Students and computers

From high above Earth’s surface, NASA satellites provide unparalleled observations of our planet’s land surface, ocean, atmosphere, water cycle, energy cycle, carbon cycle, weather and changing climate. NASA’s Earth Observatory (EO) website features these observations in engaging articles and images that can be used in the classroom to provide learners with new perspectives on the geoheritage–geology, ecology, and cultural history–that National Park System sites epitomize. The variety of natural phenomena and topics presented in this curated collection of EO articles and images is as diverse as the national parks themselves.

Educator resources are provided to help teachers make connections from the articles to related curricular topics throughout the school year. These resources include:

Related Education Standards and Topics

Download this table to identify EO articles that relate to specific standards and curricular topics in both middle and high school. The articles can be used to engage and generate student interest in a related phenomenon or topic at the beginning of lessons or units, or used throughout as supplemental activities. Students can also use the articles, along with the links provided to related NPS websites, to continue exploring a topic and extend their knowledge.

Engagement Strategies

Dinosaur National Monument
This mosaic of four astronaut photographs from the International Space Station shows a section of Dinosaur National Monument along the Yampa River in Colorado.

Strategies for introducing middle and high school students to the range of topics addressed in the EO articles are provided through the Guiding Questions and Explorations and Reading and Writing Strategies below. The time required can range from brief activities (5-15 minutes) that focus on a single article to longer lessons (1-2 class periods or longer) using several of the articles and national park sites.

Guiding Questions and Explorations

  • Engage Students: Each EO article sparks the reader’s interest through powerful images and informative text. Gauge student interest by assessing their prior understanding and prompt related questions by having students read an article -- either assigned or by individual student choice. Mentally engaging students is part of the first step (first “E”-Engage) in the 5E instructional model .  Follow with reading and writing strategies outlined in the next section.

  • Build Interest: Student interest can be enhanced with the introductory questions listed on the “Explore” pages. A set of questions can be found for each category - geology, ecology and cultural history. Have students answer all questions listed or allow them to choose a category based on their specific interest.

  • Extend Learning: Students can use the articles, which include links to related NPS websites, to continue exploring a topic and extend their knowledge. After reading a selected EO article, students could identify and research the featured topic, then develop a model or a written document to discuss and explain the science behind it.

    Following are additional suggested questions to extend student participation and understanding. Answers can be provided in a science journal, on a separate paper, or through a class discussion.

    1. What is it about the geology of a national park that attracts visitors? Use evidence from at least three of the articles from the geology section of the “Explore” page to support your answer. Then, read three articles from the ecology section and explain ways that ecology can draw people to a national park. Do the same for cultural history.

    2. The colors in satellite images convey important information. Scientific instruments onboard satellites measure wavelengths of light across the electromagnetic spectrum including, in some cases, visible light. This data can be used to create true-color or natural color images, which mimic the range of colors a person might see looking down from the satellite’s orbit. False color, or representational color, is used to help scientists visualize data, particularly from wavelengths beyond the visible spectrum. Scientists convert the data collected for those wavelengths to composite colors to create images we can see, revealing patterns and variations that would otherwise be invisible.

      Florida true color imageFlorida false color image
      These two Landsat images feature the same region of southeastern Florida and the Northern Everglades. The true-color image on the left resembles a typical airplane view. The image on the right is a false-color image. Find out how to interpret these images by visiting Why is that Forest Red and that Cloud Blue? How to Interpret a False-Color Satellite Image. (NASA images by Matt Radcliff with Landsat 5 data from the USGS Earth Explorer).

      Several of the park images used in the EO articles are false-color images. Read the EO articles on John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, and Badlands National Park. Click on the link in the article to download the large image and zoom in to see more details. What is evident in these false-color images that might not be as obvious in a true-color image? Describe the similarities and differences in surface features when seen in false-color and true-color images. Why might a scientist prefer a false-color image to a true-color image? For more information on interpreting and teaching with images and visualizations go to:

      How to Interpret a Satellite Image: Five Tips and Strategies

      Why is that Forest Red and that Cloud Blue? How to Interpret a False-Color Satellite Image

      Inquiry-Based Teaching with Visualizations

      Additional resources on using NASA data and images are in the Supplemental Resources.

    3. Earth is a system made up of four sub-systems or spheres: the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere. The interactions of these spheres are evident in the unique features of each national park. Choose one of the spheres and describe ways in which that sphere is affected by each of the other three. Your descriptions should include examples from several EO articles and should explain the specific processes of change.

Reading and Writing Strategies

The literacy skills of reading and writing are critical to building knowledge in science.  While many strategies exist, those described below are particularly applicable to use with the EO articles.

Write a Twitter Conversation

Ask students to rewrite part of the article text as a Twitter conversation, using Twitter’s 140-character maximum length. Students should work in pairs and enter the tweets in their science journals. This activity emphasizes summarization and elicits deep understanding. Go one step further and Tweet out, including #hashtags as appropriate.

