Human and Earth Systems
By Anna Scherer

One of the earliest field trips I remember going on was to the Tillamook forest. As a child it was an enchanting view, watching through the bus windows at trees that dwarfed me. As with all field trips though it was not supposed to be a reprieve from our school, but rather an educational experience. Even in the middle of the woods they found a way to bring school to us. Several dozen students shuffled single-file into a darkened theater, past the gift shop where I stared longingly at a stuffed otter. Once inside we learned about the Tillamook burn. Black and white photographs danced in front of our eyes containing sights many of us had yet, and hopefully would never, experience. Buildings completely collapsed, trees burnt to black charcoal even darker than what could be captured on film. With all the images of Smokey the Bear pasted up in and around the forest it should have been little surprise that this scenic trip was a disguised anti-fire campaign. To my child’s view of the world, from someone who barely knew what a match was or how to play with one, I still haven’t fully forgotten what it felt like to experience a new fear.

This is the experience that children have nowadays. Fire has changed from being perceived as a natural force, something to live with rather than at odds with. It cannot be tamed in the same way wolves have been, but is instead unruly and unexpected like the wind and the oceans. A lot of modern practices nowadays are directly at odds with this force as houses are built in fire zones, controlled burns have been eradicated, and global warming is causing unprecedented dry spells. Generating fear and worry about fire doesn’t help if substantial solutions are not presented on how to deal with the systemic faults at place in our society.

This curriculum follows the Next Generation Science Standards for ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth Systems. It is a four-part lesson plan that will look deeper into the relationship that modern society has with fire and how it’s changed over the years in order to challenge these preconceived notions about it. Throughout the course students will be encouraged to keep their own reporter’s journal as they learn so that they can eventually make their own story to add to the project and, hopefully, pass their knowledge onto others.  





Lesson 1: Take a Walk with Me
in the Forest

The central focus of this lesson is to introduce the topic of fire and its effect on the natural world, test student’s knowledge and biases on these topics, and develop their skill in critical thinking while engaging them in diverse activities. Due to the nature of fire and how it burns resources, students will evaluate if it is more harmful than helpful to the environment. They will take into account the limited nature of trees and forests as a place filled with resources that are difficult to replace over human lifetimes, but also the minerals and new growth that fire puts back into the environment. This lesson will serve as an introduction to more in-depth lessons within the unit on living with fire. Students will actively record notes and questions in their reporter’s journal, which they will use at the end of the lesson to create their own story.


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Lesson 2: Fire in Your Community

The central focus of this lesson is to further develop the relationship between modern society and fire, looking at how it has adversely affected society and vice versa. Students will look into the historical contexts surrounding people’s perceptions of fire along with the difference between prevention and preparedness. They will also do research into how technology or personal practices can be adapted in an effort to solve this issue.


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Lesson 3: Fish and Fire

Over thousands of years humans have made significant changes to the Earth for better or worse, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing extinction of other species. These changes can have different impacts for different living things. As one example of this, students will look at how fish hatcheries and recreational fish sites function. This will include their economic and ecological impact, both during a usual year and unprecedented natural disasters.


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Lesson 4: Climate Burns

It’s become a known issue in the last several decades that climate change is occurring, and as of now, worsening. Students will be able to determine certain human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels and the release of greenhouse gasses, as a major factor in global warming. Furthermore, they will be able to recognize different aspects of weather and nature as effects of the process. In order to reduce the current level of climate change and changing human susceptibility to it, several factors must be considered, including an understanding of climate science, engineering, and an understanding of human behavior, as well as the ability to wisely apply all this knowledge.


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“But we have to make some decisions about how we're going to live with fire. The not having fire is an option that's not on the table.”

- Paul Hessberg (The Future of Fire)