Systems and Systems Models: Learning Activities
Perceiving Earth as a system begins when we first feel warmth from sunshine or get wet standing in the rain. Understanding Earth as a system requires a quantitative exploration of the connections among all parts (atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere) of the system. The measurements of The GLOBE Program provide students with the means to begin this exploration for themselves. The processes comprising the global environment are interconnected. Many of the major environmental issues of our time have driven scientists to study how these connections operate on a global basis – to understand Earth as a system. Using GLOBE Earth System Learning Activities can guide students in the development of their own personal connections with the different components of the Earth system and how these interact with each other.
Overview: Students discuss their current understanding of what Earth systems are and how they work, and consider how to identify the boundaries of a region for their Earth system study. In small groups, they select a region for recommendation to the class, and they make a list of characteristics and features that can mark the boundaries of regional systems. After presentations by each group, the class chooses one region for study as an Earth system.
- Define "region" as an area that has similar features throughout
- Identify a specific region for study as an Earth system by finding boundaries
- Describe the region’s boundaries so that others can find them on a map
Overview: Using the region they identified for study in RC1: Defining Regional Boundaries Learning Activity, or a region identified by the teacher for this activity, students draw an imaginary box around the region. The box includes what is above the Earth’s surface (the atmosphere), and what is below (the soil, or pedosphere). Using their existing knowledge, they discuss and list the inputs and outputs of the region, prompted by guidance questions from the teacher if necessary. Next, students generate and explore “what if” scenarios. (e.g. What if the water flowing into the region were reduced by half? What if it were doubled? What if the land cover upstream were removed, or changed from forest to cropland? What if no birds moved across the region’s boundaries?) Students learn to ask such provocative questions and to make thoughtful predictions of ways in which changing one component might affect the properties of others in the regional system. Prompted by guidance questions, they write about what they have learned.
- Identify some scientifically appropriate inputs and outputs of a system at the regional scale;
- Predict how changes in the input or output of one component of a system might affect other components, reflecting the concept that parts of a system shape each other through their interactions.
Overview: Students review a variety of images and maps of the whole Earth in order to identify the major components of the Earth system at the global scale. The maps show solar energy, average temperature, cloud cover, precipitation, soil moisture, and vegetation, and the images are of the Earth from space. As a class, they discuss some ways that the components of the Earth system interact to form the whole Earth system. They describe the water cycle at the global scale in greater detail, identify the components through which water passes and the processes that move it, and draw an abstract diagram.
- Use images and data about the whole Earth to identify the major components of the Earth system at the global
scale and stimulate their thinking about connections among those components
- Describe the pathway of water among the components, as an example of ways they are connected
- Translate their understanding of that pathway into an abstract diagram
Overview: The class explores interconnections among Earth System components by creating graphs of GLOBE student data on air and soils or water temperatures. More advanced students can create graphs with other connected variables, such as precipitation and soil moisture. The class analyzes and interprets these graphs, in response to guidance questions. Each student writes a description of the major interconnections and other variables they have detected in the graphs.
- Analyze and interpret a graph of GLOBE data that shows air and soil or
water temperatures over a year;
- Explain how graphs of GLOBE data can show relationships among components of an