Letter from the Editor: Teaching About the Critical Zone

DON HAAS (dad55@cornell.edu), the guest editor of this issue, is director of teacher programs at the Paleontological Research Institution and Museum of the Earth in Ithaca, New York, and first vice president and chair of NAGT's Advocacy Committee.

This issue of In the Trenches explores the richly interdisciplinary concept of the Critical Zone (CZ). Earth's Critical Zone extends from the top of the tree canopy to the base of the groundwater lens. Nearly all terrestrial life inhabits the CZ. It is a zone of important physical and chemical transformations, the place where rainwater becomes drinking water, and the source of the overwhelming majority of our food. The NSF-funded Critical Zone Observatories (CZOs) have engaged in multidisciplinary study of the CZ for nearly a decade. More recently, the nine CZOs and a coordinating National Office have worked together to create the CZO Network (www.criticalzone.org). The CZOs are designed to observe and measure a suite of common parameters on varying geological substrates and within different ecological contexts. At the same time, each observatory has a unique mission and focus.

Using the CZ as a focus for teaching allows for engagement with "Big Data," and provides rich opportunity for inquiry-oriented teaching that exemplifies the three-dimensional science described by The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States. 2013). CZ Science also resonates with the NGSS through its systems approach, and through applications of both science and engineering. Studying the CZ local to your school also provides a vehicle for connecting across grade levels, by providing a natural laboratory for teaching any scientific discipline in the environment outside your classroom door. Studying the CZ is enriched by engaging in fieldwork which can be either virtual or actual. Whether that fieldwork is virtual or actual, attention should be given to developing the skills of the field scientist so that a critical eye can be turned on any landscape. The suite of disciplines needed to study the CZ and the suite of services provided to society and the planet writ large by the CZ make it an essential target of study for meeting the duties of citizenship and for preparing for STEM careers. The articles presented here draw from scientific work done in a range of environmental and geological settings across the country that offer ways to explore your local CZ and contrast with others while building a deeper understanding of the CZ's nature and functions.

Recognizing Outstanding Educators While the CZ is the organizing theme for the issue, the issue also includes information on the 2017 NAGT's award winners. Reading through the impressive contributions to geoscience education from across the country and across the range of educational settings gives one hope. As you read through their accomplishments, look for patterns in what you see about the nature of their work and consider how you can follow their examples and consider possible candidates — including yourself — for future recognition.


National Research Council, 2013, Next Generation Science Standards: For States, By States: Washington, DC, The National Academies Press.

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