Next Generation Online Earth Science Course
Brief Description: TERC will create a year-long, state-of-the-art, online high school course in Earth Science. It will implement the Earth science component of the Next Generation Science Standards. It will feature inquiry-based learning, with online
visualizations, simulations, interactive explorations and virtual field trips. The course will be organized into two-to-four week thematic modules, and is designed for use by either an online teacher or a classroom teacher. It will develop content knowledge
and scientific thinking skills in the context of in-depth investigations, in which students are actively engaged in doing science, and not simply reading about science. Earth and space science is an ideal domain for this type of online learning, since so
much of the actual practice of science uses online data, visualizations, models and simulations, to see and understand Earth in revolutionary new ways.
Development Team: The course will be developed by the Virtual High School Collaborative and TERC, two educational non-profits, in collaboration with six participating states. VHS Collaborative has a 15-year history of developing and deploying online
courses, and will provide the overall leadership and serve as the main liaison with the states. TERC has highly-regarded expertise in Earth and space science education, and will lead development of the course content and activities.
Course Content: The course will implement the high school Earth science component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Based on the Framework for K12 Science Education, the NGSS call for a significant shift from the current over-emphasis
on content knowledge, toward a balance of content with active engagement in the practice of science and a deeper understanding of cross-cutting themes in science – in other words, a shift from reading science to doing science. We base the initial design on
the May 2012 draft NGSS, and will update to match the final release.
The course will be organized into 2 to 4 week modules, each focusing on a theme or topic. For example, in module on weather, students will work with satellite images, radar scans, local observations, and other data to learn about weather systems and make forecasts.
Broadly speaking, the draft high school NGSS covers: Space Systems, History of the Earth, Earth’s Systems, Climate Change, and Human Sustainability.
Online delivery: VHS Collaborative model of online learning features an active role for an online teacher, who works typically with a group of 25 online students. The students, who may be based in multiple
locations, do each week’s assignments at their own pace and schedule. They participate in online discussions and submit work for the teacher to review. We call this model “co-synchronous”, in that students don’t have to work at exactly the same time, but
do follow the same weekly pace. We will also offer the course material for use by a traditional school-based teacher, who will combine the online resources with classroom teaching, in a blended model. The research component of the project will compare the
two models (online teacher vs. classroom teacher).
Some states require hands-on labs as part of the curriculum. The online course will work in parallel with those physical labs. A local teacher would need to support the labs, which would use whatever lab books and materials are already available and used
in those districts. We will work with those states to make sure the online and lab components work together.
Three Year Timeline: The project will take place over three years. If funded, the project would begin June, 2013. After initial discussions and collaborative design work, we would proceed with the development, deployment and research in three phases,
each during a school year:
2013-14 – field test four modules, with classroom-based teachers in each state
2014-15 – field test the full course, in both contexts (classroom-based and online)
2015-16 – deploy on a larger scale, based on each state’s needs and abilities
This plan enables us to begin by testing the design of the individual modules in year one. Based on that testing and feedback, we then build the full course, which we test in year two. We then incorporate feedback, refine the course, and test deployment on
a larger scale. Note that in year one, we work just with classroom-based teachers who can observe and support the four modules. In years two and three, half the students work with online teachers, and half work with classroom-based teachers, in order to
compare the two models.
State Responsibilities: Each state will identify a primary liaison from the State Dept of Education. This person will be part of the project Advisory Board, help with the basic course design and review materials and identify local field test sites.
VHS and TERC will lead the development, teacher training and field testing, with local help from the state liaison, as warranted.
Classroom Teachers: Each state will select four classroom teachers, certified in Earth science education, who will do the classroom-based testing, in years one, two and three. Each teacher will get a $2,000/year stipend, to cover one week of online
training in the summer and their time to support field testing and feedback. They will field test the modules (year one) and full course (year two) with one class of students. The selected teachers should cover a range of urban/suburban/rural communities,
include at least 25% low socio-economic students. The teacher’s school/district should also give teachers the flexibility to implement the NGSS standards (as embodied in this course) if different from current state standards.
Online Teachers: Each state will select four additional teachers, also certified in ESS education, as online teachers in years two and three. These teachers can be based anywhere in the state. Each will teach the course to a group of 25 online students,
who can also be based anywhere in the state. Each online teacher will receive online training before the course, and have support from an online specialist throughout the year. Each online teacher will be paid $5,000/yr.
To summarize, for each state:
Year one Year two Year three
Classroom teachers 4 4 4
Online teachers 4 4
Research and Evaluation: This project will do fundamental research on effective design of a highly-interactive online course in ESS, and on the role of online and/or classroom teachers in its effective implementation. Teachers will be required to provide
feedback on the course design and activities, keep an implementation journal with key ideas, problems or issues, and respond to quarterly surveys. Students will give feedback, anonymously, on their experiences. We will also use examples of student work in
our research. VHS Collaborative will manage student data collection within the framework of a standard Institutional Review Board (IRB) process.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly.
Director of K-12 Science Education
K-12 Academic Standards
Arizona Department of Education