ICON Practice of Geoscience Education Commentary Final Draft

AGU Education Section Perspectives on Integrated, Coordinated, Open, and Networked (ICON) Science

A. U. Gold1, T. Furman2, R. L. Batchelor1, R. Low3, H. Ali4, L. Arthurs5, H.H. Wang6, K. M. Layou7, K. Olson-Sawyer8, A. Pallant9, M. Chantale Damas10, D.T. Carter11, K. Ryker12 , L. E. LeMay13 and the ICON group

1CIRES Education & Outreach, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309 USA; 2Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802 USA; 3Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Arlington VA 22201 USA;
4Fort Hayes State University;
5Department of Geosciences, University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309 USA; 6Department of Agricultural Sciences Education and Communication Purdue University; 7Department of Geology, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, Richmond, VA 23285 USA; 8GRACE Communications Foundation, New York, NY 10016 USA;
9Concord Consortium, Concord, MA 10742 USA;
10Physics Department, Queensborough Community College of the City University of NY, 225-03 56th Avenue, Bayside, NY 11364,
11Department of Physical Sciences, Linn-Benton Community College, Albany, OR 97321 USA; 12School of the Earth, Ocean and Environment, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 USA; 13Thomas Nelson Community College, Hampton, Virginia 23666 USA.

This group participated in the phone session(s) but did not comment on the written document. If you provide input on the final version, we are happy to add you as co-authors. 
Kaatje Kraft

Corresponding authors: 
Anne U. Gold (Anne.U.Gold@Colorado.edu) and Tanya Furman (furman@psu.edu)

Key Points:

  • Geoscience educators have embraced the ICON model
  • Five key challenges are identified for increasing community effectiveness
  • Conversations among individuals are critical to our community success

Geoscience Education Practice

Geoscience encompasses the systems of the oceans, Earth, and atmosphere and is uniquely positioned to embrace Integrated, Coordinated, Open, and Networked (ICON) principles. The geosciences are relevant to society, communities and individuals through weather, climate change, air quality, water security, resources, and natural disasters. Geoscience educators and learners employ creative and practical habits of mind (e.g., transdisciplinary thinking, big data analysis, facility with deep time and space). These attributes make geoscience education a natural pathway for engaging learners across disciplines, at all education levels, in the local community, and through both formal and informal education.

Communities of geoscience educators already use aspects of the ICON model. These include (1) freely accessible peer-reviewed teaching resources for grades K-16; (2) literacy principle documents framing big ideas for teaching Earth, ocean, climate, and polar science; (3) robust open professional development opportunities grounded in research-backed pedagogy and learner-centered techniques; (4) strong representation of geoscience content in national science education standards; (5) community framework for geoscience education research; and (6) systematic review of teaching and learning in undergraduate geoscience and related courses. The Covid-19 pandemic sparked growth in the development and sharing of resources for online education in areas deeply rooted in hands-on instruction (e.g., lab-based courses, field camp, undergraduate research experiences) and a further push in the development of simulation-based/computational modeling-based experiences, including virtual reality and immersive (online) learning opportunities.

The call for ICON commentaries provides an opportunity for us to imagine a more equitable future with greater transdisciplinarity, community engagement, and solutions-focused geoscience. We strive to broaden our understanding of who is a geoscientist, to use geoscience examples and datasets across traditional disciplinary boundaries, to enhance geoscience literacy and skills development for the workforce, and to center the experiences of people and communities in learning. Here we outline five key areas for community growth that will foster a shared identity among diverse practitioners.

  1. Improve the Range and Accessibility of Online Resources
    Geoscience educators have developed and curated high-quality, peer-reviewed resources for learners. These resources include tools for teaching through effective and meaningful engagement with geoscience topics and robust datasets. Cloudbased digital tools, like visualizations, data analysis platforms or analytical tools and open-access data repositories, allow the geoscience education community to access such resources, and virtual technology facilitates inclusive professional development for educators across the world. To expand our reach, we must create new and enhance existing networks and partnerships that value openness, including key governmental and non-governmental organizations and the private sector.
  2. Expand Community Science
    We challenge ourselves to engage with place-based and locally relevant projects that are co-created through equitable partnerships with communities and non-traditional or Indigenous and local knowledge holders or producers. Our disciplines position us to build local citizen-scientist communities of practice that connect learners to action by promoting environmental justice. Place-based projects with local or underserved communities allow for meaningful and engaging work and present opportunities to improve the quality of life for all. This work can succeed through partnerships with groups already active in this space.
  3. Increase Exposure to the Geosciences Through Teaching and Mentoring
    There are many pathways into the geosciences, so broadening the exposure of learners across all educational settings is a critical component of success. Within the US, we encourage and support the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which promote scientific inquiry and recognize the importance of geoscience skills and thinking to the overall growth of an informed society. We encourage collaboration among geoscience teachers and allies from social science, humanities, and STEM fields in K-12, higher education, and informal learning contexts. Mentoring efforts for and by educators in the middle grades, high school, college and established geoscientists will strengthen our connections, support career development, and build our teams. We identified a need for increased networking opportunities and infrastructure.
  4. Address Workforce Opportunities and Challenges
    Geoscience skills and understandings are highly relevant to community workforce needs. We embrace the braided river career development model (Batchelor et al., 2021) and recommend highlighting career opportunities as part of K-20 geoscience instruction. Key examples include flexible Associate's degrees and certifications developed in partnership with local industry (a strength of our two-year college networks), internships, and research experience programs. All resources should be shared and adapted for local demands to improve career readiness and to meet local workforce demands.

Crosscutting Theme -- Improve Inclusion and Belonging

The culture within the geosciences must change to become more welcoming and inclusive for all individuals. This shift can begin via open discussions of systemic bias (e.g., URGE), the application of universal design principles in curriculum development, and increased safety protocols during fieldwork (Hill et al., 2021). The hard work does not end with a conversation but rather requires focused action and commitment. Our community can become more inclusive by promoting culturally relevant learning, supporting diverse sense-making, developing virtual internships that reduce financial and place-based barriers to participation, working to bridge silos of language and accessibility, connecting with families, and incorporating environmental justice into education resources and teaching.

We recognize through our conversations that the most important element to our shared success is the investment of time to build human connections, share resources, and develop networks. These efforts take time and emotional energy, but without them, we will not achieve our potential. The marriage between both top-down and grassroots efforts has been the strength of our community, and we call upon one another to be agents of change as we move forward.


Batchelor, R. L., H. Ali, K. G. Gardner-Vandy, A. U. Gold, J. A. MacKinnon, and P. M. Asher (2021), Reimagining STEM workforce development as a braided river, Eos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO157277. Published on 19 April 2021.

Hill, A. F., M. Jacquemart, A. U. Gold, and K. Tiampo (2021), Changing the culture of fieldwork in the geosciences, Eos, 102, https://doi.org/10.1029/2021EO158013. Published on 06 May 2021.