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K—12 science programs in the United States are implementing inquiry-based lessons to expose students to the scientific process, and in some states these changes are mandated by regulations. At the same time, university faculty in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) disciplines are being encouraged by agencies funding their research to develop outreach activities that typically involve schools. Outreach programs promoting interactions between schools and universities are one means to address this need, and here we describe such a program between a Los Angeles independent school and California State University, Northridge. Our program exploits experiential learning focused on marine biology to engage students in ecological research with application to contemporary environmental issues such as climate change. Moreover, it addresses multiple aspects of the Next Generation Science Standards within a flexible framework that can be adapted to multiple curricular needs. Coral reefs are used as a model system in this program, but the concepts can easily be extended to other coastal marine environments. The program has evolved through three phases: (1) fostering interactions among educational partners, and developing curricula through research that exploits problem-solving skills; (2) completion of scientific activities in the classroom and field; and (3) engaging students in the scientific process through professional conferences and publication. These efforts have led to a self-sustaining program of interactions among schoolchildren, undergraduates, graduate students, K—12 educators, and university faculty that is promoting STEM careers and generating peer-reviewed publications.
Based on the life experiences of six prominent environmental voices — Fritjof Capra, David Quammen, Brian McLaren, Douglas Wood, Sylvia Earle, and Louise Chawla — I recommend changes in curriculum content for general science courses, specifically biology courses, to increase the ecological identity of our next generation. Experiences that allowed these individuals to develop an emotional connection to the natural world were an important component of their ecological identity. Coupling outdoor experiences with the development of systemic and ecological thinking skills was also crucial. Changing the science curriculum to reflect more holistic and systemic thinking by integrating with humanities and reflective practices is a necessary step to create a population with a highly developed ecological identity.
The importance of extant biodiversity, concerns regarding the rising Anthropocene extinction rates, and commitments made by signatories to biodiversity conventions each increase demands for timely data. However, as species and conservation indicators become more complex, the less accessible they are to educators. New pedagogies are needed so that students can generate their own data for studies of biodiversity and extinction. I present a simple indicator of species diversity that examines declines in species' populations and whether or not these species subsequently recovered or faced extinction. Using such data, 14 threatened species are used as examples of the time taken for each species to reach a point of either recovery or extinction. The learning and pedagogical context for this information is reviewed, student use of the data demonstrated, and the lesson evaluated according to its learning objectives.
Teachers are charged with increasing students' scientific literacy, which involves interpreting evidence and making sense of patterns. However, teachers need access to — or must be able to generate — authentic datasets if they are to help their students develop quantitative reasoning skills. We describe an evolutionary ecology lesson focused on resource competition in a parasitic wasp. Students use datasets to generate graphs and test hypotheses on resource competition and fitness.
The featured exemplar lesson incorporates an inquiry-based investigation, aligned to the 4E × 2 Instructional Model, in which students design, refine, and implement a plan to reduce their carbon footprint in alignment with Next Generation Science Standards (HS-LS2-7). Additional resources are provided to support the successful implementation of this lesson. Further, the article provides a framework for teachers to extend learning beyond the classroom walls.
Nationwide science classes, from elementary through secondary, are placing a larger emphasis on inquiry and authentic experiences. The opportunity for community members (students, teachers, or interested individuals) to collect real data and contribute to a research project is the definition of citizen science. Recent disease outbreaks of mosquito-transmitted pathogens (West Nile, eastern equine encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya, and Zika) demonstrate the need to educate children and adults about the public health risks posed by mosquitoes. This lesson plan has students determine mosquito species and subsequent disease risk around their house and in their community by collecting mosquito eggs and rearing a portion of them to adults. The students identify adult mosquitoes and associated health risks. Furthermore, students and teachers have the option to participate in a national mosquito-species-distribution study by submitting mosquito eggs and adults to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The data generated by participant submissions will be available to all mosquito submitters, making each student and school part of a larger project. This lesson plan has three objectives beyond the citizen science experience: (1) clarify the individual's role in protecting individuals, communities, and pets from illness; (2) raise awareness of pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes; and (3) participate in a national program to gather mosquito distribution data. The lesson and the associated supplementary material (available at http://www.citizenscience.us) can be used for middle to high school classes, as well as Advanced Placement classes, because the materials and presentations can be easily modified to classroom needs.
Viewing animal behavior in the wild is time consuming, can be costly, and often yields few results compared to the time required. This assignment encourages students to explore animal behavior through online videos while developing research and critical-thinking skills. The approach allows students to get a field-like experience from a lecture-based class and enhances knowledge about behavior of animals beyond the students' geographic area. In addition, this assignment is consistent with the AAAS's vision of change in undergraduate biology teaching. This assignment is appropriate for both college and high school biology classes that cover animal behavior, ecology, or conservation.
Teachers have reported that students enjoy growing plants but that logistical constraints such as limited space and inadequate lighting make it difficult to incorporate living plants into their classrooms. We present a method that takes familiar materials from the students' world — trading-card holders — and uses them to make interactive, cost-effective “plant pouches” that can function as living microscope slides. Students grow plants in card holders and are able to observe both the roots and shoots for several weeks, including making observations with a compound or dissecting microscope. The plant pouches require minimal space or resources, and the system is flexible enough to accommodate different types of plants and is amenable to experimentation.
When biology students are in the field or in the laboratory observing common animals or pictures thereof, we would like them to be able to identify some of the differences between, say, a frog and a toad, or a hare and a rabbit. These differences may be anatomical, physiological, behavioral, reproductive, or developmental. This article suggests a way for students at the high school or higher educational levels to learn how to use the Internet to distinguish between some common or well-known animal pairs (such as butterflies and moths). A starter list of online sources of information is provided for distinguishing between 16 such animal pairs.
As visual creatures, humans sometimes have difficulty understanding how other organisms encounter their environments through nonvisual means. Many organisms rely predominantly or exclusively on senses other than sight, including olfaction, chemoreception, and thermoreception. This lesson will give high school students insights into how other organisms encounter their environment, the benefits and limitations of different senses, and why we should be aware of other organisms' perceptions. Educating students about sensory ecology introduces fundamental concepts in physiology, ecology, and animal behavior. Students will learn a new vocabulary term (umwelt) and about the sensory ecology of other organisms via an active-participation presentation, collect and analyze data on sensory disruption of classmates, and put their new knowledge to work by brainstorming ways in which human activity interacts with the sensory ecology of wildlife through case studies (Common Core State Standard HS-LS2-7).