Earth in the News summer class to be offered by the Cornell School of Continuing Education

World map showing various locations of previous students in the Earth in the News class

Students do a project on an Earth system issue in a community of special personal interest to the them--typically their hometown. Map above shows locations of student projects from recent Earth in the News classes."

Earth in the News is an online class focusing on Earth system science fundamentals through the lens of pressing environmental issues of the 21st century. Students from all over the world will join together online to explore specific environmental issues of interest in their own communities. They will also follow news about the issues they choose, have small-group discussions with classmates, and write short summaries of their reflections.

The class is an excellent mix of recorded video lectures, live discussion, and local “field work” wherever the students may live.

The class will be taught by Robert Ross, who is an adjunct faculty member of Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences as well as Associate Director for Outreach at Ithaca’s Paleontological Research Institution. He has taught the class since 2009 and is excited to offer it again.

“This class covers some of the most important topics of the 21st century,” Ross said. “And the students get to play a big role in what they focus on and learn about. We connect what we are learning in the classroom with what they are seeing in the news every day. It has an impact on the way they care for the Earth.”

In the past, students who have taken this class have ranged in age from high school to college and beyond. Ross sees this mix of ages as a real asset to the class, especially when combined with the diverse geographic locations the students live in. “Students from different parts of the country and the world have often experienced different kinds of natural environments, hazards, and environmental problems,” Ross said. “That diversity in geography and life experiences is part of the strength of the class: students can tell the story of places of deep personal interest to themselves and their families, while their classmates hear about the lives and concerns of people around the world.”

In addition to learning background content on Earth system and environmental sciences, students choose two personal Earth and environmental interests to follow in the news throughout the course. One of their chosen topics must be climate change-related and each week the students explain and discuss in small online groups the news they've been reading. They write a short summary of the topic along with their reflections.

Students also research an Earth and environmental sciences topic of a community of special personal interest to them, typically their hometown. In that project, students investigate a specific issue or hazard from an Earth systems perspective, and report out via recorded video to fellow students.

This online version of the class asks students to visit nature wherever they are, even in urban settings, doing activities to document biodiversity, investigate the movement of carbon and water through the ecosystem, learn about the geological bedrock, and find out about energy extraction and use in their region.

According to Ross, one benefit of the class for the high school students who enroll is the taste it offers them of some of the fields of study they would encounter at Cornell. And since some of the prerecorded lectures are set at Beebe Lake, Cascadilla Gorge, the Museum of the Earth, and a few of the local  Finger Lakes State Parks, students also get to experience the beauty of the greater Cornell environment.

It's not uncommon for precollege students who have taken the class to become Cornell students.

This course has been taught both in person and online; this summer it will be online with a combination of synchronous and asynchronous portions. The asynchronous portion combines recorded videos and readings available through the online platform Canvas. The synchronous portion will be Zoom meetings with times chosen to be convenient for students in widely different time zones.

If you are interested in enrolling for this class you can find out more at the Cornell School of Continuing Education website.

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