Earth & Space Systems Science

New Online Course Prepares Students for Careers in Earth, Energy, and Environmental Science

The Virtual High School is excited to announce that its newest online course, Earth and Space Systems Science, is ready for high school students to explore this fall! View the course catalog.

Registration Opens May 11th

Earth and space science has undergone a remarkable transformation over the past few decades, and is now central to a wide-range of careers on earth and beyond.

Earth From Space

Developed in partnership with Technical Education Research Centers, Earth and Space Systems Science transforms this area of science into an engaging, interdisciplinary course aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards.

Course Highlights:

  • In-depth investigations of Earth science, energy, oceans, weather, space science, and other essential topics
  • Use of state-of-the-art visualization technologies, including the same tools and data used by scientists, engineers, and astronauts
  • Development of research skills, both online and in the field

Studies have shown that only 25% of our nation’s high school students are enrolled in an Earth science course, despite its growing importance. This is often because schools lack the staff or resources required to teach Earth science. The Earth and Space Systems Science online course provides a solution by enabling students to work directly with highly-qualified and trained online Earth science teachers.

To speak with a representative, call 978-897-1900 x3 or email


Earth & Space Systems: Course Description

The days of engaging students in science by having them read hundreds of static textbook pages have passed. Ushering Earth science education into the 21st century requires that we make use of the rich and varied resources available on the Internet to bring today’s exciting and ever-changing dynamic events occurring on our planet into focus for students. Using the technology tools that scientists use, learning from practicing Earth scientists through multimedia resources, and engaging in citizen science projects all offer students a fresh perspective and a sense of being a participant in the science process.

Fig. 1 - This resource shows current wind conditions and enables students to study the interactions of several Earth systems in real time. (earth, screenshot courtesy TERC)

Earth and space science has emerged as a crucial field of study, engaging students in science that addresses humanity’s immediate concerns: Earth’s resources; energy from fossil fuels, wind, and the sun; weather and severe storms; conservation of water and other natural resources; our changing climate; and the exploration of our solar system and the universe. In the Earth and Space Systems Science course, students develop an understanding of Earth and space science as a complex system made up of many smaller systems through which matter and energy are continuously cycled.

Fig. 2 - Using data from the NASA Earth Observatory, students can explore, and in some cases quantify, change over time in Earth systems.  (NASA Earth Observatory, screenshot courtesy TERC)

The course is organized into 11 three-week, theme-based modules that explore Earth’s place in the universe and solar system, examine Earth’s five spheres (atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, cryosphere, and biosphere), and consider the impact on our planet of human activity.

Fig. 3 – Animated 3D graphs like this one help students understand complex cause-and-effect relationships in an appealing way. ( Climate Communication, screenshot courtesy TERC)

In each module, students engage in a series of inquiry-based and investigative activities designed to have them become participants in Earth science instead of passive observers. As they learn Earth science, students incorporate the same methods that scientists employ in their work, and use the same technology tools scientists use to “do science.” Students perform hands-on investigations in the field and lab, and do virtual investigations using online datasets and rich technology tools such as Excel, Google Earth, ImageJ, GeoMapApp, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

Fig. 4 - Instead of simply reading about sea floor spreading, students do a Google Earth activity to measure its rate and then determine the age of Earth’s crust. (Google Earth, screenshot courtesy TERC)

There is no traditional textbook in this course. Instead of working through a long series of readings about science, students directly engage in active learning and do science by using online datasets, visualizations, videos, animations, interactives, and modeling activities to study important science concepts from multiple perspectives and contexts. In many modules, students can join citizen science projects and add data to ongoing science research efforts; this gives them the opportunity to experience the science process firsthand.

Fig. 5- In the citizen science project entitled Classify Tropical Cyclones, students help scientists classify tropical storms/hurricanes and make measurements on each image as part of a simplified technique for estimating the maximum surface wind speed of tropical cyclones. (Cyclone Center, screenshot courtesy TERC)

Each module features a Challenge projecta summative performance assessment that addresses the essential questions of the module and allows students to link together and synthesize important concepts learned over the course of their 3-week investigation. Students role-play and are encouraged to be creative as they incorporate different learning styles and skills in writing, art, and applied technology to demonstrate deep and enduring understanding of the central principles of Earth and space science.

Fig. 6 – In the Challenge project for Module 4: Severe Storms, students assume the role of a TV weather personality to report on the impact of a major hurricane that made landfall in the U.S. (Weather Channel, screenshot courtesy TERC)