September 7, 2016

Earth Science Literacy Principles – sharing with students why Earth science

Posted by Laura Guertin

eslpIt is early in the semester, but I have already seen it in the eyes of some of my students in my introductory-level courses…. “why are we studying this?” “why do I have to know this?” Yes, the primary reason non-science majors sign up for my classes is that they are required to take three general education science courses before they can graduate from my institution. But is there a way to let the students know early on that what they are learning has relevance and meaning to their lives?

Enter… the Earth Science Literacy Principles, with its big ideas and supporting concepts that “all Americans should know about Earth science.” When I present to students the background of this document and how it was generated, I see buy-in. I see that it is no longer “Dr. G” telling students what they need to learn, but a larger, broader audience that has determined the scientific discoveries, concepts, and challenges that serve as the educational foundation for my course.

What I’m doing is not new – I know of other instructors that introduce the Earth Science Literacy Principles to their students through varied exercises in their introductory-level courses. A good place to start at the beginning of a semester is with the AGI overview video that serves as an introduction to the Earth Science Literacy Principles. In the video below, Why Earth Science?, there are sequences and images that illuminate the importance of knowing how Earth works and illustrate opportunities for careers in the Earth sciences. After watching the video, I ask students to answer questions about careers in the Earth sciences, and to answer the question in their own words, why Earth science?


There is a video for each individual big idea in YouTube (linked below). One instructor has her students watch these videos each week in her online course and answer a series of questions about each one. I have my students read articles about current events taking place in the Earth sciences, and we explore how each of these events connect back to the big ideas and supporting concepts. There are many directions instructors can take to show students the connections and relevance of why their time in your Earth science course matters.

In addition to reviewing the Earth Science Literacy Principles once my course starts, Erik Klemetti at WIRED Science just wrote a blog post titled Dear College Students: You Should Take Geology. This would be a great article to share with students ahead of time to recruit them to register for geology courses with the right attitude – actually having student “want” to enroll in geology instead of being “stuck” taking geology.

A NSF press release states, “The Earth sciences have never been more important than they are today… It’s important that every citizen have knowledge of the fundamental concepts of Earth science such that he or she may make informed and responsible decisions about public issues–from climate change to energy, from natural resources to earthquake hazards.” We know this as faculty – now, it is our role to bring students to the same realization of the educational, political, and economic reasons for why Earth science. Using the Earth Science Literacy Principles with students can help us help them get to the answer.


Videos in YouTube

Click on each of the Big Ideas below to be brought to the corresponding YouTube video. These videos were designed for formal and informal education settings. There are ideas and activities for using the videos on the Earth Science Week website.

Big Idea 1. Earth scientists use repeatable observations and testable ideas to understand and explain our planet

Big Idea 2. Earth is 4.6 billion years old

Big Idea 3. Earth is a complex system of interacting rock, water, air, and life

Big Idea 4. Earth is continuously changing

Big Idea 5. Earth is the water planet

Big Idea 6. Life evolves on a dynamic Earth and continuously modifies Earth

Big Idea 7. Humans depend on Earth for resources

Big Idea 8. Natural hazards pose risks to humans

Big Idea 9. Humans significantly alter the Earth


Additional sources for exploration

Earth Science Literacy Initiative –

Geoscience Literacies –

Michael E. Wysession, Nicole LaDue, David A. Budd, Karen Campbell, Martha Conklin, Ellen Kappel, Gary Lewis, Robert Raynolds, Robert W. Ridky, Robert M. Ross, John Taber, Barbara Tewksbury, and Peter Tuddenham (2012) Developing and Applying a Set of Earth Science Literacy Principles. Journal of Geoscience Education: May 2012, Vol. 60, No. 2, pp. 95-99. doi:

Benjamin Surpless, Michelle Bushey, and Mark Halx (2014) Developing Scientific Literacy in Introductory Laboratory Courses: A Model for Course Design and Assessment. Journal of Geoscience Education: May 2014, Vol. 62, No. 2, pp. 244-263. doi:

Nicole D. LaDue and Scott K. Clark (2012) Educator Perspectives on Earth System Science Literacy: Challenges and Priorities. Journal of Geoscience Education: November 2012, Vol. 60, No. 4, pp. 372-383. doi: