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Geoscience in Education

5723 words (23 pages) Essay in Education

18/05/20 Education Reference this

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Geoscience is a significant field of science and provides individuals with important knowledge on Earth’s systems and the resources and hazards that they bring, but it is not equally focused on in education as compared to other sciences, therefore, to have a better-informed public, geoscience needs to be emphasized in education.

Geoscience covers a wide range of subjects that fall into the groupings of geology, environmental science, astronomy, atmospheric science, and oceanography. With recent hurricanes striking the east coast, the current state of global climate change, and the worsening state of our environment, it is more important now than ever that the public understands the natural world and the powerful working relationship we have with it.  With such a large effect on our lives, it is concerning as to why geoscience is not emphasized to the same degree as chemistry, biology, and physics in schools. Earth science education needs to be equally emphasized as other sciences for students to obtain a strong foundation in science and make educated decisions on the major environmental issues that are facing the world.

 In the past 26 years, the percentage of high school students taking courses in Earth Science has never surpassed 25% (Betzner & Marek, 2014). This is an incredibly low percentage when one can assume that close to 100% of all high school students will take a biology or chemistry course at some point in their four years. In a report published by the American Geosciences Institute, “Status of the Geoscience Workforce,” only four states, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, and North Carolina had earth science education requirements in high school as of 2013. The same report provides Figure 1.1 showing the states that require earth science for graduation from high school in blue, along with those that count earth science courses for gradation in green, and the states whose graduation credits are determined by the district, in yellow (Wilson, 2016). While schools may not require earth science or even count it as credit for graduation, 34 states do still assess earth and space science concepts in both the middle school and high school setting and 16 states assess earth and space science concepts in middle school only. (Benbow & Hoover, 2015). Additionally, it is shown that only 11-15% of middle school students take a specific earth science course (Gonzales, 2011).  Earth science is as important for students to be taught as biology, chemistry or physics. There is no reason why schools should be assessing for all these concepts, and yet not encouraging their students to complete a specified earth science course for graduation. School districts should be providing their students with a well-rounded education, but by regarding geosciences as less than biology or chemistry, they are providing a disservice to their students and the science literacy of the public.

In 2013, the new Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) revolutionized K-12 education levels with the first set of science standards to be adopted by multiple states. NGSS includes detailed benchmarks for science and engineering practices that encourages crosscutting concepts along all disciplines. In the case for Earth science, NGSS includes geoscience literacy that covers the big ideas of geology, space science, atmospheric science, oceanography, and climate science. Developing these standards was a huge step forward in geoscience education and gave the impression that there would be major changes in view of geoscience being offered in schools. However, only nineteen states have fully adopted NGSS, while twenty states have developed their own standards based from these ([email protected], 2018).

 This low representation of geosciences, as compared to life and physical sciences can be seen through the College Board AP Exam Program. The College Board AP Program allows students to earn college credit for intro-level college courses while they are still in high school. It is well known that the College Board provides AP exams for biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science. While 50% of the AP Environmental exam does cover topics considered to fall underneath the earth and space science category, there is no actual Advanced Placement examination or course for Earth and Space Sciences. By not providing an AP Earth and Space Science exam, the College Board appears unaware to the benefits that earth science literacy has to offer for high school students. Table 1 provides a look at the number of schools in the U.S. offering AP exams in biology, chemistry, physics, and environmental science in 2017 along with the number of students who took the exams that year (AP Program Participation and Performance Data, 2017).

Table 1: 2017 AP Program Summary Report



9th Grade

10th Grade

11th Grade

12th Grade

Program Total





























This table shows biology topping the charts in the number of schools that offer this course, while the other three sciences fall a couple thousand behind.  The College Board reports that 22,169 schools across the country offer AP Exams to their students, comparing this number to the number of schools offering the exams presented in Table 1, show that only 28.6% of schools, who provide AP exams, offered AP Environmental Science to their students, while 51% offered biology. It is also worth noting that out of the 743,266 students who took an exam in either of the four sciences (cumulative total of column 7 Program Total, Table 1), biology still holds the lead by more than 10% compared to physics, chemistry and environmental. If the number of biology exams is going to be that high, then there is no reason for environmental and the other science exams to be so far behind. Environmental deserves to have a number equal to that of the biology exams as environmental issues are equally important for students to learn.

