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Using the Exploring Earth Web Site

About the Exploring Earth project

What can I find on the web site?

Technical Information

Interactive Tool Practice
     Measuring Tool
     Drawing Tool
     Drag and Drop Graphics
     Plotting Tool

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Teaching Tips


About the Exploring Earth Project

The investigations and visualizations on this site were designed to accompany Earth Science, a high school textbook authored by Spaulding and Namowitz and published by McDougal Littell. The Web site was developed by TERC, a non-profit educational research and development firm in collaboration with McDougal Littell. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation.

Visualizations and investigations on the site were designed to build students' knowledge of Earth Science concepts described in the textbook, and to raise student awareness of Earth as a system of interconnected components and processes.


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What can I find on the Web Site?

Investigations are Internet-based activities that use animations, interactive graphics, and unique imagery to help students gather information about a particular Earth science theme, issue, or concept. For each investigation, students examine a sequence of Web pages on which they manipulate graphics or interpret image data. The pages contain background text and questions to help guide students' thinking. Many of the investigations end with a page of Web links for further investigation.

Unit Investigations
The eight culminating Unit Investigations reinforce the Earth system science perspective. Like the chapter investigations, these investigations begin with a sequence of Web pages, but they go further by suggesting a student project that can serve as a Unit performance assessment. For the projects, students perform Internet research, and generate an evidence-supported presentation to document their exploration of the topic.

The visualizations show animations, simulations, satellite images, and other interactive graphics with explanatory text. The visuals enable students to see the processes of Earth science at work. Over 100 unique visualizations give students the opportunity to explore Earth system processes frame-by-frame in animations or to explore sets of images that illustrate a process.

Data Centers are banks of online resources. They offer selected links to external Web sites that offer information on focused topics. Data centers can be used to gather current information on a topic, or as a launching point for Internet research.

Earth News provides a weekly summary of Earth science events around the world, and links to organizations that compile Earth and environmental news summaries.

Local Resources offer links that provide Earth science information for specific localities. The external links offer opportunities for independent investigation of regional or local issues.

Internet Investigations Guide

The Teacher's Edition of the Internet Investigations Guide contains descriptions of each investigation and answers for checking student work. The descriptions include instructional context suggestions, Key Concepts and Key Skills presented in the investigation, and estimates of the time required for 9th grade students to complete the activity. The Pupil's Edition contains blank answer sheets for students to fill in as they follow through the investigations on the Web site.

Both publications are part of McDougal Littell's Earth Science program. Titles in the program are available for purchase in their Online Store.


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Technical Information

To optimize your use of the Exploring Earth site, we recommend the following minimum technical specifications:

Operating System
Mac OS 7.0
Windows 98
Internet Explorer 5.0
Netscape 5.0
Shockwave Player

Pop-up windows
This site makes use of browser pop-up windows to show large images and some interactive files. If you have disabled browser pop-up windows, you will miss much of the information on this site.

Telephone Support
For technical support beyond the scope of these pages, call McDougal Littell's Technical Support Hotline at 1-800-727-3009. The Hotline is open between 9:00 AM and 8:00 PM Eastern Time Monday through Thursday, and between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM on Fridays.

About Browser Plug-ins

What are plug-ins?
Plug-ins are small packages of software code, available at no cost over the Internet. When "plugged-in" to your browser software, they give your browser the ability to display special types of Internet files such as interactive graphics.

Why do I need plug-ins?
New technologies are invented for the Internet every day. Some new technologies enter mainstream use fairly quickly, and the capabilities they offer are often included in new versions of browser software. Some new and useful capabilities have not been incorporated into browsers though. If you want to interact with files that require these extra capabilities, you need to "plug-in" some extra code into your browser.

How do I get plug-ins?
Plug-ins are free. When you go to a site or page that requires a plug-in that your system doesn't have, you should see a message that you need a plug-in, and a link to follow so you can download and install it. Click the link to go to the plug-in's download page.

Scroll below the download icon on the download page to read the detailed instructions, or follow these general steps:

1. Click the download link to begin installation. A dialog box will appear asking you where to save the Installer.

2. Save the Installer to your Downloads folder and wait for it to download completely.

3. Open your Downloads folder and double-click the Installer icon.

4. Read and click through the dialog boxes to identify the browser application you use. NOTE: Installing software of any kind may require the computer's administration-level password. Also, you must agree to the terms of use in order to install the plug-in.

5. When the Install button appears, click it to install the plug-in into the plug-ins folder of your browser software.

If you have installation questions or need help troubleshooting visit Macromedia's Support Center.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Where are the answers to the Investigation Questions?

Answers to Investigation Questions are available in the Teacher's Edition of the Internet Investigations Guide. This book is available as part of McDougal Littell's Earth Science program.

Why do red dots appear on some images when I move my cursor over them?

Red dots indicate that more information is available by clicking the image. Whenever you see a red dot, click to reveal the embedded interactivity.

Why can't I print some of the visuals from the site?

Technologies employed to increase the interactive nature of visuals are not compatible with printing. If you want to print any single screen of the Web site, you can use your computer's operating system to take a screen shot, then open the screen shot file in another application to print.

