How I taught Earth and Space Science, 2011-12


I haven’t finished filling in all the models or how I used them, so this will be a work in progress, but I wanted to get it posted so that I don’t forget about it.  Please hassle me if you want more details about anything.

I have mixed feelings about not teaching Earth & Space Science to 8th graders next year.  This was my first year teaching the subject, and I really enjoy some of the ways that it integrates various traditional science disciplines.  I also enjoyed exploring ways to teach 8th graders, with their budding reason and not-so-much interest in anything to do with science or listening.  It was hard to pull together a curriculum from pieces, so I wanted to memorialize the pieces for myself, and I hope that some of what I write may be useful to others put in my situation, i.e. asked to teach Earth Science because very few who major in the geosciences go on to become teachers.

Basic Philosophy

I had wanted to study Earth and Space Science from a pseudo-historical perspective of, “What kind of things did people have to know to survive?” This line of reasoning started with keeping track of time and weather conditions, “What are the rhythms of the skies?” I also wanted to start with how we use natural resources before we moved on to specifics like rocks, let alone minerals. Since the other teacher teaching this subject was comfortable with the Prentice Hall Earth Science textbook that the school district had purchased, this meant that we had to skip around and go in reverse for some of the chapters. I often strayed from the textbook for weeks at a time. I had wanted to try some of the nascent Modeling Earth Science materials, but (1) I tried to stick as closely with the textbook as I could stomach and (2) I prefer a more expansive survey of Earth Science than the Modeling materials currently express. I think that there are many more things that students can reason about concretely without confining oneself to geology.

You should also know that the following list is my complete list of Models, not what I actually covered. Some I fully developed, and some were Models in name only, with my intent being to develop them further in the future. You should also know that I loosely followed an outside-in order, starting with space, then Earth and its atmosphere, water features, and finally stuff buried in the ground.

General Resources


  • Science in School has good free articles about science topics for classroom use.
  • Sun Tracking Hemispheres to plot the sun’s location in the sky. I had several classes collaborate to take data throughout the day.
  • I made mineral testing kits with:
    • copper penny, wire nail, glass plate, white streak plate, black streak plate (for hardness and streak testing)
    • magnet
    • dilute hydrochloric acid (HCl) (diluted from Muriatic acid) in dropper bottles
  • Rock and Mineral specimens from Ward’s Natural Science
  • hot-plate geyser
  • lots of stuff for pressure/atmospheric dynamics

Books and Articles

General Pedagogical Techniques


I will add assessment statements and more information as I get time.


Solar System

Earth Motion Model

Earth-Sun Model

Earth-Sun-Moon Model

Tides Model

Continental Drift Model

Plate Tectonics Model

Earth’s Systems

Earth’s Spheres Model

Matter and Energy Transfer System Model



Atmospheric Composition Model

Atmospheric Structure Model

Matter and Energy Transfer System Model

Temperature Controls Model

States of Matter Model

Humidity Model

Air Dynamics Model

Cloud Model

Pressure Model

Wind Model

Two-Level Pressure Center Model

Global Atmospheric Circulation Model

Southern Oscillation Model

Local Wind Model

Natural Resources

“Dynamics of the Energy Problem” Model

This was a framework that I wrote down from an Emporia State University binder/curriculum by the same name) and that I inherited. I made it a way for students to reason about what would happen if I posed an energy-laden situation. They had to diagram the consequences and then write about it. Here are some diagrams I made that might help to show how this works.

Dynamics of the Energy Problem Model - How can we think about humankind's use of energy?

Dynamics of the Energy Problem Model – How can we think about humankind’s use of energy? (blank version)

Dynamics of the Energy Problem Model - How can we think about humankind's use of energy?

Don’t let this semi-filled in version limit your imagination about the connections between the categories. Students (and I) came up with perfectly plausible connections between categories going the other direction. This was a perfect opportunity to talk about using more specific verbs and language. I had a lot of students tell me one things “affects” or even “effects” another, so I offered them several examples of one thing affecting another. For example, one might parody a student complaining about how another student affected them: “(Energetically) She walks around like she owns the place, and it really (drop to monotone) affects me.”

Also of note: Students knew this as the HERPES model because of the order I had used when projecting it. HERPES stands for How…?, Environment, Resources, Population, Economy, Standard of living.

Life Cycle Inventory Model




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