Not only do more schools need to be taking the initiative and offering AP Environmental for their students, but there needs to be an AP Earth and Space Science exam and course to give the geosciences the same chance at high student participation levels as the other sciences. Having an environmental exam, where only 50% of the information assessed is related to all of earth science is not enough to create a fair playing field between geoscience and the other sciences. In addition, by adding this course to their selection, the College Board will provide a well-rounded and fully integrated science curriculum to its consumers, thereby promoting geoscience literacy across their platform.

Table 2:

National Number of Science Teachers, Grades 9-12, 2004 (Blank & Langesen, 2005)




Earth Science

General Science

Physical Science

Integrated Science

Other Science









States and schools not pushing for earth science to be taught or accessed in secondary education may not be the only cause of decreased levels of geoscience literacy. Lack of teachers, or qualified teachers to teach these courses and access these standards is playing a big role in the problem. National data on the number of science teachers in 2004, as shown in Table 2, reports that there are only 15,611 earth science teachers in the country. A lower number compared to the amounts of biology, chemistry and physics teachers the nation has employed. According to Lewis and Baker in “A Call for a New Geoscience Education Research,” only 19% of all 8th grade earth and space science teachers have an undergraduate degree in geoscience. Similarly, high school earth science classes are more likely to be taught by teachers with no background in geosciences, due to the lack of teachers with a geoscience degree. For high school science teachers, 78% are certified to teach earth science, and only 39% of those teachers will have had at least six semesters of college courses in geoscience. Meanwhile, 88% of teachers are certified in chemistry, 87% in biology and 83% in physics (Blank & Langesen, 2005).  We cannot expect to have a well-informed public on the understandings of geosciences if the teachers we are employing do not have an understanding for the material at hand.

These earth and space science teachers and their certifications are not awarded without proper work; they must get their experience from somewhere. A look into trends of two-year and four-year college geoscience programs gives an idea of why there are so few qualified secondary earth science teachers. Based on 2016 statistics, there are 1,700 two-year colleges in the U.S. and out of those, only 329 (19%) of these schools offer a geoscience program or course. Out of this small population, 79% of these schools have a geoscience faculty population of five members to teach their classes and 38% of these two-year universities only have one faculty member (Wilson, 2016). The same applies to four-year universities where there are 638 geoscience departments nationwide that have an average of 10 faculty members and a shockingly low average of 33 students in each of their departments (Wilson, 2016).

 In 2015, there were 10,048 faculty members in university geoscience departments, but only 75 of those faculty members had a teaching specialty in earth science education. Graduating students with interest in education follow this same trend. In a survey taken by 339 bachelor graduating students from 71 different geoscience departments, only 5% of the bachelor graduates responded to the survey with their possible future field of study being education and another 4% responded saying they had accepted a job within K-12 Education (Wilson, 2013). It is no wonder why there is such a deficit in the number of earth science teachers in the U.S. with such a small population graduating in this field and an even smaller amount of these graduating students pursuing a career in education.

In observing these trends, there is a direct and circular relationship that occurs between geosciences in secondary and post-secondary education. Little geoscience instruction in secondary classrooms leads to small populations of students interested in pursuing a degree in these fields which leads to fewer individuals becoming certified to teach earth sciences that ultimately circles back to having minimal geoscience instruction in the classroom due. This cycle is continued to be supported by the 2013 undergraduate and graduate survey where 60% of geoscience graduates had reported taking an earth science class in high school (Wilson, 2013). Corroborating with the notion that they pursued a career in this field, due to an interest formed from experiences in a high school earth science class. If school systems continue to limit the amount of earth science classes being offered in secondary schools, there will be a further reduction in the number of students seeking post-secondary geoscience programs. Thereby condensing the possible number of students graduating with a career interest in secondary earth science education even more. If we want a deeper public understanding of geosciences and the way the natural world works, we need confident and qualified teachers bringing earth science into the classroom, who will produce well-informed students, and inspire new students to pursue a future in the geosciences.

The absence of earth science education in middle school and high school is a major problem considering that many of today’s issues revolve around earth science and the disorder of our environment. With the current state of global climate change, recent natural disasters striking the U.S., and the worsening of our environment, it is important that the public has some form of earth science literacy and understands the dangers of these situations and the impact they are having on the world so that they can make a change.

Climate change is a major hot topic today, across the globe people are voicing their opinions on how humans have impacted it and the changing effects it has on the natural world. As of October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their annual report on the impacts of global warming. In this report, summarized by CNN, the IPCC states that global temperatures have warmed 1℃ above pre-industrial levels and have predicted that they will continue to rise to 1.5℃ by as early as 2030 (Miller & Croft, 2018). Changes of this magnitude will result in: heatwaves, droughts, rising sea level, extreme weather events and decreasing levels of biodiversity and ecosystems around the globe. Students need to be discussing these varying issues in the classroom, so to understand the hazardous impacts that they bring and why these changes are occurring.

