Earth Systems Digital Lab LogoEarth Systems Digital Lab Guide for Parents

Page Contents

Welcome
About the Earth Systems Digital Lab
Lithosphere
Biosphere
Atmosphere
Hydrosphere
Cryosphere

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Welcome

Welcome to the Earth Systems Digital Lab, first developed for the JASON Project and now made available for your family's use to your children by Bechtel. With continuing support from Bechtel, the JASON Project takes children in classrooms throughout the world on engaging virtual expeditions each school year. Expedition scientists delve into the awesome power and complexity of Earth's living and physical systems and demonstrate many of the technologies used to study and understand them.

JASON Project LogoThe JASON Project provides teachers with a complete "teaching toolbox" that includes a classroom curriculum; videos; web-based materials, including online journals, bulletin boards, and digital laboratories; and a live video broadcast by satellite from the expedition itself. Teachers who use JASON are also offered professional development opportunities that enable them to use the Project's components in their classrooms and teach more powerfully. To find out more about the JASON project and how you can get your child's class involved in the JASON experience, visit http://www.jasonproject.org.

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About the Earth Systems Digital Lab

These online activities introduce kids to the dynamic physical and biological processes that make our home - Planet Earth - a unique, complex, and ever-changing place. Understanding how these systems function and interact is the first step in preparing youngsters for the challenging decisions they will make as future stewards of Earth's resources.

Each section of the lab includes an activity that allows your child to manipulate a system and see what happens. This type of inquiry-based learning is not only the most effective way to learn, it's what real scientists do to learn about how the world works. The descriptions below include links to the activities, questions you can use to discuss the activities with your kids, and links to outside resources about each earth system that you and your kids can explore for deeper information.

To use the activities, you will need a Java-enabled Web browser such as Netscape or Internet Explorer, as well as version 4 or higher of the Macromedia Flash plug-in. Don't worry if you don't know whether you have Flash already; you'll be prompted if you don't, and you'll get step-by-step instructions on how to download it at no cost.

These activities respect your privacy and that of your children. They do not collect any information about users.

The lab is divided into the following sections:
Lithosphere
Biosphere
Atmosphere
Hydrosphere
Cryosphere

Go to the Earth Systems Digital Lab home page now.

 

Further Web Links

Fundamentals of Physical Geography is an online textbook that includes excellent reference information for the Earth Systems Lab. It is too advanced for younger students to read directly, but can help you answer those tough questions.
The Environmental Literacy Council also offers a broad range of materials and links related to many sections in this lab.

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Lithosphere

The lithosphere is the solid part of the earth made up of rocks, minerals, and other elements, not including the oceans. In this section, students can learn about how the theory of plate tectonics, also known as continental drift, explains the shape and position of our planet's land masses, oceans, and mountain ranges. Although it may seem obvious now, the idea that the continents float around the planet was not accepted until the 1960s.

Geologists are scientists who study the earth's crust, or lithosphere. Some geologists use their knowledge of the processes that shape the earth's crust to find oil and minerals. Other geologists study volcanoes to find out how our planet's surface was shaped before life existed. Still other geologists apply their knowledge of how earth processes work to study other planets.

Expert Questions

  1. What is the lithosphere?
  2. What causes earthquakes?
  3. What is one way that mountains form?
  4. What was Pangea and how do we know it existed?
  5. If you wanted to make a model of the earth's lithosphere that showed how continental drift works, using things found in your kitchen, what would you use? Try it!

Go to the Lithosphere section of the Lab now.

Further Web Links

Exploring Earth Hazards from the US Geological Survey has images, web sites, and resources about volcanoes, earthquakes, and other earth processes.
Plate Tectonics from the UC Berkeley Museum of Paleontology has animations of continental drift and the history of the theory.

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Biosphere

The biosphere is the part of the planet where living things can be found - from the upper reaches of the atmosphere to the bottoms of the oceans and thermal pools. Students exploring this section will gain familiarity with a central concept of ecology: the food web. We all know every organism has to eat something to survive, but it's more of a challenge to think about how what one animal eats affects the entire fabric of living things.

Ecologists want to learn about the processes and interactions between groups of organisms and their environments. They may study an entire ecosystem or a small piece of it like soil organisms. Or they may study a particular factor such as wildfire. Many ecologists today use high-tech computer models and complex mathematics to look for patterns that can be hard to understand without these tools. Ecologists work for land management agencies, private conservation groups, and academic institutions.

