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The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)

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Education Research Projects - Earth Sciences


Here you will find various research projects from the Earth Sciences discipline of our Center.


Molly SchaufflerCross-disciplinary Environmental Monitoring Projects

Molly Schauffler / Jeffrey Owen - ERS-ENVposter

Chris Gerbi / Erik DaSilva – Fundamentals, Systems, and Cross-Cutting Concepts; Earth Science Teachers Workshop




Cross-disciplinary Environmental Monitoring Projects

My involvement with the Center’s educational research is working with K-12 teachers to help them incorporate cross-disciplinary environmental monitoring projects into their science curricula. Earth Sciences professors and students are working on projects to investigate what kinds of strategies work best to enable students to investigate environmental and earth science questions using real scientific data available on the web.  Other projects include investigating how students develop skills for analyzing and interpreting environmental data sets in a way that deepens their content understanding of Earth processes and global change.  The question has been raised: Can working with data sets that span large spatial or temporal scales  “hook” students’ in a way that engages their natural curiosity and  empowers them to realize patterns in environmental change and  relationships within Earth system’s on their own.
Molly Schauffler
Research Assistant Professor with the Climate Change Institute
Bryand Global Sciences Center 303A
Schauffler Web Page

Fundamentals, Systems, and Cross-Cutting Concepts; Earth Science Teachers Workshop
Teaching the Earth Sciences presents many challenges, one of which is identifying fundamental processes within complex systems while still helping students recognize the interrelationships within the system as a whole. For this year’s workshop, we will explore that theme through three different perspectives – Earth history, rain and runoff, and the geographic influence on climate. For each component, we will first perform or present a model exercise, then have either break-out groups or a plenary discussion about the exercise and the related scientific and pedagogical concepts. Discussion topics may include teaching the human impact on the environment, teaching large and small scales (time and geography), the value of Earth history, the value of incorporating technology, spatial reasoning and related cognitive development, and teaching cross-cutting concepts. In addition, Erik daSilva will present the results of his Masters of Science in Teaching research related to student learning of the influence of geography on climate.

Chris Gerbi
Assistant Professor – Mineralogy/Rheology, Dept. of Earth Sciences

117 Bryand Global Sciences Center

Erik DaSilva
MST candidate

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Creating Effective Lessons for Teaching the Geographical Influences on Climate to 9th Grade Earth Science Students
By: Erik Da Silva
Earth Science education is an important step for students as they prepare for their final years in the K-12 curriculum. The Earth Science curriculum takes students through the study of the Earth and specific physical phenomena, which promotes a thorough understanding of the world around them while further developing skills that will be demanded from them in future science courses. The geographical influence on climate (GIOC) is an interesting and motivating topic for students but is challenging to teach and is supported by only a minimal amount of research. In depth instruction and successful pedagogy are not available, leaving many Earth Science teachers with few tools when it comes to developing effective lessons on this topic. This lack of research has led me to an investigation concerning student understanding of the GIOC and what techniques and styles are or are not useful during successful instruction.
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Can Investigations Using Air-Temperature Data Help Improve Students’ Understanding of the Scientific Process and Their Ability to Write Scientific Explanations?
By: Mary Jean Jones
The Camden to Katahdin Temperature Study is a long-term research project involving temperature observations made by classes in ten Maine Schools. The project aims to create a higher geographic resolution of temperature records along a transect of schools from Camden to Limestone, Maine. A short-term goal of this project is to provide an opportunity for students to work with automatic data loggers, learn the protocol for taking accurate measurements, and investigate questions about the thermometers and data they gather.
Working closely with three or four teachers and their students, my research goal is to study what students learn about science by participating in the Camden to Katahdin Temperature Study. The temperature study is ongoing and, while the results will guide my project, this research is supplemental to the study. More specifically, I plan to: (1) survey students and teachers prior to the Temperature Study investigations, (2) work with the classes using a combination of guided inquiry, tutorials, and lectures as they investigate questions using ice-out and temperature data, and (3) survey them again for learning gains following these activities.
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Teacher Understanding of Groundwater Concepts
By: Hannah Webber, MST candidate
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Density and the Rock Cycle
The topic for this unit is density, specifically understanding what density is and how it is determined, and applying that knowledge to understanding the rock cycle.
My audience for this unit is either a High School senior or community college Earth science class.
This unit is integral to my Earth science course because many Earth science processes are driven by density differences. A student can learn about an Earth science process in terms of what it represents, but without a solid understanding of the mechanisms by which the process exists, the student may only leave the course with a superficial or incomplete understanding of that phenomenon and why it occurs. The rock cycle is a prime example of a density-related Earth science process, because density differences are the fundamental underlying factors for many of the steps within that cycle. For example, subduction and creation of new igneous rock runs hand-in-hand with mantle convection, which is a result of density variations within the mantle. Other portions of the rock cycle, including constraints on sediment transport, accretion of terranes, or accretionary wedges, all are controlled by density differences.

Emily Klingler Jacesko
(MST in Earth Sciences, May 2006)
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Dynamics of Groundwater: A Unit Designed for Enduring Understanding
Fresh water is arguably the most important natural resource on the earth. Without it, human life as we know it would cease to exist. Our dependence upon fresh water is often overlooked, especially in industrialized societies such as the United States , where the notion that clean groundwater and surface waters will remain abundant or unaffected seems to persist despite the fact that some areas of this country are experiencing quite severe hydrologic draught, shrinkage, and contamination in various forms. With a growing population, it is becoming increasingly vital that we provide our population with a proper education pertaining to groundwater and its role in the environment as well as civilization if we wish to successfully sustain this important resource for the future.
Danielle Martin
(MST in Earth Sciences, December 2007)
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Design, Implementation and Assessment of an Earth Systems Science Course for Secondary Teachers
My MST project for the Center had two primary foci. First, to assist the professors of introductory Earth science courses in improving the teaching and learning in their courses and second, to help the Department of Earth Sciences design, implement and assess an Earth Systems Science course for middle and high school teachers.
Jeffrey C. Owen
(MST in Earth Sciences, 2003)
Alan D. Wannamaker Jr.
Earth Sciences
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The Missing Link: Assessment to Instruction
My involvement in the Center’s educational research was as an assessment resource for the Department of Earth Sciences. My hope was to develop a collaborative relationship with Earth Sciences faculty, fostering the idea that assessments can be tools for developing curricula and determining whether or not students are meeting the desired learning outcomes for their courses. This work is being continued by others and is providing some interesting data on student learning.
Alan D. Wannamaker Jr.
Research Interests:
Science education reform
Course design
Jeffrey C. Owen
(MST in Earth Sciences, 2003)
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The Maine Center for Research in STEM Education (RiSE Center)
5727 Estabrooke Hall
Orono, Maine 04469-5727
Phone: (207) 581-4672 | Fax: (207) 581-9555E-mail:
The University of Maine
Orono, Maine 04469