Frequently Asked Questions
- What is the FLEXE (From Local to Extreme Environments) project?
FLEXE is one of four Earth System Science Project (ESSP) partners for GLOBE that provide foci for student research. FLEXE is a deep ocean project led by Pennsylvania State University in partnership with Ridge2000 and InterRIDGE scientists. The FLEXE project uses comparative protocols and online interactions with project scientists and partner schools to help secondary school students gain an understanding of local and deep-sea environments, the interconnected Earth system, and the process of science. FLEXE students collect data from their local environment and compare it with data from an extreme deep-sea environment. FLEXE students also compare their data with data collected by a GLOBE school in another part of the world. Scientific reporting and a peer review process, as well as web-based interactions with researchers cap the student experience.
- What is an extreme environment?
The extreme environments that FLEXE students investigate include hydrothermal vents and cold seeps. These environments are characterized by harsh conditions for life that would quickly kill many organisms. Some of the extreme conditions include:
- Deep-ocean depths where no sunlight penetrates and pressure is immense
- Steep spatial gradients and rapid temporal fluctuations in temperature, pH and salinity (e.g. hydrothermal vents jet super-hot acidic fluid into near-freezing seawater)
- Vent fluids with toxic chemicals (e.g. sulfides), often present in high concentrations
- How do FLEXE students compare their local environment to an extreme environment?
FLEXE students conduct a sequence of learning activities focused on understanding key concepts related to the Earth system. For example, one sequence of learning activities focuses on understanding key concepts of energy transfer through the Earth system. Students:
- Develop and test conceptual models to understand energy transfer processes in the Earth system.
- Analyze temperature datasets: min/max air temperature data from other GLOBE schools, data they collect themselves, and data provided by scientists investigating "extreme" environments in the deep ocean.
- Present their understanding of data and key concepts to peers for evaluation and feedback, just as professional scientists do.
- Interact with deep-sea scientists through the web-based FLEXE Forum to deepen their understanding of energy transfer processes in the Earth system.
- How will students benefit from taking part in FLEXE?
Students use inquiry and research skills to explore concepts associated with the Earth System. They collect data that help them make sense of their local environment. They write up their results and participate in peer reviews that help refine their understanding and improve research skills through feedback from their peers — in a manner similar to how scientists work. Students also benefit by interacting with deep-sea research scientists, using real data from the deep-sea, to explore an extreme environment. Applying what they've learned to new and seemingly different situations provides an authentic way to test understanding. The local to extreme connection, together with peer review and the FLEXE forum, provide a unique and engaging way for students to learn science by doing science.
- How is FLEXE different from other GLOBE projects and learning activities?
FLEXE is focused on helping students collect data primarily for their own analyses. These data are not posted to the larger GLOBE database. FLEXE also included an online peer review process that mirrors the process scientists follow in publishing results. Student reports were written on-line and then were reviewed by other student groups, both to validate student work and help improve the quality of the final reports.
- What is peer review and why should my students do it?
Peer review is an essential part of scientific research that is notably absent from most science classrooms. It has been an integral part of the FLEXE project. Students write reports about their research using an on-line tool** and then submit their reports for evaluation by their peers. Students are then required to evaluate reports written by other students at other participating GLOBE schools. Through a guided process they learn how to review a report and provide feedback for the writer. The process requires students to comment on the mechanics, the data, and the conclusions made relative to the data, as well as on other aspects important to a well-written scientific report. In the process, they help improve the quality of other students' reports as well as get feedback to help improve their own science writing skills. Finally, students learn that scientific knowledge develops from critical evaluation of evidence-based reasoning in scientific reports.
**Although the online peer review system is not available, an in-class version is available for teachers to use within their own classrooms, in the Energy Unit Learning Activities.
- Does FLEXE use established GLOBE protocols?Where established GLOBE protocols fit the needs of a FLEXE learning activity, they are used. In some cases, existing GLOBE protocols are simplified for use by FLEXE. Otherwise, FLEXE developed easy-to-implement and time-efficient protocols to meet the needs of FLEXE learning activities.
- How can my school get involved in FLEXE?
The FLEXE Project has completed development and testing of its materials. All learning activities are available for classroom use. Online components are not currently available.
- How are scientists involved in FLEXE?
Scientists have been involved in all aspects of the FLEXE project. They have advised and evaluated the activities developed for FLEXE as well as taken an active role in communicating with students through the on-line forums — FLEXE Forums. FLEXE Forums take a step beyond typical student-scientist interaction where students ask questions of scientists. In the FLEXE Forum, scientists ask students questions that require them to consider and make sense of extreme environment observations and datasets. Students post their explanations of the scientists' questions to the Web for review and comment. The Ridge 2000 and InterRIDGE scientists involved in the FLEXE project have been excited about the opportunity to interact with and challenge students by sharing their exploration of the fascinating world of extreme environments. Although the Forums are not currently running "Live", they are available in "archive" format.