Integrating Earth & Space Sciences in the Classroom

From understanding the centre of the Earth to exploring the mysteries of outer space and unravelling how life originated and evolved, scientific inquiry knows no bounds. Decoding how systems work can help students connect the past and present with the world to come, nudging them to make sound decisions about issues that impact all humankind. Here are some ways to incorporate this meaningful perspective into teaching-learning activities.

Appreciation for the planet

We need to be conscious of our relationship with the planet to reap the benefits of real progress. Civilizations have continued to flourish due to the availability of natural resources and the interactivity of different species within ecological webs. 

Did you know?

  • It takes 100 pounds of rainwater to produce a single pound of food from the Earth. 
  • The eucalyptus tree fulfils both the food and water needs of koalas (who spend their entire lives without taking a drink of water!)
  • The heart of a songbird can beat over a thousand times in a minute, a butterfly has 12,000 eyes, and a grasshopper can jump over an object 500 times its height. 

Such is the wonder of the natural world! 

Takeaway: Spending time outdoors and reading about Earth processes can help ignite children’s curiosity about nature and introduce them to its healing power. 

Protecting the natural capital

Each turn of the machinery of human society has added something positive that their followers could build upon. We have come far from when farms could be tilled only by hand. Today, agri-bots and drones have been developed for soil analysis, planting seeds, harvesting, environmental monitoring, and weed control.

In cities, we see the growth of urban jungles and vertical hydroponic farms. We have made headway towards 3D-printed housing for the poor. Scientists have also invented a self-healing living concrete: Made up of sand, bacteria and gel, it can repair its cracks and absorb toxins from the surrounding air.

We haven’t forgotten our wildlife either. We have moved from hunting animals for everyday needs to creating protected areas for endangered species. Today, satellite technology can track threatened wildlife populations internationally. Innovations like robot jellyfish have come up to protect our coral reefs.

Takeaway: Teaching Earth Sciences in an application-based manner at all grade levels can create informed individuals who would then become change agents in urban planning, clean water issues, wildlife conservation, global climate change mitigation, and so on.

Dealing with the imminent crisis

Scientific evidence on the accelerated warming of the Arctic and Antarctic indicates that the threat to human survival is a clear and present danger. The effects of climate change could be catastrophic. 

The science behind the challenge reveals its gravity:

  • The Arctic has been steadily warming and has lost 95% of its oldest ice. 
  • The thick ice cover over Antarctica and Greenland will release methane upon melting (from the frozen biomass trapped below). Methane is a more powerful climate-change forcing agent than carbon dioxide. 
  • The mass of white ice in the Arctic and Antarctica reflects sun rays and reduces excessive temperatures (albedo effect). Melting glaciers will cause oceans and landmass to absorb more heat, leading to a spike in global warming. 
  • Polar climate conditions and oceanic movements influence weather patterns worldwide, including the monsoons in the Indian subcontinent. Disruptions would take a significant toll on life.

Takeaway: We need to heed the signals coming to us from the very ends of the Earth. Education about such topics is central to creating effective interventions.

Looking for answers in space

If one knew about the source of a resource, one would care more about keeping it safe. And that is where Space Science can be helpful.

It is no news that 70 per cent of Earth’s surface houses water, out of which only 2.5 per cent is fresh. To make matters tight, two-thirds of this freshwater remains frozen as glaciers. Clearly, there is a limit on the amount of drinkable water available for consumption. Still, humans are not shying away from polluting and wasteful usage.

A Google search about space water is sure to reveal several moons with oceans. For example, Jupiter’s Europa and Ganymede and Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus, and news about traces of water found on our moon and the planet Mars.

In addition to discovering water on other planetary bodies, there are some exciting finds related to mineralogy. If we brought one cubic kilometre of mineral-rich asteroids to Earth, it would take care of 200 years of our nickel supply. That would give us enough steel to run industries in every country for the next 15 years at the current use rate. 

Takeaway: Opening up study options like Astrobiology (that combine multiple scientific disciplines to investigate extraterrestrial life) can be a starting point for triggering interest in such areas.

Inculcating life skills

The role of Earth and Space Sciences in meeting society’s needs is irrefutable. The ways of discussing these interdisciplinary subjects inside our classrooms would determine what kind of applications come out of them.

Takeaways for the classroom:

  • Use everyday examples to explain concepts 
  • Show the working with live experiments
  • Take help from online videos (but from reliable sources!)
  • Add to standard textbook material with interesting readings 
  • Reach out to experts to motivate the kids
  • Arrange talks with mentors to help them plan ahead
  • Attempt to create an open and supportive learning environment 

As for students, better teaching-learning methods can improve critical thinking, build problem-solving skills, and prepare students for a wide range of fields. 

They can teach in schools, colleges, and universities or work with local, state, national, and international governments. They can bring a voice of scientific reason to petroleum, mining, and construction companies, assisting their organisations in addressing environmental concerns. Some of the skills are also transferable to non-traditional industries like finance and telecommunications. There is massive scope for entertainment platforms like poetry, theatre, dance, folk arts, comics, and community radio in aiding mainstream scientific communication. 

The online world has made knowledge-sharing easier than ever before. You don’t have to be a technical wiz to save the planet. Zero in on something you are passionate about, find proper guidance, take steps in your chosen direction, and never stop learning! 

[Sources: Science Facts by Uday Lal L., The Guardian, BBC, National Geographic, NASA, Smithsonian Magazine, American Academy of Arts & Sciences]

This article originally appeared in the Science & Innovation edition of our magazine. 

About the Contributor:

Arushi Sharma is Creative Editor (The Plus) and Content Manager at Pluskul. Her interests span education, youth skill development, and sustainability management. 

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