From Local to Extreme Environments (FLEXE)
FLEXE is a science education project that helps students gain an understanding of local and extreme environments, the interconnected Earth system and the process of science. As part of the project, students collect data in their local environment and compare them with equivalent data from partner schools and from an extreme environment, namely the deep sea. Hydrothermal vents and cold seeps are among the extreme environments being compared. Students participate in three main activities: (1) protocol-driven fieldwork and analysis, and analysis of data from an extreme environment; (2) Web-based interactions with scientists and students from partner schools; and (3) culminating activities that include reporting and peer review. FLEXE provides an online system for exploring learning activities developed for the project and for facilitating interactions between students and between students and scientists. Through the FLEXE Forum, collaborating scientists present intriguing deep sea datasets to students along with scientific questions for them to answer, and provide feedback on their responses in a timely manner. Evaluation is central to the project. FLEXE combines program evaluation with hypothesis-based research to explicitly test effects of various program components on student learning and attitudes towards science. FLEXE was developed at Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Science and the Schools in collaboration with the Globe Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment program and the NSF deep sea research program Ridge2000.