Connecting NASA climate science with the power of place

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About Earth to Sky

Earth to Sky (ETS) is an expanding partnership between NASA, the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and similar organizations. Through training events and engagement with its community of practice, ETS enables informal educators to access and use relevant NASA climate science and educational and outreach products in their work. Anyone interested in communicating climate science is welcome to join the ETS community. Visit https://earthtosky.org.

Informal educators who connect real-world experience on public lands with NASA’s cutting-edge science help the public realize deep meaning and relevance for science and for conserved sites. This connection between science and place-based experience creates powerful and long-lasting impressions that provoke further learning. The ultimate goal is to increase climate science literacy and environmental stewardship among the public, educators and students.

The notion of a partnership between NASA and NPS extends back to the late 1990s with an agreement that provided for NPS rangers to hold one-year details at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In 2000, as the second NPS ranger stationed at NASA, Anita Davis had seen the value of NASA’s satellite images and cutting-edge science for informal educators. By 2004, she was leading the Landsat satellite mission’s Education and Public Outreach team and collaborated with Ruth Paglierani (University of California, Berkeley, Center for Science Education) and NPS staff to develop the first ETS course.

Course content was drawn from the breadth of NASA’s science divisions. Some products from this first course were updated and are still in use today, and several of the participants remain involved as course coaches and presenters. Since 2007, ETS has focused on climate change science and communication. The partnership has also expanded to include a variety of agencies and nonprofit organizations.

In ETS’ collegial learning environment, presenters, participants, and course leaders contribute equally to successful learning. Drawing upon participants’ expertise helps build leadership from within the community. For example, ETS alumni mentor participants and work with scientists to ensure their presentations are appropriate in scope and level for the participants.

In every ETS course, content is consistently applied to real-world tasks in participants’ work environments. Each participant develops an action plan for using this content in their work educating the public, teachers and students.

Evaluation has shown that the majority of participants follow through to develop exhibits, public programs, brochures and more for their home parks, museums, or other sites. See https://www.earthtosky.org/showcase.html.

Purposeful, ongoing engagement with participants extends learning and sustains the ETS community of practice. ETS listserv posts, webinars, and conference presentations now serve a national community of over 900 science communication practitioners.

The evolution of a regional approach

In 2015, responding to audience needs, ETS developed regionally focused courses on climate science and communication. Demand quickly outpaced capacity. The seed was sown for the ETS Academy, a week-long course designed to build a network of ETS Regional Leaders who would share the responsibilities of running courses and sustain and nurture regional communities of practice in climate change communication and/or interpretation.

About the Earth to Sky Academy

The academy is designed for experienced informal educators and climate communication leaders who have a strong commitment to the ETS partnership and to furthering climate literacy within their respective regions. Participants attend in teams of three to five individuals, so the regional responsibilities can be shared among individuals and their own organizations. Each team determines the geographic extent of the region they plan to serve and identifies their intended audience.

Academy participants receive instruction in ETS training methodology, tips on building and nurturing communities of practice, an introduction to NASA’s climate science and outreach resources, and instruction on effective climate communication. Academy graduates receive guidance, mentoring, support, and continuing education from the ETS national team.

The first academy was held October 21 to 25 in 2019, at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, with four teams in attendance. Team Upper Delaware River is focused on community policymakers and influencers along both sides of the Delaware River; Team Coastal Alaska is working with informal educators and interpreters; Team Idaho is fostering collaborations between interpreters and formal educators; Team South Central Climate Adaptation Science Center works on behalf of tribal environmental staff and tribal educators.

Conclusion

Fifteen years after its creation, the ETS partnership is stronger than ever as development of a national network of regional communities gets underway. The four regional teams from the first ETS Academy are launching their regional communities of practice. Planning is underway for the second academy in the fall of 2022.

For more about the Earth to Sky county teams established by the Upper Delaware River Watershed leadership group and their 2020 conference, see the article 'From NASA to the Upper Delaware'.

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