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9 Key Learning Objectives of an Earth Sciences Lab Practical

Ginelle Testa
Earth Science
High School
Teaching with Labster

9 Key Learning Objectives of an Earth Sciences Lab Practical

Key learning objectives in Earth science are students' important takeaways after completing their lab practicals. They help identify what students will understand or know how to do by the end of the lab.

We’ve identified nine key learning objectives that students can take away after their practicals, mixing in both in-lab practical options and virtual lab options. 

  1. Composition of the Earth's atmosphere 

  2. Ellipse/elliptical orbit

  3. Human impact on climate change

  4. Earth’s place in the solar system

  5. Natural climate change factors

  6. Convection currents

  7. The Nitrogen Cycle

  8. Use of minerals

  9. The Carbon Cycle

7 Key learning objectives

1. Composition of the Earth's atmosphere 

NASA says, “Not only does [the Earth’s atmosphere] contain the oxygen we need to live, but it also protects us from harmful ultraviolet solar radiation.” It also warms our planet so that we can live on it. (1)The composition of the earth’s atmosphere is highly relevant!

In Labster’s Earth's Atmosphere Virtual Lab, students can jump into a spaceship and delve into the Earth’s history to learn about the major events that caused dramatic changes to the atmosphere's composition. They can also explore the theories and evidence that surround these events.

Earth's Atmosphere GIF

2. Ellipse/elliptical orbit

An ellipse is a flattened circle or an oval. When the planets orbit around the sun, it’s called an elliptical orbit. Comets and asteroids can orbit, too! There are many ways to demonstrate this in the classroom using string, push pins, and pens. The virtual lab is another great way to visualize the elliptical orbit. 

3. Human impact on climate change

It’s no surprise that humans are contributing to climate change through burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and meat consumption (specifically beef). Climate scientists have a consensus that global warming is primarily a result of human activity (2). Teaching students about this can empower them to take action in their own lives and communities. 

In Labster’s simulation, Human Impact on Climate Change: Balance human emissions and a growing population, students will use a climate model to investigate the effects of anthropogenic climate change on people and the environment. They’ll learn why scientists are pushing to decrease global emissions and what will happen if we don’t.

human impact on climate change GIF

4. Earth’s place in the solar system

Earth is the third planet from the sun, about 93 million miles away from it. Earth is part of the Milky Way Galaxy. It’s the only place we know for sure that’s inhabited by living things. It may seem elementary to know this, but it helps students ask the questions, “What is the universe, and what is Earth’s place in it?” One way to do a lab practical for this is to have students draw a model to illustrate the distances between the planets (3).

5. Natural climate change factors 

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Although humans play a huge role,  there have also been natural climate change factors, especially in the Earth’s past. Learning about Earth’s past climate is crucial for understanding global warming today (4). 

In Labster’s simulation, Timescales of Change: Natural climate change factors, students will learn which astronomical, geological, and biological factors caused climate change in the Earth’s past. The geological record reveals that natural climate variations occurred over short, medium, and long timescales. 

6. Convection currents

Convection currents transfer heat from one place to another in the form of water, air, or molten rock. (5) Convection is hard to see, but you can experiment with a tub of cold water. You put food coloring droplets in it, then add hot water in cups underneath the container representing uneven heating of the earth’s surface.

7. The Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for sustaining life on Earth because it’s vital for food production and a crucial part of DNA. There are five stages to the Nitrogen Cycle: fixation, nitrification, ammonification, assimilation, and denitrification. According to the University of California, “The Nitrogen Cycle refers to the movement of nitrogen within and between the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and geosphere” (6).

In Labster’s virtual lab, The Nitrogen Cycle: Balance food demands and environmental concerns, students learn about the Nitrogen Cycle and help a local restaurant owner understand the complexities of sustainable crop production. They’ll also model nitrogen moving between stages of the cycle and then balance food production with environmental impact.

Nitrogen cycle GIF

8. Use of minerals

Minerals are everywhere. They’re in our bodies, cars, and houses, impacting our way of life and our health. Minerals aren’t always positive, for example, there’s sometimes asbestos in soil. For a lab practical, teachers can have students identify various minerals and their properties such as hardness, streak, and luster (7). 

9. The Carbon Cycle

Carbon is one of the main building blocks of life. The carbon cycle is involved in the negative impact of human emissions on the environment. Forests, factories, and cars influence the carbon in the environment.  

Labster has a simulation, The Carbon Cycle: Reduce carbon emissions, where students help a farmer understand the wider issues affecting corn production. They’ll identify the different reservoirs and how they’re connected, and then determine how human emissions affect the cycle by playing with the 3D model.

Farmer carbon cycle GIF

In sum:

Lab practicals can be fun! There are various ways to do earth science practicals to get students to understand learning objectives, and virtual labs are one way to add fun to your teaching. 

Check out these Earth science simulations and the rest of our catalog of hundreds of virtual labs with our 30-day educator all-access pass

Sources:

(1) Buis, A. (n.d.) The Atmosphere: Earth's Security Blanket. NASA. Retrieved from: https://climate.nasa.gov/news/2914/the-atmosphere-earths-security-blanket/#:~:text=Not%20only%20does%20it%20contain,habitable%20for%20our%20living%20Earth.

(2) Windows to the Universe. (n.d.) Elliptical Orbits. Retrieved from: https://www.windows2universe.org/physical_science/physics/mechanics/orbit/ellipse.html&edu=high

(3) Next Generation Science Standards. (n.d.) High School Earth and Space Sciences. Retrieved from: https://www.nextgenscience.org/sites/default/files/HS%20ESS%20DCI%20combined%206.13.13.pdf 

(4) National Geographic. (2017). Causes and Effects of Climate Change. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4H1N_yXBiA

(5) Kirchhoff, H. (2018) What Are Convection Currents? Sciencing. Retrieved from: https://sciencing.com/convection-currents-8172073.html

(6) University of California Museum of Paleontology. (n.d.). Nitrogen. Retrieved from: https://ugc.berkeley.edu/background-content/nitrogen/#:~:text=The%20nitrogen%20cycle%20matters%20because,material%20(RNA%20and%20DNA)

(7) USGS. (n.d.) Do We Take Minerals For Granted? Retrieved from: https://www.usgs.gov/programs/mineral-resources-program/do-we-take-minerals-granted