The effects of changing global climate should not be taken lightly, according to the Public Health Institute and the Center for Climate Change and Health, heatwaves are the leading cause of death from extreme weather. Heatwaves directly result in illnesses and death through heat stroke, heat exhaustion and exacerbations of chronic illnesses. Between the years 1999 and 2010, 7,415 people have died from heat-related illnesses in the U.S. with an average of 618 deaths per year (PHI, 2016). For climate change to continue worsening over time, heatwaves will only become more severe and lead to greater risks of death and serious illness to all citizens.

Furthermore, heat waves often occur alongside droughts that disastrously affect our crop and livestock. In 2015 alone, the California drought resulted in a total economic impact of $2.7 billion U.S dollars (PHI, 2016). This appears minimal when compared to the $236.6 billion-dollar loss the United States has endured from 1980 to 2017 due to droughts nationwide (Smith, 2018). This is the second highest costly event the U.S has seen, second below tropical cyclones. This number can be seen below in Figure 2. Adding on to this, heat waves in association with droughts set the stage for deadly wildfires. Just this past July California experienced the largest wildfire in state history, resulting in 459,123 acres of land burned and forced evacuation of more than 20,000 residents (InciWeb, 2018). As the 2018-year ends, California has had a total of 876,167 acres of land burned in wildfires across the state (, 2018). Three different wildfires broke out in November of 2018 alone, resulting in mass evacuations of Butte County, Ventura County and Los Angeles County, California. Figure 2 below shows that in the 15 wildfires which occurred over the last few decades, the damages have cost the United States

$53.6 billion dollars and 238 lost lives. Not only is climate change putting lives, and agriculture at risk, but it is resulting in huge financial losses. Citizens need to be aware of these issues and the overwhelming damages that they bring. By not teaching our students this information, we are not preparing them for the realities that we will continue to face, and these examples are just the tip of the [melting] iceberg that the United States is facing due to climate change.

As global temperatures continue to rise, ice from glaciers will melt and result in rising sea levels, increased ocean temperatures, increased ocean acidity and a decrease in ocean oxygen levels. As this all occurs, we should expect to see greater coastal flooding, damage and loss of coastal regions, reduced productivity of fisheries and aquacultures, and irreversible damages to the world’s marine and coastal ecosystems (IPCC, 2018).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predict that there will be a 70-90% decline in the world’s coral reef systems, which is one of the world’s most diverse and valuable ecosystems on the planet. A loss of this kind would be devastating to the thousands of species that live within the coral reef systems. Not only do the coral reefs support incredible biodiversity, but their disappearance would cause a loss of millions to billions of dollars that the coral reefs bring in through tourism and fisheries. Along with the medical advancements that are developed from the coral reef plants and animals, and the structural protection they provide the land from wave action and erosion (NOAA, 2017).

As temperatures rise and ice continues to melt, coastlines will experience an increase in coastal flooding along with raised ocean temperatures. These two components are the perfect mixture to intensify future tropical cyclones [hurricanes] in the future and increase the amount of category 4 and 5 hurricanes in these coastal regions. Most recently the Carolinas and Virginia, were hit by Hurricane Florence in September of this year. At only a Category 1 storm, Florence still cost a total of $28.5 billion U.S. dollars in property damage between the three states. This number is barely half of 2005 Hurricane Katrina’s estimated costs of $66 billion-dollars (Krupa, 2018). Meanwhile Hurricane Michael is working its way to make landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast by Wednesday October 10, 2018 and is expected to be a Category 3 storm (Cullinane, Sterling & Oppmann, 2018). These tropical storms are by no means slowing down and are bringing with them huge economic deficits, and destruction of communities. Though there is no way to stop hurricanes from arising, by addressing climate change and the rising sea levels there is a chance at reducing the intensity of these natural disasters and the devastation that they bring. The public needs to be conscious of this topic always, not just when a major hurricane is about to hit. By improving earth science education in schools, students will be more informed and prepared for these hurricanes and will carry this information into the future in hopes of slowing down the worsening effects of climate change. 

