EXCERPT: NOAA’S SCIENCE ON A SPHERE® EDUCATION PROGRAM: APPLICATION OF A SCIENTIFIC VISUALIZATION SYSTEM TO TEACH EARTH SYSTEM SCIENCE
“Spherical displays” have the potential to serve as unique tools for increasing understanding of environmental literacy principles and geographic awareness among both student groups and the general public. These areas have been shown to be deficient in the public’s understanding.
Improving U.S. student performance is a challenge faced by all areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. In a report entitled Sustaining the Nation’s Innovation Ecosystem: Report on Maintaining the Strength of Our Science & Engineering Capabilities, the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology reported that “U.S. students are weak in math and science skills and lag behind most of the world in these capabilities. Top U.S. students pursue STEM careers at significantly lower rates than their international counterparts” (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, 2004).
As a component of STEM education, environmental literacy is an area where enhancement is acutely needed. This need extends beyond students to the general public, since environmental literacy is required by every one of us to adequately evaluate the environmental impacts associated with our personal decisions. However, in a report entitled Environmental Literacy In America, Coyle reports that “While the simplest forms of environmental knowledge are widespread, public comprehension of more complex environmental subjects is very limited. The average American adult, regardless of age, income, or level of education, mostly fails to grasp essential aspects of environmental science, important cause/effect relationships, or even basic
concepts such as runoff pollution, power generation and fuel use, or water flow patterns.” (Coyle, 2005).
Yet these problems due not appear to be caused by a lack of interest in science and technology. A 2006 report from the U.S. National Science Board of the National Science Foundation found that only 10% of Americans surveyed reported not having an interest in science and technology issues (National Science Foundation, 2006). Despite this interest, people may not be connecting with the most appropriate sources for environmental science information. Coyle reported that “children get more environmental information (83%) from the media than from any other source. For most adults, the media is the only steady source of environmental information.” (Coyle, 2005).
Geographic awareness is also an area in which the American public is in need of improvement. In a 2005 report entitled What Works in Geography Education, the National Geographic Society stated that “Studies conducted over the past twenty years consistently show that Americans possess a poor understanding of geography. This fact stands in stark contrast to the leadership role America plays in the rapidly globalizing and interconnected world of the 21st century.” (National Geographic Society, 2005).
In 2001, The Nation’s Report Card issued by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement of the U.S. Department of Education showed a clear need for improvement in geographic awareness among K-12 students. This report card also showed variations in geographical awareness among gender and race/ethnic subgroups of the student population (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2002). Joseph P. Stoltman, a Professor of Geography at Western Michigan University, summarized the report card by stating that: “The review of the released items suggests that many students in the early grades do not know basic information such as the name and location of the state where they live. Similarly, students at grades eight and twelve do somewhat better with definitional information, but a large proportion were unable to analyze the information related to an environmental issue, provide reasons for or consequences emanating from the issue, or suggest a possible solution to the geographic issue or problem”(Stoltman, 2002)].
Apley, A. (2004). Science on a Sphere Front-end Evaluation. RMC Research Corporation, prepared for Maryland Science Center.
Coyle, K. (2005). Environmental Literacy In America, The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation.
National Science Foundation (2006). Science and Engineering Indicators 2006 – Volume 1, America's Pressing Challenge - Building A Stronger Foundation, NSB 06-02.
National Geographic Society (2005). What Works in Geography Education.
President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology - Workforce/Education Subcommittee, (2004). Sustaining the Nation’s Innovation Ecosystem: Report on Maintaining the Strength of Our Science & Engineering Capabilities.
Stoltman, J.P. (2002). National Assessment of Educational Progress in Geography. ERIC Digest. ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education.
U.S. Department of Education (2002). The Nation’s Report Card - Geography 2001, NCES 2002-484.