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FSU researchers helping K-12 teachers bring science down to Earth

When it comes to teaching space and Earth sciences, there's a world of information out there, and two Florida State University researchers are helping K-12 teachers to bring it into the classroom.

The Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) has awarded a $37,500 grant to professors Paul Ruscher and Alejandro Gallard for a two-year project that will allow them to design and enhance a series of courses to be offered to undergraduate and graduate students to improve their understanding of Earth science topics and help them teach their own students in a K-12 or college setting.

With the grant, Florida State becomes a member of the Earth System Science Education Alliance (ESSEA), which aims to improve the quality of geoscience instruction for K-12 teachers, particularly through the use of online and other technological tools. Implemented by the IGES, the alliance is supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA and includes the participation of more than 40 institutions across the United States.

"There has been an explosion of imagery available on the Web, but it requires good access to modern visualization tools, and teachers sometimes have steep learning curves," said Ruscher, an associate professor in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science and the lead researcher on this project. "By teaching new teachers how to use these tools and allowing them to 'dig deep' into datasets, they will be better prepared to help their own students in an inquiry process that is based on sound science."

Instead of teaching about hurricanes from a textbook, for example, teachers can have their students monitor the tropics using real-time data from NOAA. Teachers also can use NOAA and NASA data for lessons on topics such as the carbon cycle, dust in the atmosphere and algal blooms in the Gulf of Mexico.

With the grant, Ruscher and Gallard will develop materials and courses that focus on data visualization, climate and ecosystems, particularly in the Gulf coast region and Caribbean basin, that will be taught at Florida State. They will also contribute the course curricula to the ESSEA for others to use, according to Gallard, an associate professor in the College of Education's School of Teacher Education

"We have already been able to gather together several Florida-specific or Florida-related lessons to use as prototypes for our courses, which will begin in earnest in 2011," he said.

"We also hope to be collaborating on the development of new ESSEA-supported modules, including possible efforts on regional drought in the southeastern United States as well as Deepwater Horizon oil spill curricula."

This is not the first collaboration for Ruscher and Gallard, who began working together about 15 years ago. Their guidance of undergraduate and graduate students have resulted in several other funded projects that have collectively brought more than $3 million to FSU from agencies such as the National Science Foundation and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"We have previously taught our courses here using resources developed locally and without the benefit of having them 'classroom-tested' and without the direct benefit of NOAA and NASA partners, to a large extent," Ruscher said. "We are now given the opportunity to revamp our courses and to develop new ideas that we can contribute to the alliance."


Contact: Paul Ruscher
Florida State University

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