Creating an Environmental Simulator for Teaching Earth Sciences

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Tuesday, 4 February 2014: 3:45 PM
Room C109 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Glenn E. Van Knowe, MESO, Inc., Troy, NY; and K. Waight, P. E. Barlow, S. Yalda, and G. M. Zoppetti
Manuscript (857.0 kB)

MESO Inc, is developing an educational simulation based tool called the Earth Science Environmental Simulator (ESES) that allows students to conduct realistic role playing case studies and inquiry-based interactive experiments concerning atmospheric, hydrological, and geological processes as they impact various engineering disciplines. The goal of the project is to develop a unique interactive online earth science educational tool that will meet current shortfalls in teaching math, science, engineering and technology (STEM) subjects as the pertain to the Earth sciences and related engineering technologies. This innovation will allow a learner to conduct realistic simulated experiments and role playing exercises concerning Earth system processes.

The software innovation at the core of this system is a series of physics based earth science and application models (such as NWP, hydrological and ocean models) that are being integrated with (1) Data visualization and analysis tools that permit the user to interactively examine and animate data. (2) Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) that will interconnect all of the components in an online environment and allow the student user to easily navigate through complex information. (3) An experimentation configuration and lesson module that allows teachers to control the experiments and exercises. (4) Hypertext interactive instructional databases that permit the user to pursue threads of knowledge to other parts of a database or even other databases.

The ESES consists of two main branches, the Virtual Earth Lab (VEL) branch and the Interactive Case Study (ICS) branch. The VEL will allow students to conduct realistic inquiry-based interactive virtual lab experiments concerning atmospheric, hydrological, geological processes. The ICS will allow for realistic role playing case studies concerning the atmospheric, hydrological, and geological processes impact on various engineering and other environmentally sensitive industries and activities.

The VEL uses inquiry-based technologies and strategies that have been used for many years by graduate students and researchers in the earth sciences to allow realistic virtual experimentation of the earth-ocean-atmospheric system for grade 6 through the undergraduate level. The inquiry-based teaching and learning strategies used in the virtual labs are based on the investigation of questions, scenarios or problems. In the prototype VEL a series of interactive experiment were develop that allows students to use a numerical weather prediction model to perform idealized experiments on a direct thermal circulation as caused by a sea breeze.

Case studies are used to put students in realistic occupational simulations to learn concepts, planning, decision making skills and in numerous environmentally sensitive occupations such as energy management, emergency management, agriculture and forensic meteorology. In the prototype ICS, a case study was developed around renewable energy and electrical grid management. There are two basic modules the students work under, 1) planning and 2) operations. In the planning module students determine the base load of their city or town (either real or hypothetical), then determine the power generation mix and transmission capability needed to meet the load demand of the city they have “created.” In the operations module the students use the information on load, generation and transmission to manage a virtual electrical grid based upon real weather data provided from either historical or real-time weather observations.

When fully developed, the ESES and will provide a substantial benefit for teaching a broad range of STEM skills and concepts in an interdisciplinary approach. Applications for the ESES will include both teaching the basic and advances concepts of Earth science as well a the application of the Earth science in industries such as renewable energy, agricultural management, building/sensor design, climate change impact and emergency management.

The key to making both the interactive case study and virtual laboratories usable for education is building the proper interfaces and analysis tools. In addition to utilizing the technology there is a need to leverage the basic elements of games and social interaction that make games fun and engaging. Prototypes of components of the ESES were evaluated in courses conducted at Millersville University, University at Albany, and the State University of New York Information Technology. A demonstration for the prototype ICS and VEL, along with the result of the in class room testing will be presented.

This research was supported by National Science Foundation's Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant 12-548, Project Title entitled “Creating an On-Line Interactive Earth Science Environmental Simulator (ESES)”.