Why can't I see some of the animations?

This site uses Macromedia's Shockwave Player and Flash plug-ins to enhance user interactivity. Though most users should experience the full interactivity of the site's graphics if they have the current versions of the plug-ins installed correctly, some operating system/browser combinations occasionally have difficulties displaying the content.

If you open a page that indicates an animation or interactive graphic should be there, but the graphic doesn't show up, or the interactivity doesn't work as the directions indicate that it should, try these suggestions:

1. Quit or Exit your browser software, then launch it again, and return to the page.

2. Go to the Macromedia plug-in test page http://sdc.shockwave.com/shockwave/welcome/ to check if your browser software has working versions of the plug-ins correctly installed.

3. Visit these Macromedia Support Center pages for further troubleshooting tips:

4. For technical support beyond the scope of these suggestions, You can call 1-800-727-3009 between 9:00 AM and 5:00 PM Eastern Standard Time.

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Teaching Tips

Using Investigations
Investigations can be used at many stages of instruction. They have been employed in whole-group settings, in individual and small group work, as homework or extra-credit assignments, and to launch independent research projects. The investigations serve particularly well as performance assessments because they allow students to apply their understanding and skills to real-world issues or situations. Many of the investigations have mechanisms that provide immediate feedback to student responses. This kind of immediate and concrete input helps guide students' thinking and facilitates the development of their speculations and hypotheses building.

Investigations have been judged most effective when students worked on them individually or in pairs. Having pairs of students work together can work especially well, because the students work cooperatively and have the opportunity to discuss the science content. The first time students are assigned to do an investigation, it may be helpful to walk them through it, displaying the web pages with a projector or a video monitor. This will allow students to become familiar with the nature of the investigations, the navigation of the Web pages, and the types of tools they will encounter.

The investigations were developed with an inquiry orientation. Students don't have the autonomy to pose their own questions and design experiments to investigate them, but they are guided in a relatively open structure and asked to make speculations and predictions, develop and reevaluate hypotheses, interpret images and data, and synthesize information in order to make conclusions. Investigations provide a balance between and factual questions that assist students in gaining a working understanding of essential concepts and open-ended questions that require reflection, synthesis of those concepts, and other higher-order thinking skills. This approach challenges students' natural disposition to get a "right answer" immediately. The investigations aim to help students to think critically, engage deeply, synthesize and evaluate information.

Using Visualizations
Using a projector or video monitor, visualizations can serve as a focal point in class lectures, demonstrations, or discussions. By watching animations several times at various speeds, students have more opportunities to fully comprehend the processes being illustrated. This repetition also gives students more opportunities to form and ask questions about various stages of a process.

Students can also explore visualizations independently. Although there are no questions or tasks that hold students accountable for observing carefully, each visualization provides some background text to direct student thinking. Teachers can devise their own questions for students to answer when using visualizations in this way.

Using Data Centers and Local Resources pages
These pages can be used as launching points for student research. The array of information offered on each topic encourages students to generate and pursue questions of their own interest.

Earth as a System
The theme of Earth as a system is addressed in Earth Science and highlighted on the Exploring Earth site. However, students can get caught up in learning compartmentalized pieces of information without considering how to unify the ideas and concepts. Teachers can help their students understand the theme of Earth as a system by overtly drawing connections among processes in each of Earth's spheres on a regular basis.


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This Exploring Earth website was created by the Center for Earth and Space Science Education at TERC, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts. Funded in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant no. ESI0095684. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Project Director: Daniel Barstow
Curriculum Director: LuAnn Dahlman
Technology Director: Jennifer Loomis
Senior Scientist: Tamara Shapiro Ledley


Bryan Aivazian
Brian Conroy
Martos Hoffman
Larry Kendall
Carla McAuliffe
Matthew Nyman
Zach Smith


Lenni Armstrong
Bryce Flynn
Jamie Larsen
Douglas McCarroll
Randy Russell

Editorial and

Chris Allen
Elizabeth Barry
Tara DeMarco
Wesley Fleming
Jamey Frank
Tom Grace
Greg Kuchmek
Stacey Leibowitz
Dave MacFarland
Tasha Morris
Jennifer Murdza
Laura Uhl

Science Review
Karl Koenig
Gerald North
Patricia Reiff
Mary Jo Richardson
David Sparks


Earth Science Visualizations CD-ROM, ©2003 McDougal Littell Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any information storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of McDougal Littell Inc. unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal copyright law. Address inquiries to Permissions, McDougal Littell Inc., P.O. Box 1667, Evanston, Illinois 60204. McDougal Littell, McDougal Littell Exploring Earth Visualizations CD-ROM, and all associated logos and designs are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of McDougal Littell Inc. QuickTime is a Registered Trademark of Apple Computer Corporation. Microsoft, Windows, and Internet Explorer are trademarks, registered trademarks, and/or copyrights of Microsoft Inc. Flash is a Registered Trademark of Macromedia, Inc.

For more information about McDougal Littell products, call us at 1-800-462-6595, or visit our web site at: www.mcdougallittell.com

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