Earth System Science Project

Dr. Sandra Rutherford
Eastern Michigan University
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An Earth System Project shows the interaction between the Geosphere, Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, and Biosphere. The project is fully described with ready-to-copy materials, including student handouts in table form and diagrams describing project construction. This project is a valuable model of a pond ecosystem and can easily be woven into the hydrosphere unit.
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I use it in my College level Teaching Earth Science Methods course so teachers can learn how to build and use this project in their classrooms. It can also be used in a grade 8-12 Earth Science, Environmental, Ecology class.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

Should know how to use testing papers for determining pH, what a food chain and a simple food web are. Also what the role of a decomposer, consumer, etc is.

How the activity is situated in the course:

I would describe it as part of a unit that is going on on one level while other parts of the unit are also going on. It is a culminating project but it is not done at the end of the unit but throughout the unit.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

The Earth System Science Project addresses the following National Science Education Standards (1995):
  • the ability and understanding of scientific inquiry
  • the structure of the earth system (grades 5-8)
  • energy in the earth system (grades 9-12)
  • geochemical cycles (grades 9-12)


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

To collect data on a pond ecosystem and see how the different parts of ecosystem interact.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

The students must hypothesis about how each chamber will do after 3-4 weeks. they must collect data and use the data to answer questions about their ecosystem. They must also write their own procedure so someone else can duplicate their column.

Other skills goals for this activity:

They do need to work in groups but individually answer a series of questions which must be written in paragraph form.

Description of the activity/assignment

Using bottles to explore biological concepts is several decades old. Och and Brock (1975) first described a model terrarium enclosed in a glass bottle. Since that time, there have been numerous adaptations of the "bottle biology" idea. Evolving from the need to recycle plastic drink bottles, science educators have enticed teachers to explore decomposition, fermentation, food chains, and ecosystems using inexpensive and easily accessible materials (Wisconsin Fast Plants, 1991; Ingram, 1993; Jager, 1993; Taylor, et al., 1995). Despite the excellent diagrams and detailed explanations available in these publications, many earth science teachers may have thought of bottle biology as only biological in nature, overlooking the ability of these projects to engage students in earth science topics.

The students were so excited to build the columns and collect the data that they would run into the classroom to see how their columns were doing. Of course, the principal couldn't wait to show this project off to any visitors. The Although this project is reminiscent of those in other bottle biology publications, the Earth System Science Project serves to highlight earth science concepts and describe incorporation of the project into an earth science curriculum. In addition, instructions for project construction and handouts to guide students through a full laboratory write-up are presented.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I grade their answers to the questions listed.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Controlled Vocabulary Terms

Subject: Geoscience:Hydrology
Resource Type: Activities:Project
Grade Level: High School (9-12), College Lower (13-14)
Ready for Use: Ready to Use
Topics: Hydrosphere/Cryosphere
Theme: Teach the Earth:Teaching Topics:Water, Teach the Earth:Course Topics:Hydrology/Hydrogeology