Similar to coastal flooding, inland flooding brings its own range of issues.  Inland flooding is often brought on by moderate precipitation lasting over a few days or can take place in the form of flash flood, that are caused by heavy rainfall in a short period of time. In 2017 and 2016 the U.S. experienced a total of $6 billion-dollar inland flooding events, adding to the total of $119.1 billion dollars lost in flooding events between the years 1980 to 2017, as seen in Figure 2 (Smith, 2018). It’s important to understand the area and climate you live in and the likelihood for flooding. By understanding the geoscience behind flooding, the public can better make educated discussions on how to prepare their homes in case of floods, act in the case of evacuations, and overall improve their likelihood of safety in these situations.

 All these examples are guaranteed to be dangerous problems far into our future due to the ever-rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The time to fix these problems are running out. Citizens of the world have been unaware for too long about climate change, and it may just cost us the Earth. Educating the public on these issues and the role geosciences play, would encourage a more science literate community that can fight for the environment of the world we live in.

Today, politics holds a large role in how and where change is made. However, the topic of climate and environmental change is a polarizing subject between voting parties.  Often, people are going to the polls voting for the candidate that represents their political party, without deeply considering huge environmental issues, the scientific evidence publicly available, and what each candidate hopes to do to combat these problems. Our climate needs people who are actively trying to understand and work towards correcting the issues at hand and in order for positive change to occur we need elected officials who will support what needs to be done to protect our Earth. For example, the Paris Agreement was adopted by 195 countries in December of 2015. This agreement “sets out a global plan to put the world back on track to avoid dangerous climate change by limiting global warming” (European Commission,). However, Donald Trump, the U.S. President, who has referred to climate change in the past as a hoax, announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the Paris Agreement in
November 2020. The President’s open stance against climate change encourages those in support of him to also ignore the evidence and worsening effects of climate change. Perhaps, if the voting body of the United States had a stronger knowledge of geosciences, they would understand how important it is for the U.S. government to support the evidence gathered on global climate change and work with the scientific community to reduce its disastrous effects.

Cale Jaffe, the Director of the Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law, states that environmentally-minded individuals need to break up the traditional cycle of climate change discourse in politics. Ending the repetitive actions of “politically active environmental groups endorsing Democratic candidates for office, while at the same time [criticizing] the Republican candidate for relying on campaign donations from ‘big polluters.” Just as the Republican candidate attack their Democratic opponent for being beholden to “environmental extremists” all while the media outlets continue to report on the political tension as a choice between either the economy or the environment (Jaffe, C. 2018).  Politics are controlling the world view of climate change, when the reverse should be true. The environment should be supported by all sectors of politics, not confined to one political party or the other. By supporting secondary geoscience education, more students will be graduating high school with a well-rounded understanding of the natural world. By accomplishing this, these eighteen or older students can make educated decisions when it comes time to vote. A vote that will consider all aspects of climate and the environment, before blindly siding with their affiliated political party. 

Geoscience is an incredibly important field of science that provides important knowledge on the way the Earth works and the powerful relationship it has with humankind. However, there is an overwhelming lack of geoscientific understanding in society today. A cycle has formed in our education system that results in a disproportionate number of earth sciences courses being offered at the secondary level in comparison to other sciences, this is both the cause and effect of qualified earth science teacher shortages in the U.S. Without a basic earth science literacy civilization will not be able to provide thoughtful and constructive solutions to the difficult problems the twenty-first century world is facing. These problems, such as climate change and the consequences that it brings, cannot be tackled without proper insight. In order to accomplish this geoscience needs to be emphasized in secondary education.

Annotated Bibliography

American Geosciences Institute (2012). Critical Needs for the Twenty-first Century: The Role of

the Geosciences. Retrieved from

The American Geosciences Institute was founded in 1948 under the National Academy of Sciences. It is a national organization that works to represent geoscientist and the knowledge they must share. In this report the AGI addresses the critical needs of the twenty-first century and actions the geoscience community can take to accommodate for those needs. This is a helpful source for understanding the important of geoscience in society.

AP Program Participation and Performance Data. (2017). Program Summary Report [Data file.]

Retrieved from -Summary-Report-2017.pdf

This is a data reflects the number of AP Exams taken in each subject in 2017. This includes how many schools offered those AP exams, how many students in each high-school grade level took the exam, and the percentage of change from the previous academic year. This is a reliable source of data as it is put together by the College Board, a national organization, that serves to prepare students for higher college education. This data can be used to assess the role Geosciences have in AP placement compared to the roles of Chemistry, Biology, and Physics.

