million people during its three-year tour.


GEO should work with EHR and other organizations to establish a program of support for development of geoscience exhibits in museums, aquariums, science centers, marine laboratories, and other appropriate public settings.


Awards could take a variety of forms, including planning grants and prototype development. Workshops could also be sponsored to enable interested geoscientists to learn from the experience of their peers and from those with expertise in organizing public exhibits.


EHR’s Informal Science Education Program has established a new mechanism in which supplements to existing awards would be made competitively to facilitate the wide dissemination of scientific research results. It will be important for GEO to advertise this opportunity widely in the community.


More generally, it is important that GEO engages the professional societies in a program to take the exciting output of geoscience research to the public by establishing alliances with science educators and institutions such as museums, aquariums, science centers, and the media. The program ideally would involve communication with Parent Teacher Associations, school boards, and other broadly based groups to make them aware of innovative programs and materials that are being developed.


GEO should conduct an annual competition designed to enhance public outreach by professional societies.


Geoscientists traditionally have spent most of their time communicating with other scientists in language that only scientists understand. It is time for geoscientists to communicate the significance of their work to a broader audience. Such an effort ultimately will pay substantial dividends in building support for their work by their ultimate patrons -- the public.




1. NSF in a Changing World: The National Science Foundation Strategic Plan, 1995.

"As part of its mission to promote the progress of science and engineering, NSF supports individuals and groups to undertake activities that ensure a technologically literate populace with the understanding and skills needed for the workforce of the twenty-first century as well as a well-trained cadre of scientists and engineers for the present and future."


2. National Science Board Task Force on the Environment, 1993.

"NSF must lead in educating and training scientists, engineers, and technicians who participate in these complex, multidisciplinary challenges. Educational initiatives must encompass all levels of the educational enterprise: students from kindergarten to graduate school, teachers in primary and secondary schools, faculty at two and four year colleges and universities, and the general public."


3. A Foundation for the 21st Century: A Progressive Framework for the National Science Foundation, Report of the National Science Board Commission on the Future of the National Science Foundation, 1992.

"The Foundation is chartered to support improved education in mathematics and science throughout all the school years, from kindergarten through graduate and post doctoral studies. The two most critical areas needing improvement are K-12 education and undergraduate education."


4. A Strategic Planning Document for Meeting the 21st Century, National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Education and Training, 1995.


5. Assessing Fundamental Science, National Science and Technology Council, Committee on Fundamental Science, 1996.


6. Boyer, E.L. Scholarship Reconsidered. The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990.

"...the most important obligation now confronting the nation’s colleges and universities is to break out of the tired old teaching versus research debate and define, in more creative ways, what it means to be a scholar. It’s time to recognize the full range of faculty talent and the great diversity of functions higher education must perform."


7. Holliday, W.G., M.M. McMahon, and R.W. Ridky. Straight Talk About Research to Geoscience Teachers. J. Geosci. Edu. 44, 54-56, 1996.

"Emphasizing cognitive (and constructivist) research-based approaches can help make geoscience teaching more consistent with the spirit and character of scientific inquiry and values. The geosciences are especially endowed with opportunities to motivate students to engage in high-level thinking, including problem-solving activities, in contrast to the often-observed tedium of non-thinking students memorizing and regurgitating boring and useless science knowledge of questionable utility."


8. Greene, R.G., B.J. Hardy, and S.J. Smith. Graduate Education: Adapting to Current Realities. Issues in Science and Technology, 59-66, Winter 1995-96.

"The system that educates doctoral scientists in the United States faces a serious problem: There are many more graduates than there are academic and research jobs, and recent graduates are finding the transition to other types of jobs extremely difficult....[T]he problem is that there is little relationship between the supply of doctoral scientists and the demand for them. Doctoral supply is governed by the need for university teaching assistants and the level of research funding. Demand is at best loosely coupled to the drivers of supply. The work activities of scientists are increasingly diverse and increasingly removed from the basic research skills that earn a doctorate."


9. Denton, D.D. Systemic Reform in Undergraduate Education. AWIS Magazine, 25, 31-32, 1996.

"...students intending to major in science often leave because they believe they will get a more intrinsically interesting education elsewhere on campus. This represents a failure on the part of science faculty to communicate to students the enthusiasm and excitement of science as a way of knowing about the natural world....[S]tudents leaving are not in general less capable academically than their peers who stay."


10. Stout, D.L., E.W. Bierly, and J.T. Snow. Scrutiny of Undergraduate Education: Is the Viability of the Geosciences in Jeopardy? Chapman Conference Proceedings, American Geophysical Union, 1994.

"Awareness that a variety of career paths in the geosciences can help solve pressing human problems should be gained by all undergraduates. Students should be exposed to a variety of careers for which a geoscience background can be valuable, including, but not only traditional fields of geologic research (e.g., exploration and production of energy and mineral resources) but also fields such as K-12 teaching, law, land-use planning, agriculture, and environmental protection."


11. Rutherford, F.J., and A. Ahlgren. Science For All Americans. Oxford University Press, 1990.

"...students cannot learn to think critically, analyze information, communicate scientific ideas, make logical arguments, work as part of a team, and acquire other desirable skills unless they are permitted and encouraged to do those things over and over in many contexts."


12. Haycock, K. Thinking Differently About School Reform. Change, 13-18, Jan./Feb. 1996.


13. National Science Foundation. Science and Engineering Indicators - 1996.


14. Noam, E.M. Electronics and the Dim Future of the University. Science, 270, 247-249, 1995.


15. Foote, K.E. Promoting the Educated Use of Spatial Data: the Internet, Worldwide Web, and NSDI. Mapping Science Committee, Federal Geographic Data Committee, Workshop Background and White Papers, The Future of Spatial Data and Society [], April 24-25, 1996.


16. Office of Technology Assessment. Teachers and Technology: Making the Connection, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995.

"Student enthusiasm for technology is a powerful incentive for teachers to use it. Teachers who are technology users often report that technology can make learning more relevant to ‘real’ life and more engaging and motivating to students."


17. National Research Council. National Science Education Standards. National Academy Press, 1996.


18. National Science Foundation. Shaping the Future: New Expectations for Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology, 1996.


19. National Research Council. Report of a Convocation: From Analysis to Action, Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology. National Academy Press, 1996.


20. Tinker, R. Keynote address at Student-Scientist Partnerships Conference organized by TERC/Concord Consortium, Washington, D.C., October 23-25, 1996.

"Science has a long-standing problem: there is a wide range of important scientific projects that are simply not even contemplated because their costs outstrip available funding if undertaken by professional scientists…. As a result, the data for many important issues is surprisingly thin....Students and teachers could be deeply involved in such projects, gathering data, spotting trends, and even launching their own investigations."


21. Sarewitz, D. Frontiers of Illusion: Science, Technology, and the Politics of Progress. Temple University Press, 1996.


22. Moores, E.M. Geology and Culture: A Call for Action. Presidential Address, Geological Society of America Annual Meeting, Denver, 1996.




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