Expert Questions

  1. What is a trophic level and how does it help us understand groups of organisms?
  2. What is really moving through a food chain when organisms eat each other?
  3. Where does all the energy in most food webs come from?
  4. How come there are fewer numbers of animals at the top of a food pyramid?
  5. Try drawing a food web for another ecosystem, such as a coral reef or the African savanna. Can you imagine how the numbers of animals in the web would change if you increased or decreased one group?

Go to the Biosphere section of the Lab now.

Further Web Links

The Ecology WWW Page is a comprehensive guide of links to many ecology subjects and institutions on the Web.
The Tree of Life is an ongoing project to include classification information about the entire living world. It's a great place to explore the evolutionary relationships between different species.

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Atmosphere

The atmosphere is the thin layer of gasses that surround our planet. It gives us the many varied climates, or long-term weather conditions, around the world. This section details the physical forces that contribute to climactic conditions. Along with larger-scale factors, local features of the landscape, such as the topography, strongly shape the wind and precipitation patterns of a particular place.

Climatologists study climate in the past and present, and try to apply that knowledge to predictions of future climate trends. Global climate change is an important and controversial topic that will literally affect everyone in the world. Climatologists combine computer models, weather data collected from satellites, and ground measurements to try to understand these complex patterns.

Expert Questions

  1. What is the difference between climate and weather?
  2. What powers our climate?
  3. What are the physical forces that shape climate?
  4. How do mountains affect the climate of an area?
  5. Draw or build a model of the topography of your area. If you know where the winds come from, can you suggest where it should rain the most? If your home area is flat, where does your weather come from?

Go to the Atmosphere section of the Lab now.

Further Web Links

Climate from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is a gateway to U.S. climate records, extreme weather, news and information on climate change issues, many other climate-related databases and maps.
Weather Sites from NOAA Education has links about all kinds of weather topics.

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Hydrosphere

The hydrosphere includes all of the water on earth, from the oceans to glaciers and underground water. Students interacting with this section will learn about the hydrological cycle, which is the circulation of water throughout the world, from the sea and land into the atmosphere and back to land again. The hydrological cycle is one of the major forces shaping climate and the weather.

Hydrologists study the flow of water on many scales. Some things hydrologists do are very practical. For example, before a building or road can be built, a hydrologist must describe how water flows under or around the site. Other hydrologists look at water availability and its impact on plant and animal life. Yet others focus on water in the atmosphere or in ice and glaciers. All hydrologists look for long-terms patterns in the past, present, and future.

Expert Questions

  1. What is the hydrological cycle?
  2. What are the three processes that drive the hydrological cycle?
  3. What happens when one part of the hydrological cycle changes?
  4. What does it mean that the water cycle is a "closed system?"
  5. Draw a picture of the hydrological cycle starting at your house. Where does your water come from? Where does it go? If you live in a dry climate, what could change to make it wet? How about from wet to dry?

Go to the Hydrosphere section of the Lab now.

Further Web Links

Water Resources Library from the University of Wisconsin has links to web sites about water for kids.
Water Cycle links from Yahooligans! has more activities online

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Cryosphere

The cryosphere includes all of the earth's frozen water, including glaciers, permafrost, and sea ice. A significant portion of the fresh water on the planet is frozen. This section introduces students to types of glaciers, how they form, and what causes them to grow or shrink. Glaciers and the polar ice caps play a large role in climate and weather around the world.

People who study glaciers are glaciologists. They spend a lot of time in very cold places like Antarctica or the tops of mountains. Glaciers hold many clues about climate change in the past and present. Glaciologists also want to understand how glaciers shaped land forms such as mountain ranges, valleys, and lakes.

Expert Questions

1. Where are glaciers found around the world?
2. How does a glacier form?
3. What makes a glacier grow or shrink?
4. What could happen to the climate of a place where glaciers are now if they disappear?
5. Try building a model of the different layers of a glacier by pouring different materials into layers in a jar or clear glass. Pick materials like popcorn or marbles that illustrate the different kinds and densities of ice as you go down to the bottom of the glacier. What will you use for rocks?

Go to the Cryosphere section of the Lab now.

Further Web Links

Cryosphere: Where the world is frozen from the National Snow and Ice Data Center is your first stop to more information about glaciers, sea ice, permafrost, and everything else chilly.
Cryosphere from Resources for Earth System Science Education includes a lot of general geology links, too.

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