ICON Practice of Geoscience Education Key Points - Draft

The comment period is over. The new draft informed by open comments will be posted by November 30th.  

The geosciences are uniquely relevant to students' lives (e.g., climate change, natural resources, hazards, water security) and employ creative and practical habits of mind (e.g., transdisciplinary thinking, big data analysis, facility with deep time and space). Many career opportunities exist in the geosciences with academic, vocational and industry opportunities that allow for various career paths, entry into the geosciences at all stages of the career and application of skills and training in different contexts. Thus, learners can enter the geosciences through various pathways, the braided river career development model illustrates the multitude of avenues into the field (Batchelor et al., 2021).  Geoscience education and careers offer students an option to choose a profession in which they tackle important societal challenges (e.g., climate change, natural hazards, pollution).

Geoscience education has a long tradition of using aspects of the ICON model. This approach is exemplified by the community development of (1) freely accessible and peer-reviewed teaching resources for grades K-16[, (2) development of big ideas in teaching about critical geoscience topics (Literacy principle documents: Earth Science, Ocean Science, Climate, Polar) (3) robust open professional development opportunities grounded in active learning techniques, (4) engagement in shaping the development of the science education standards (5) the development of a community framework for geoscience education research, and (6) periodic collection and analysis of data on teaching and learning in undergraduate geoscience courses across the United States.

The recent pandemic sparked growth in development and sharing of community resources for online education in areas strongly rooted in hands-on instruction (e.g., mineralogyfield camp) and a further push in the development of virtual reality experiences and immersive learning opportunities for all grade levels and informal learning.


The call for ICON commentaries provides an opportunity for Earth and Space Science Educators to imagine a broader, deeper and more equitable future together. Here we outline five key areas of opportunity for community growth that will foster a shared identity among diverse practitioners.

1. Improve Accessibility to Online Resources

Geoscience educators have developed and curated numerous compendia of excellent peer-reviewed resources that are available free of charge for learners at all levels. These resources are tools for educators to teach science through effective and meaningful engagement with Geoscience topics and data sets for formal and informal education. Infusing Geosciences in other subjects and disciplines allows for meaningful transdisciplinary learning of the complex systems that comprise the Geosciences; for example, mathematics education can take advantage of big data and interesting, real-world questions that require analyses, social studies can draw the connections between Geoscience topics and societal impact. There are opportunities to expand our reach through inclusive learning resources for nontraditional students and diverse learners and highlight the need to address inequities in the ways in which natural disasters or climate change impacts communities. Using modern digital tools allows to make access to such resources easier and virtual technology can easily be used to facilitate inclusive professional development for educators in all parts of the world.

2. Expand Community Science

We challenge our community to engage with place-based and locally relevant projects that are co-created through equitable partnerships with communities and non-traditional or underrepresented knowledge holders. Our disciplines position us to build local citizen-scientist communities of practice that connect students and other learners to action through promoting environmental justice. Place-based work allows for meaningful and engaging work within communities and present opportunities to improve the quality of life for all. This work can succeed through partnerships with groups already active in this space, including Thriving Earth ExchangeCLEANSERC, and AGU Voices for Science.

3. Increase Exposure Through Teaching and Mentoring

There are many pathways into the Geosciences, so broadening exposure in educational settings is a critical component of success. Within the US, we encourage and support adoption and incorporation of the NGSS, which mimic the scientific inquiry process in its three-dimensional learning approach and recognize the importance of geoscience skills and thinking to overall growth of an informed society. We encourage collaboration among geoscience teachers and allies from social science, humanities, and STEM fields in K-12 settings, 2- and 4-year colleges and universities. Mentoring efforts in the middle grades, in high school, in college and even for established geoscientists will strengthen our connections and build our teams.

4. Address Workforce Opportunities and Challenges

Geoscience skills and understandings are highly relevant to the workforce needs of many communities. Our community should embrace the braided river model that highlights the many pathways into the STEM workforce and careers (see Batchelor et al., 2021). We recommend that identification and highlighting of career skills, opportunities and pathways be scaffolded across the teaching spectrum from elementary grades through graduate work. We note that practical career resources and a diversity of pathways to technical certification could be widely shared across institutions and adapted for local relevancy to improve the career readiness across our field. Flexible Associates degrees developed in partnership with local industries could become a strength of two-year college networks and their international equivalents.

Crosscutting Theme -- Improve Inclusion and Belonging --

It is imperative that the culture within our discipline changes to becoming welcoming and inclusive for a wide variety of people (see for example Ali et al., 2021). Learning and culture shift can be achieved through raising awareness within schools, departments and the workforce (e.g., URGE, Geo-context) and increased preparation and training of the next generation of scientists as they prepare for field work (Hill et al., 2021) or engage in computer-based Geoscience[AG6] .  Further, the community has the opportunity to take action that include increasing culturally relevant service learning opportunities, developing virtual internships that reduce financial and place-based barriers to participation, connecting with families, and incorporating cultural relevancy and environmental justice into educational resources and teaching. Implicit in this approach is the recognition that field-based research is one of many entry points into the domain; data science, laboratory work, and service learning are all integral to the discipline.

These five areas highlight directions for collaborative growth for geoscience educators in all settings. We recognized through our conversations that the most important element to our shared success is the investment of time to build human connections and to share resources. These efforts take time and emotional energy, but without them we will not achieve our potential. The marriage between both top-down and grassroots efforts has been the strength of our community, and we call upon one another to be agents of change as we move forward.