Connecting to Earth Science Bigger Ideas, the Next Generation Science Standards, and the Common Core

Fieldwork investigations have the potential to be extended indefinitely in time and can involve the integration of a wide range of science and non-science disciplines. “Why does this place look the way it does?” is a bottomless question, meaning that it can be productively investigated for a very, very long time. Field scientists, be they professionals or fifth graders, will never fully answer this driving question absolutely or at every scale.

The act of VFE creation is a valuable type of professional development (PD) that creates useful evidence of having done the PD. Through the creation and continued use of virtual fieldwork, a teacher can become a true expert on his or her local environment—perhaps the preeminent expert. The process of VFE creation and use can also create evidence of inquiry teaching aligned to relevant standards. The VFE you create or augment can serve as a key piece of a professional portfolio.

The ultimate goal of our instruction is to build understanding of the Earth system and the ways in which science is used to build that understanding. We bring focus through the use of a small set of bigger ideas and overarching questions. These are discussed in detail in the Big Ideas Chapter and are also summarized below.

Overarching questions:

  • How do we know what we know?
  • How does what we know inform our decision making?

Earth system science bigger ideas:

  • The Earth is a system of systems.
  • The flow of energy drives the cycling of matter.
  • Life, including human life, influences and is influenced by the environment.
  • Physical and chemical principles are unchanging and drive both gradual and rapid changes in the Earth system.
  • To understand (deep) time and the scale of space, models and maps are necessary.

Fieldwork should provide the opportunity to explore, describe, and build understanding of these questions and ideas. These ideas and questions map onto the Next Generation Science Standards’ Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science and Engineering Practices. The Crosscutting Concepts and Scientific and Engineering Practices are shown in Table 11.1. As you read through the rest of this chapter, and as you and your students carry out fieldwork, revisit these lists of concepts and practices frequently in order to draw attention to how they connect to the work of reading the landscape.

Table 11.1: NGSS’s Scientific and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts. As you and your students engage in fieldwork, consider how the practices and concepts are being used to make sense of the environment. See the Big Ideas Chapter for a more in-depth discussion.

Scientific and Engineering Practices Crosscutting Concepts
  1. Asking questions and defining problems
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out observations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
  1. Patterns
  2. Cause and effect
  3. Scale, proportion, and quantity
  4. Systems and system models
  5. Energy and matter
  6. Structure and function
  7. Stability and change
  8. Interdependence of science, engineering, and technology
  9. Influence of engineering, technology, and science on society and the natural world