A Comparative Analysis of Online Learning Materials Aimed toward Integrating Great Lakes Science into the K-8 Classroom

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ABSTRACT

We surveyed the use of Great Lakes online learning materials by a sample of K-8 teachers. Analyses tested for correlation of use with 1) whether teachers learned about the resources in pre- or in-service education, 2) geographical significance, and 3) whether teachers taught about the topics emphasized in the online learning materials. We compared findings for the Great Lakes to an ocean resource (BRIDGE) and more general Earth System Science online learning materials. Teachers reported using the Internet for teaching and planning. However, very few teachers reported using Great Lakes materials, BRIDGE, and most of the generalized online learning materials. The exception was the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration National Weather Service webpage, used by >50% of respondents. Teachers who learned how to use online learning materials in pre-service or in-service education were more likely to use them in-service. There was no significant effect of geographic proximity to the Great Lakes or ocean on the likelihood that a teacher used particular materials. Teaching about the Great Lakes was a necessary, but not sufficient condition for using Great Lakes online learning materials. The results indicate that teacher education is a key to inclusion of specific online learning materials in K-8 education.

INTRODUCTION

The National Science Education Standards (NSES) (National Research Council (NRC), 1996) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS) (1993) emphasize Earth System Science (ESS) as an important component of elementary science education. The NSES discuss the earth as a system (NRC, 1996) and this approach is defined by Meeson (2000) as "studying the processes and interactions (cycles) among the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, biosphere, and geosphere from a global to local point-of-view, and across the time scales (minutes to eons) in which these spheres interact." The national standards documents outline broad concepts for ESS, such as "Water... condenses as rain or snow, and falls to the surface where it collects in lakes, oceans, soils, and in rocks underground" (NRC, 1996, p. 160). Yet, the NRC also suggests that broad, generalized and abstract concepts should be grounded in concrete examples and experiences (NRC, 2005, p. 37). One role of teachers is to incorporate into instruction concrete applications and contexts of generalized principles and concepts. (Such contextual background knowledge may be particularly important for meeting the needs of children in poverty (Neuman 2006a, b)).

A concrete context for many ESS concepts dealing with weather, oceanography, and watersheds is the North American Great Lakes (hereafter "Great Lakes"). For example, to teach about the NRC standard regarding precipitation quoted above, lake-effect snow provides an excellent example that is critically important in many U.S. states. The use of the Great Lakes in ESS education may be even more powerful when the topics are locally important to children. The NRC (1996) gives an example that "in Cleveland, the study of Lake Erie, its pollution, and cleanup is an important part of science curriculum..." (p. 31). This methodology is supported in the NSE Teaching Standard A, which states that teachers must "select science content and adapt and design curricula to meet the interests, knowledge, understanding, abilities, and experiences of children" (NRC, 1996, p. 30). Thus, whether it be as a concrete example of key ideas (such as the effect of large bodies of water, like the Great Lakes, on precipitation) or as a localized point of interest, teaching about the Great Lakes is useful in ESS education in North America.

There are other specific and concrete contexts for generalized ESS principles, some of which have particular local interest. For example, the arid eastern areas of the states of Washington and Oregon are examples of important rain shadows. …