Connecting "Why does this place look the way it does?" and Virtual Fieldwork to NGSS

This Teacher-Friendly Guide™ is one part of a large project designed to help educators teach about Regional and Local (ReaL) Earth system science in an inquiry-based way. This ReaL Earth Inquiry Project, and all of its related resources, support educators and students in the investigation of the project’s driving question: “Why does this place look the way it does?” The “place” of the question is anywhere you happen to be, but we hope and expect users of these materials will start by studying areas outside their backdoor or their classroom door. The Fieldwork chapter (Chapter 11) addresses both actual and Virtual Fieldwork, and we believe the coupling of virtual and actual fieldwork is an excellent way to teach and learn, and it’s an approach that is fully three dimensional, in the NGSS’s sense of that term.

Read through the Practices outlined in Table A.1 with an eye towards engaging in and documenting fieldwork. See the graphic organizer and the question list in Chapter 11 and consider how these questions can be asked of any site, and how they can serve to inspire new questions that are site-specific. Then, consider the making of Virtual Fieldwork Experiences (VFEs) to document the site, allowing for continued investigation after leaving the field, and sharing findings with others in the community and beyond. This approach provides opportunities to engage all of the practices. To build rich explanations of the range of processes at play in a field site requires application of all of the Crosscutting Concepts. There are also opportunities for using field sites to build understandings of all of the DCIs, though selected ones from the Life and Earth & Space Sciences have the most direct correspondence. The use of virtual and actual fieldwork is scalable to fit the educational need, so a particular lesson or activity would be expected to target just one or two, but a program of fieldwork across a course would allow for the addressing of many of the Concepts, Practices, and Ideas.

Table A.1: Summary of NGSS’s Three Dimensions. For more detailed descriptions, see the relevant appendices in The Next Generation Science Standards.

Look again to the graphic organizers from Chapter 11: Fieldwork. It is easy to see how, especially in Earth science, biology, or environmental science courses, most of the units in these courses play out in some meaningful way outside the classroom door. As the DCIs are akin to umbrellas relative to a course’s units, these too largely play out in meaningful ways outside the classroom door. The NGSS recognizes that in order to understand big ideas, years of coordinated study are required. The coordinated study of the local and regional environment provides an excellent opportunity for this. A field site can be studied using increasingly sophisticated approaches across the K - 12 experience, and for the students, this does not entail repetition, but rather the opportunity to study a site from different disciplinary vantage points across all or part of the K - 12 continuum. If such an approach is adopted broadly, kids who move during the course of their schooling can bring in new eyes, and information, to compare and contrast the environment in their new school with the environment where they used to live.