Demonstrate Comprehension

To demonstrate comprehension, students can provide a written or verbal response to any of the following strategies. If time permits, students can use highlighters or sticky notes to annotate new information, cite content to reference and/or record any questions generated while reading. 

  • Summarize the EO article
  • Compare and contrast two or more parks in any relevant aspect
  • Give an opinion about an issue confronting our geoheritage sites
  • Cite evidence to support a claim  (see C-E-R section below)
  • Relate a personal connection to a geologic, ecologic and culturally historic EO reference
  • Integrate the text with information expressed visually in the accompanying image
  • Convey ideas (questions, predictions, explanations) about article content by using the “Say Something Starters” below

Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R)

After reading an article, a C-E-R structure can be used to shift the focus of an activity towards one of analysis and argument. Recording the C-E-R structure can help to monitor students’ thinking by providing a framework for them to write explanations. Ask students to write a sentence that states the main idea (claim). Follow this up with specific references to data that support or refute the claim (evidence).  Finally, students write a statement that connects the evidence to the claim (reasoning).

Say Something Starters

After independently reading the EO articles, allow students to take turns “saying something” about what they read, with the intent of practicing ways to convey their ideas about the article. This should be done with a partner or in small groups. Use the table below for starter suggestions. More information can be found in this article on Improving Science Reading Comprehension:







What does this mean...

Oh, I get it...

This reminds me of...

I predict that...

I don’t get this part...

My understanding is...


Let me explain...

This is similar to...

I wonder if...

This is confusing because...

The basic idea is...

What do you think...

Now I understand...

The differences are...

I think that...

I think that...

An example is...

What is...

This makes sense now...

I have heard of this...

The next idea will...

I really liked...

I learned...

Supplemental Resources

NASA Wavelength
This reviewed collection of NASA Earth and space science education resources is designed for educators at all levels: K-12, higher education and informal learning outside of school. Use NASA Wavelength to quickly and easily locate resources, including lessons, data, activities and more.

Resources related to NASA data and images

Earth Observatory Gallery of National Parks
Visit this gallery on the Earth Observatory for new stories and images on national parks, which will be posted as they are published. 

Educators Guide to NASA Earth Science Images and Data
This 16-page booklet describes multiple NASA sources that allow educators to incorporate real Earth science data and images in their teaching. Sample resources as well as firsthand accounts of how the data and images are being used in the classroom or informal education setting are included. Sources are divided into introductory, intermediate, and advanced levels.

Landsat Resources from NASA and USGS

Many of the images featured in the national park EO articles were captured by instruments onboard one of the Landsat satellites, which is a joint NASA/USGS satellite program. Beginning operations in 1970, Landsat offers the longest continuous global record of the Earth’s surface; it continues to deliver visually stunning and scientifically valuable images of our planet.

The NASA Landsat website includes news, images and an education page offering a wide range of resources, including Landsat images, animations, K-14 classroom exercises, data tutorials, fact sheets, and more.

The USGS Landsat website features Earth as Art (a gallery of aesthetic Landsat images), an interactive image gallery, tools to access Landsat data, and an education page with resources for teachers and students including lessons, activities, tutorials, and more.

This website provides science and education communities with a wide variety of accessible options for exploring NASA data. Through data visualization and classroom lessons, MND creates genuine scientific experiences accessible to users regardless of their technical background, age, or experience. The MND website offers teachers, students, and citizen scientists the opportunity to quickly access science data and educational resources.

Tour of the Electromagnetic Spectrum
This book, with related videos, introduces electromagnetic waves, their behaviors, and how scientists visualize these data. Each region of the spectrum is described and illustrated with engaging examples from NASA science.

Visualizing Earth Systems: A NASA Quick Start Guide for Educators
This page features visualizations from the NASA Scientific Visualization Studio (SVS). Each provides valuable insight into the complexity and interconnectedness of Earth's systems. Some of the visualizations, marked “annotated,” include narration- making them ideal for introducing students to complex Earth science topics. Others, marked “non-annotated,” contain no narration or labels. Those are designed to encourage student questioning and conversation – which are important steps to inquiry-based learning.

The page includes a video interview with NASA’s scientific visualization specialist Kel Elkins as he shares insights into the creation of three scientific visualizations, and answers questions about his work, education and career.

Resources on Eco-Regions and National Parks

Wildlife and Wildlands Toolkit 
The toolkit features an overview of the science of climate change, a video on climate science as well as case studies and classroom activities focused on the 11 eco-regions in the United States.

National Parks
Each of the EO articles on national parks includes a link to the related park website. The park websites include information and additional resources about the park as well as educational resources. Following are additional resources from NPS:

NPS Climate Change Education Resources 
The site offers numerous resources including lesson plans, classroom materials, field experiences and distance learning for students in pre-K through grade 12.

NPS Climate Page
Climate change is affecting national parks.  This site features videos, reports, newsletters and research explaining how the National Park Service is addressing climate change. 

WebRangers is an online extension of the Junior Ranger program.  The site allows visitors to sign up for membership in the program.  Members can then set up a personal ranger station, share pictures and stories, and earn rewards.