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Earth Systems Science Module

Earth Systems Science is one of several Education Modules developed for the Journey through the Universe program.

The module focuses on the interactions of Earth's four systems: biosphere, atmosphere, Earth Systems Science Coverhydrosphere, and geosphere. The biosphere encompasses all life, from complex human beings to single-celled organisms. The atmosphere is the shell of gases surrounding the Earth.  We live at the bottom of this dynamic ocean of air, which exhibits meteorological phenomena—weather—on both local and global scales.  The gaseous water in the atmosphere—together with all Earth’s water in every form: solid, liquid, and gas—comprise the hydrosphere.  The vast rocky and metallic bulk of the Earth is defined as the geosphere.

Each of these systems is remarkably dynamic over both long and short timescales. It is also the case that no one system stands alone. Complex processes that shape and define the Earth we know are the means by which these four systems interact with one another.  One cannot, for instance, study weather in the atmosphere, or atmospheric evolution, without understanding the dramatic impact on weather from processes involving the geosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere.

The lessons contained in this Education Module, at every grade level, explore the nature of Earth’s systems, and demonstrate that observed phenomena on Earth are not unique to a particular system but arise from the interaction of these systems.  And a true understanding of any phenomenon requires an understanding of all four systems.  It is a systems approach to Earth science.

The Earth Systems Science Education Module includes an Education Unit at three grade levels: elementary (K-4); middle (5-8); and high school (9-12).  Each Unit contains lessons comprised of content overviews, inquiry-based hands-on activities, assessment rubrics, resource listings, student worksheet masters, and answer keys.

The lessons were developed from the ground up from national science education standards and benchmarks.  Lessons target core standards and benchmarks through inquiry-based, hands-on activities whose objective is deep conceptual understanding of both content and process.


Below are PDF files providing the storyline, lesson descriptions, and linkages to national standards for the Earth Systems Science Modules’ three grade-level Units.

Earth Systems Science Grade K-4 Education Unit (PDF, 310 KB)

Earth Systems Science Grade 5-8 Education Unit (PDF, 310 KB)

Earth Systems Science Grade 9-12 Education Unit (PDF, 320 KB)

Sample Lessons

Grade K-4 Unit, Lesson 1: The Blue Planet (PDF, 700 KB)
Students use NASA photographs and hands-on activities to compare the amounts of land and water on our planet.  They discover that the world has five oceans, and that they cover 70% of Earth’s surface. Students learn how this affects the entire Earth system.

Grade 5-8 Unit, Lesson 2: Water Resources (PDF,1.5 MB) 
This lesson addresses the water resources that are important to millions of people in North America and Africa.  Each activity focuses on the physical nature of a water resource, how humans depend upon the resource, and how human use affects the resource, creating both problems and opportunities.  Students will use data and satellite images to examine how human actions can degrade, improve, or maintain the quality of each resource.  They then analyze and interpret graphical data to make recommendations for improving future use of these resources.

Grade 9-12 Unit, Lesson 2: The Irony of Rust (PDF, 450 KB)
Students will investigate the chemistry of rust—the formation of iron oxide (Fe O3)—within a modern context, by experimenting with the conditions under which iron oxide forms.  Students will apply what they have learned to deduce the atmospheric chemistry at the time that the sediments, which eventually became common iron ore found in the United States and elsewhere, were deposited.  Students will interpret the necessary formation conditions of this iron-bearing rock in the context of Earth’s geochemical history and the history of life on Earth.

©2008, National Center for Earth and Space Science Education