CRITICAL ZONE OBSERVATORIES, VIRTUAL FIELDWORK EXPERIENCES, THE NEXT GENERATION SCIENCE STANDARDS, AND TEACHING IN AND ABOUT COMPLEX SYSTEMS
The CZ extends from the bottom of the water table to the tops of vegetation. Soil is at the heart of the CZ and both results from and shapes the interplay of air, water, life and rock. Nine NSF-funded CZOs in the US engage teams of geologists, hydrologists, ecologists and other scientists in the integrated study of the CZ. This also involves the use and production of a wide range of instruments and related infrastructure for capturing, quantifying, and sharing observations of the CZ.
VFEs are multimedia representations of actual field sites. VFEs serve as curriculum resources for exploring a particular place remotely and the authoring of VFEs is a pedagogical approach that allows students to document and share their fieldwork within and beyond the classroom. The driving question for VFEs, “Why does this place look the way it does?” invites interdisciplinary exploration of the environment.
The approach addresses problems of siloing of disciplines and grade levels within the complex system of education. The NGSS envisions coordinated instruction across disciplines and grade levels to build deep understandings of three-dimensional science. In current common curriculum structures, depth is difficult, but reframing the topic of in-depth study from a topic within a single discipline or grade level to the study of the local environment allows for the work to move from a single unit in a single course to an interdisciplinary and systems-rich endeavor that could last years while also addressing disciplinary content.