Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning in Your Earth Science Classroom

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Combining trusted teaching approaches with tactile educational experiences through project-based learning promotes meaningful STEM experiences for all students.

Project-based learning allows students to focus on different ways to overcome a challenge or problem by taking time to think critically to reach a solution. Proponents of project-based learning, such as the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), cite benefits including higher engagement, personal responsibility, critical thinking, team building, and preparedness for real-world work situations.

Read about our choices for STEM project-based learning activities that aim to fascinate and teach students as they explore Earth science!

The Earth Moves Under Our Feet

One of the most fascinating and frightening topics in the science community is when – not if – a large-scale earthquake will occur on the West Coast of the United States. Through Thirteen Ed Online’s Dynamic Earth project-based learning activity, students will uncover the causes of and differences between the patterns associated with volcanoes and earthquakes. Students will become familiar with plotting activity through use of geographic coordinates, and the Mercalli intensity and Richter scales. Organize students into groups and request that they present their findings through a PowerPoint presentation to enhance this project-based learning experience.

Earth Science in Sustainability

Project-Based Learning

Photo Credit: Flickr Creative Commons

One of the direct connections between Earth science and sustainability lies in our dependence on fossil fuels. Searching for comparable replacements for coal, oil, and natural gas has been a focus the STEM community. In its Fueling the Future: Evaluating the Sustainability of Biofuels project-based learning plan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education outlines how teachers can engage their students to pursue the study of the potential sustainable properties that lie in biofuels, such as those produced from corn, soy, sugarcane, agricultural waste, and algae. Through examining these alternative fuel options, students will either conclude that these resources yield the most suitable substitute, or they might uncover a more efficient, possibly beneficial, choice.

Bottling Up the Ecosystem

Together with other concentrations, Earth science examines the organisms and non-living elements that comprise our ecosystem. The GSS or Global Systems Science with University of California Berkley shares a project-based learning assignment, through the New World View learning guide, that allows students to create their own small-scale ecosystems to examine these relationships and gauge how different changes could affect the planet. These tiny worlds will be held in empty containers and use earth (sand or gravel), light, water, and living organisms.

Eating Up Earth Science

Many project-based learning assignments require students to act together, reach conclusions, discuss findings, generate reports displaying data, and create a presentation based on their work. NASA Wavelength outlines a project that allows students to explore STEM through the aforementioned tasks and eat evidence as a reward. In the Edible Rocks assignment, students learn to describe meteorites through identifying the characteristics of a variety of candy using only terms that would be used to define different rocks and meteorites. The technique allows teachers to relate an item with which students are familiar (and love) with a subject they are learning. This project is listed as the eighth step in the Exploring Meteorite Mysteries series, yet of the 19, it is the tastiest.*

Want to dig a little deeper? Download our free guide to project-based learning. You can also bring beauty to your Earth science lessons and teach students about the relationship between successful gardening and STEM by planting now for sprouting spring ideas.

*Prior to beginning this project, confirm students do not suffer from food allergies.

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Dorothy Crouch is a California-based writer who has covered many topics such as financial technology, travel and the pet-goods industry. Born and raised in New York City, she pursued her undergraduate degree at Hunter College and an M.S., Publishing degree through Pace University. Combining her love of learning and curiosity of the world, Dorothy studied abroad at Dublin, Ireland’s Trinity College, igniting a passion for travel. Dorothy’s thirst for knowledge and love of learning has led her to travel the world and pursue higher learning, including scuba certification. A lifelong animal lover, Dorothy lives in Los Angeles with her husband, their fish and two lovable, spoiled dogs.

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