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NASA Earth Science EnterpriseMaine Space Grant ConsortiumInstitute for Global Envirionmental Strategies
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Earth Spheres
Earth System Science
Assessment Overview
Course Sections

Joining the Community
Knowing Your Facilitator
Creating Interdependence
Sitting in the Front
Showing What You Don't Know
Helping Others
Being an Active Learner
Learning Cooperatively

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Gulf of Maine Aquarium
ME Space Grant Consortium
Earth Science Enterprise


Introduction - Earth System Science
for Elementary School Teachers

Final Project Goal & Rubric - Individual

Week 14

Goal: To design an Earth System Science unit plan, and to provide a rationale for why you designed your unit plan the way you did.

Assignment: During this course, you created sphere lessons for land, living things, air, and water from an Earth System Science perspective. Now you need to weave these lessons into a unit plan so students will have a good understanding of how earth's systems interact.

To weave your four sphere lessons into a unit plan, you need to create a unifying essential question, problem/puzzle, situation, experiment, or simulation for students to address. This unifying element will appear in the introduction of your Earth System Science unit plan. This unit plan will give students a reason to study the spheres from an Earth System Science approach - how each of the spheres affect one another. The questions below may help you to identify a question or problem which will unify your unit plan design.

  • What are the most powerful ideas about each of the four spheres and their relationships in Earth System Science terms?
  • What are the most accessible of these powerful ideas for my students?
  • What are the gaps in my knowledge of these spheres in an Earth System Science context?
  • What is it about these ideas that my students will find intriguing, puzzling, interesting, or applicable to their lives?
  • What prior knowledge and experience do my students have that may give rise to their misconceptions which need to be confronted before their knowledge can grow?

Ideas for how to unify your lessons into a unit plan:

  • Essential Question: Based on what you have learned about the four spheres, what conditions would need to be present for a garden to grow well in front of your school?

  • Problem/puzzle: A section of the playground near the slide is eroding. The principal has asked your class to investigate the problem and to propose a solution based on your knowledge of the four spheres.

  • Situation: The annual school picnic is scheduled for May 23. Your class is in charge of the environment. Based on your knowledge of the four spheres, plan for a successful event at this time of year. Include plans for the land, the air temperature, precipitation, etc.

  • Experiment: Create terrariums for different biomes and do experiments to compare them. Using what you have learned about the four spheres, what factors need to be present for the plants and animals to continue living in the terrariums?

  • Simulation: Choose a destination of some place you would like to visit. Consider what you have learned about the four spheres, then pack a bag of things to take with you on your trip that would be appropriate for that location.

Provide a rationale for your unit plan design stemming from your action research, scholarship, and sphere lesson design experiences as well as your collaboration with teammates. Your reflections on the questions below may help you to focus your rationale.

  • How does the activity draw out what students already know and are able to do?
  • How does the activity help students rethink and reexamine what they know?
  • How is evidence of student learning generated during and after the activity?


You and your facilitator will use the rubric below to gauge your success in developing a unit plan. These criteria will serve as the basis upon which your unit plan will be evaluated. You should also use these criteria to give your teammates feedback on their unit plans.

Unity: Based on observations and reflections collected during classroom action research.

4 Rating:
Unifying approach compels students to develop their understanding of ESS.

3 Rating:
Unifying approach builds ideas that are powerful and provocative to students in ESS.

2 Rating:
Unifying approach engages students in investigating Earth systems.
1 Rating:
Unit purpose is clear in the unifying approach used.

Engagement: The criteria identify the important characteristics of an activity that lead to student learning.

4 Rating:
Activities cause students to state and question their thinking.

3 Rating:
Activities push student thinking beyond misconceptions.
2 Rating:
Activities make student thinking about misconceptions visible.

1 Rating:
Activities make student thinking visible.

Assessment: Achieved consensus about usefulness of criteria.

4 Rating:
Assessment is ongoing and standards-based, and involves students in setting their own goals and seeing their own growth.

3 Rating:
Assessment begins with students' ideas about the initial situation, question, or problem and tracks what they learn over time.

2 Rating:
Assessment shows changes in students' conceptions of Earth System Science.
1 Rating:
Assessment is ongoing and standards-based.

Design: Achieved consensus about usefulness of criteria.

4 Rating:
Design decisions are supported with evidence from multiple sources, including personal action research as well as scholarship and peer feedback.

3 Rating:
Design decisions are supported with evidence from at least one source, including personal action research, scholarship, or peer feedback.

2 Rating:
Design decisions are sound but not well-supported.
1 Rating:
Design is complete, but elements are not unified.

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