A Remote-Sensing Mission: A Remote-Sensing Earth Science Mission Taught Fifth-Grade Students about Local Wetlands and Sparked Interest in Real-World Science

By Hotchkiss, Rose; Dickerson, Daniel | Science and Children, January 2008 | Go to article overview

A Remote-Sensing Mission: A Remote-Sensing Earth Science Mission Taught Fifth-Grade Students about Local Wetlands and Sparked Interest in Real-World Science


Hotchkiss, Rose, Dickerson, Daniel, Science and Children


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Elementary students learning about local wetlands using data and images from space? That's what my 27 fifth-grade gifted students and I did, thanks to my participation in the Remote Sensing Earth Science Teacher Education Program (RSESTeP). Sponsored by NASA and the JASON Education Foundation, this program trains teachers to use state-of-the-art remote-sensing technology with the idea that participants bring back what they learn and incorporate it into Earth science lessons using the technology. Learning how remote-sensing technology worked taught my students valuable information about Earth systems (e.g., how the water cycle is related to the kinds of soils in the area), natural resources and pollution (e.g., how human activities impact water quality), and the nature of science (e.g., anyone can be a scientist). Using a real-life application of science was incredibly motivating and sparked true interest in science. Students used authentic scientific methods to answer their own questions about the specific environment in which they live. Our exciting remote-sensing mission is described here.

The Mission Overview

In September, I introduced students to the project. I explained how over the summer I participated in a program in which I worked with NASA scientists to learn about remote-sensing technology, studying Earth from a distance using satellite imagery and aerial photography. Because of this training, this year we had the opportunity to use this technology in our classroom to learn about our local wetlands. In addition to the satellite imagery, in March, we would get a chance to observe a second level of remote sensing--aerial photography--in action at our school. Students would become a team of scientists conducting a remote-sensing mission over our wetlands using NASA's hi-tech remote-controlled airplane, ImageAirII.

I explained that our mission focused on wetlands, specifically on the loss and fragmentation of our local wetland areas. Using their prior knowledge from our previous wetland studies and based on the remote-sensing technology we would have available (i.e., ImageAirII, satellite imagery, etc.), the students and I constructed questions to guide our mission. Our study site was a small wetland area bordering the school property in the New Begun Creek subcatchment within the Pasquotank River Basin in northeastern North Carolina. Our mission questions were:

* How has the land cover in the Pasquotank River Basin changed over time?

* What is the extent of wetland loss in the Pasquotank River Basin?

* What are the causes and consequences of that loss?

* How do we use remote sensing to monitor wetlands?

* Are our local wetlands degraded?

* What can we do to protect our local wetlands?

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To answer these questions, students and I would use remote sensing, including satellite imagery and aerial photography, and then we would validate our data through "ground truthing," a process where students would visit the field site weekly to collect data about things like soil composition, tree identification, water quality and then correlate that data to what they observe on the images. Although some of these topics seemed foreign to students at this time, I assured them that by the time March came, they would know all about remote sensing.

Satellite Data

Our first step was to learn about satellite imagery. We began by learning about some of the hundreds of satellites that circle the Earth collecting data on various aspects of the Earth systems: land, water, and atmosphere. The satellite data we used came from Terra, Aqua, and LandSat satellites (see Figure 1, page 46). The students worked in groups over two days to research these satellites and record information in their mission notebooks. Students concluded the assignment by sharing what they learned with the rest of the class. …

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