Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future

Teaching of earth sciences in a social context promotes the use of systemic thinking that allows students to evaluate problems and challenges they face in their communities.

By Ana Yael Vanoye García

Earth sciences, or geosciences, are the fields of natural sciences that study the structure, morphology, evolution and dynamics of planet Earth. They also involve other areas of knowledge, including geology, geophysics, geomorphology, geography, geochemistry, paleontology, soil science, climatology, hydrology, meteorology and oceanography, as well as interdisciplinary scientific fields, such as environmental sciences. In other words, everything we do is related in one way or another to earth sciences.

InTeGrate (Interdisciplinary Teaching about Earth for a Sustainable Future) is a community program developed in collaboration with science teachers, educational specialists, evaluation experts and faculty from diverse disciplines. InTeGrate seeks to generate experiences that will be relevant for students and their communities through specific courses, seminars and other materials. The objective of this program, which is sponsored by the National Science Foundation, is to support the teaching of geoscience within a social context.

It is important to create learning experiences that are relevant to students and their community, addressing real interdisciplinary problems.

The free InTeGrate modules can be used in face-to-face, hybrid and online introductory classes. The recommended way to integrate them into a course is to start with a module or an individual module unit, gradually increasing the number as participants get used to the methodology, which, in general, promotes active learning among students based on diverse practical activities that are, for the most part, relatively easy to implement in classrooms or virtual communities.

Each module consists of six units related to a core topic and includes: teaching materials, didactic materials for students, assessment instructions and testimonies from teachers who have used the module in their courses. Each InTeGrate module presents a view for the student and another for the facilitator, as well as materials that are only available for verified teachers. Verification consists of creating an account, which then undergoes a validation process to prove that the person is indeed a teacher. The content developed is assessed collegially and can be freely distributed. The InTeGrate modules currently available can be consulted here.

The educational contents developed in the InTegrate platform are evaluated in a collegiate manner and are freely distributed.

Some educators’ experiences in the implementation and adaptation of the InTeGrate modules, such as the case study by Professor Holmberg (2017), found that students’ progress regarding certain learning objectives for topics related to soil, agriculture, mining, food security and climate change increased after the incorporation of the InTeGrate modules into the courses. The module she explored and adapted to her environmental science course is The Wicked Problem of Food Security, which promotes the use of systemic thinking to assess food security issues in a specific place, through structured activities to analyze real socioeconomic and geospatial data. The module uses flipped classroom techniques, individual and collaborative work, group discussions, case studies centered on New York, the Caribbean and Nebraska, consists of an integrated project and also contains educational self-assessments. In this same way, as educators we can explore the modules available in InTeGrate, and adapt and incorporate them into our courses in order to enhance learning.

Even though the modules are in English, there are plans to adapt them to other languages and incorporate local experiences and thus make them more relevant for users. The InTeGrate content is current and has undergone a rigorous review, assessment and editing process. Some of the ways you can participate in the InTeGrate effort are:

  1. Adopting and implementing the materials, either as complete modules or individual units, and sharing these experiences.

  2. Adapting the materials to our regional context.

  3. Translating modules and units.

  4. Proposing and designing new modules.

The InTeGrate community is open, dynamic, interdisciplinary and eager to drive the integration and application of science to promote the sustainable development of society. In addition, as teachers, it enables us to build on the work carried out by other colleagues and, in this way, continue to consolidate and enhance our educational activities.

About the author

Ana Yael Vanoye García (avanoye@itesm.mxis a chemical engineer with a Master of Science in Environmental Systems. She teaches the course Climate Change and Energy Use at Tecnológico de Monterrey, Campus Monterrey.