GeoHazard: Modeling Natural Hazards and Assessing Risks

  • Pallant, Amy (PI)
  • Mcauliffe, Carla C. (CoPI)
  • McDonald, Scott P. (CoPI)
  • Lee, Hee Sun (CoPI)
  • Larson, Elaine E. (CoPI)
  • Brown, Tyson T.A. (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


As human populations grow and spread into areas where extreme natural events impact lives, there is increasing need for innovative Earth science curriculum materials that help students interpret data and and understand the factors and risks associated with natural hazards. Studying the processes underlying these naturally occurring events and the relationships between humans and their environments would enrich the standard Earth science curriculum by providing students with valuable insights about the potential impacts of extreme natural events. This project will respond to that need by developing and testing a new instructional approach that integrates a data analysis tool with Earth systems models in a suite of online curriculum modules for middle and high school Earth science students. Each module will be designed as a sequence of activities lasting approximately 7-10 class periods. These will be stand-alone modules so each teacher can implement just one module or several modules. The modules will facilitate development of rich conceptual understandings related to the system science of natural hazards and their impacts. Students will develop scientific arguments that include risk assessment based on their understanding of real-world data and the particular Earth system being studied. The project will develop a set of computational models designed specifically to explore geoscience systems responsible for natural hazards. An open-source data analysis tool will also be modified for students to create and analyze visualizations of the magnitude, frequency, and distribution of real-world hazards and the impact of those hazards on people. Students will compare data generated from the Earth systems models with real-world data in order to develop an understanding of the cause and progression of natural hazards, as well as to make predictions and evaluate future risks. The Discovery Research preK-12 program (DRK-12) seeks to significantly enhance the learning and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by preK-12 students and teachers, through research and development of innovative resources, models and tools. Projects in the DRK-12 program build on fundamental research in STEM education and prior research and development efforts that provide theoretical and empirical justification for proposed projects.

The four-year, early stage design and development project will be conducted in two phases. In Phase 1, design-based research will be used to iteratively design and test Earth systems models. A team of five lead teachers will field test modules and provide focus group feedback during the development phase of the curricula. These lead teachers will provide input into the design and development of the tools, the organization and structure of the curriculum, and provide suggestions about classroom implementation to support the development of teacher support materials. After the models are developed, four curriculum modules related to hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, and wildfires will be developed, tested, and revised. In Phase 2, a group of 30 teachers will participate in implementation studies that will test usability of the modules across students from diverse backgrounds and feasibility of implementation across a range of classroom settings. Research will focus on understanding how to support student analysis of real-world datasets in order to improve their conceptual understanding of complex Earth systems associated with natural hazards. The project will also examine the role of uncertainty when students make scientific arguments that include predictions about the behaviors of complex systems and the uncertainties related to risk assessment. The project aims to clarify student views of uncertainty and how teachers can better support student understanding of the inherently uncertain nature of systems, models, and natural hazards, while understanding that models can be used to reduce impact. Questions guiding project research include: (1) How do students use flexible data visualizations to make sense of data and build and refine conceptual models about natural hazards? (2) How do students incorporate data from models and the real world in formulating scientific arguments; how do students use scientific uncertainty to assess risks based on their understanding of a natural hazard system; and how do students quantify and explain risks to humans and compare different sources of risks? And (3) Do GeoHazard curriculum modules help students make gains in risk-infused scientific argumentation practice and conceptual understanding underlying natural hazards? To what extent, for whom, and under what conditions is the GeoHazard curriculum useful in developing risk-infused scientific argumentation practice and conceptual understanding?

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Effective start/end date9/1/188/31/23


  • National Science Foundation: $2,830,452.00


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