Benbow, A., & Hoover, M. (2015). Earth and Space Sciences Education in U.S. Secondary

Schools: Key Indicators and Trends. Earth and Space Science Report, 2.1. Retrieved from

This source comes from the Center for Geoscience and Society, a service of the American Geosciences Institute, that works to promote geoscience education. This report can be used to observe the perception of Earth and Space Science courses within school systems. This includes looking at the importance and background of Earth and Space science and noting the science graduation requirements, assessments, and standards addressed in school systems across the country.

Betzner, J. and Marek, E. (2014) Teacher and Student Perceptions of Earth Science and Its

Educational Value in Secondary Schools. Creative Education5, 1019-1031. doi: 10.4236/ce.2014.511116. Retrieved from

This source is used to view the stance of Earth Science in education and how its educational importance is valued by teacher and students.

Blank, R., Langesen, D. (eds.) (2005). State indicators of science and mathematics education.

Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

This source is used to show data on how many science teachers are employed in the country and how these numbers are seen within specific scientific disciplines in order to compare biology, chemistry, and physics to that of earth sciences. (2018) Fire Statistics. Retrieved from:

 This source is utilized to determine which California counties have been affected by the

 recent wildfires and how many total acres have been burned in the 2018 year, in regards

 to how climate change is affecting the environment.

Cullinane, S., Sterling, J., & Oppmann, P. (2018).  Michael, Now a Category 1 Hurricane,

Expected to Strengthen. CNN. Retrieved from

This source provides information on Hurricane Michael and the effects it may have on the state of Florida to provide information on how climate change is affecting coastal communities.

European Commission. (N.d.). Paris Agreement. Retrieved from

This source was used to provide accurate information on the Paris Agreement in regards to climate change and how it is being dealt with across the globe.

Gonzales, L. (2011). Status of the Geoscience Workforce. American Geosciences Institute,

Alexandria. Retrieved from

This source is accessed to show the percentage of middle school students who take a specific earth science course, this is used as evidence to show how earth science is underrepresented in education.

InciWeb. (2018). Mendocino Complex. Retrieved from:

 This source was accessed to retrieve information on the Mendocino wildfire that occurred               California in July 2018.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2018). Summary for Policy Makers.

Retrieved from

This source is used to relay important information on the state of climate change and the effects it is having on the environment.

Jaffe, C. (2018). Melting the Polarization Around Climate Change Politics. The Georgetown

Environmental Law Review, 30:455. Retrieved from

This source is used to discuss the political tension that surrounds climate change and how this is negatively impacting society.

Krupa, M. (2018). Hurricane Florence’s Toll on US Homes and Businesses has now hit 11

Figures. CNN. Retrieved from

This source is used to show the financial damage Hurricane Florence has caused.

Lewis, E., & Baker, D. (2010). A Call for a New Geoscience Education Research      

Agenda. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47, 121-129. Retrieved from

This source is used to show data on how many teachers are certified in their field of teaching, and is used to compare those of biology, chemistry, and physics to that of earth science.

Miller, B. & Croft, J. (2018). Planet has only until 2030 to stem catastrophic climate change,

experts warn. CNN. Retrieved from

This source is used to summarize the IPCC 2018 report and highlight the important details of it.

[email protected] About the Next Generation Science Standards. Retrieved from:

This source is used to take a look at the NGSS standards and to observe how many states have implemented NGSS into their state education standards.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). (2017). Corals. Retrieved from

This source is used to note the importance of coral reefs and the damages that will result from the death of these coastal ecosystems.

Public Health Institute (PHI), & Center for Climate Change & Heath. (2016). Extreme Heat,

Climate Change and Health. Retrieved from

This source is used to note the effect climate change is having on heat waves and the danger that this heat brings to human health.

Smith, A. (2018). 2017 U.S. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: A Historic Year in

Context. NOAA: Retrieved from

This source is used to look at how extreme weather has affected the United States in all capacities. Figure 2 is taken from this source to highlight the financial damage extreme weather has done in the U.S.

Wilson, C. (2016). Status of the Geoscience Workforce. American Geosciences Institute.

Retrieved from

This source looks at earth science graduation requirements for high schools across the nations, Figure 1.1 is taken from this source to illustrate this. This source also looks at the number of earth science departments in university across the U.S. 

Wilson, C. (2013). Status of Recent Geoscience Graduates. American Geosciences Institute.

Retrieved from

This source investigates the status of geoscience graduates. It is utilized to show how many geoscience graduates pursue a career in education, and if their participation in secondary earth sciences courses influenced their decisions to go to college for geosciences.

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