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Workshop Preps Educators to Train Next-Gen Carbon Researchers

A group of science educators stand outside on a sunny day at NASA's Langley Research Center and listen to Sarah Silverberg, a GLOBE project coordinator and trainer, talk about the parts of a compass.

GLOBE Carbon Cycle Workshop
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Participants in the GLOBE Carbon Cycle Workshop discuss their strategy to mark a plot of trees at NASA Langley Research Center and measure their carbon levels. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

For more information on the GLOBE program, visit:
› www.globe.gov

Surely science education specialists already know how to work a compass, right?

"But, do you know how to teach someone else how to use a compass?" challenged Silverberg.

Training the trainer was the effort of last week's Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Carbon Cycle Workshop. The training, hosted by NASA Langley in Hampton, Va., was given to participants from a variety of backgrounds, from pre-service teachers to university professors and scientists, who wanted to add carbon cycle research techniques to their repertoire for working with other teachers and students.

The carbon cycle focus area is one of four NASA and National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Earth System Science Projects (ESSPs). These projects support collaboration between students, teachers and scientists on inquiry-based investigations of the environment and Earth system. The GLOBE Carbon Cycle Project is focused on bringing into the classroom cutting-edge research and research techniques on the movement of carbon through ecosystems.

Hands-on Lessons

"Carbon and climate change can be confusing, and sometimes just presenting accurate information to students isn't enough to get it to sink in," explained Michael Weintraub, a professor at the University of Toledo who participated in the workshop. Weintraub works with a program at his university that trains local, public school teachers who are getting their masters degree in science fields.

Sarah Silverberg, right, teaches the group how to 'meet' a tree
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Sarah Silverberg, right, introduces the concept of "meeting your tree" to the group, which includes identifying characteristics such as its location, type and size. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

"I hope to bring back some ideas for them to help make the carbon cycle curriculum more accessible and easier to disseminate."

One of these hands-on activities includes learning how scientists measure carbon in trees. Teachers in the workshop followed their trainer, Sarah Silverberg, through the steps of picking a tree plot, measuring the carbon in those trees and finding those trees again in the future to measure their increase (if any) in carbon content.

During the demonstrations, participants discussed obstacles their students might encounter when doing the research activities, and they talked through the benefits and challenges of bringing students out to make measurements.

"When you teach the carbon cycle, you have to be able to teach for a variety of ages and learners," explained Gay Reilly, an educator-in-residence at the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) in Hampton, Va., who attended the workshop. "It is important that climate change doesn't become another buzzword people don't know much about."

Not only do students learn more about the science behind the carbon cycle, but they also learn about the integrity of the measurements they are making.

Accuracy vs. Precision

Global Carbon Cycle graphic
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The carbon cycle refers to the continuous movement of carbon, the most abundant element on the planet, through the oceans, land, atmosphere, fossil fuels and all life on Earth. Learning about the existence of carbon at each of these levels of the environment helps us understand the importance of keeping the cycle stable and the consequences of an unbalanced cycle. Credit: NASA/GLOBE Program

"A key emphasis for GLOBE is on the measurement protocol. We focus on how to make and graph measurements, and we also discussed the difference between accuracy and precision," explained Lin Chambers, a GLOBE project partner and the lead for science education and public engagement in the Science Directorate at NASA Langley.

Teachers in the workshop also brought back tools to teach students how to integrate their data with emerging and expanding technologies, including local and global carbon cycle computer models and online map resources. This allows students to explore research questions from local to global scales under both present and future environmental conditions.

"This workshop helps students understand the relevance of their measurements. Scientists need more data in the area of carbon cycling, and teaching students how to provide those measurements is of tremendous importance to not just local communities but the global society," said Todd Ensign, a participant in the carbon cycle workshop.

Ensign is also the program manager for the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility (IV&V) Educator Resource Center (ERC), which is the West Virginia partner for the GLOBE program. The ERC provides workshops and materials for teachers, so Ensign brought a few colleagues along to participate.

Lin Chambers explains that bringing NASA facilities and organizations together for this carbon cycle workshop may be a starting point for the development of a future GLOBE Atmosphere Training Center of Excellence at Langley, a component of a larger cross-center training activity, which would be led by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Jennifer LaPan
NASA Langley Research Center