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25 April 2024 An Inquiry-Based Activity for Investigating the Effect of Climate Change on Phenology Using the R Programming Language
Matthew W. Austin, Nicole E. Miller-Struttmann
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Engaging students in research is increasingly recognized as a valuable pedagogical tool that can augment student learning outcomes. Here, we present an original activity that utilizes research as pedagogy to teach upper-division college students about phenological responses to climate change. By studying phenological responses in multiple species, this activity emphasizes interspecific variability in responses to a changing climate (i.e., that not all species respond in the same way), while demonstrating the relationship between environmental and phenotypic variability. In this activity, students collect data from herbarium specimens of spring ephemerals native to North America and are tasked with formulating and testing hypotheses about how the day of year that a species' flowering occurs (i.e., flowering phenology) has been affected by climate change. To accomplish this, students perform linear regressions using the R programming language—including data exploration and ensuring the dependent variable follows a normal distribution—and subsequently present their results via oral presentation. We taught this activity as a three-unit lab in an upper-division ecology course and observed quantifiable improvement in student learning outcomes. While designed as a three-unit, upper-division lab, this activity can be modified for other educational levels, blocks of time, and/or as a flipped classroom activity. Through this activity, students are provided with the opportunity to learn about the scientific method, biological collections, linear regressions, the R programming language, and scientific communication. Changes to flowering time are one of the most conspicuous effects of climate change, thus presenting an ideal topic for engaging students in biological inquiry.

Matthew W. Austin and Nicole E. Miller-Struttmann "An Inquiry-Based Activity for Investigating the Effect of Climate Change on Phenology Using the R Programming Language," The American Biology Teacher 86(4), 233-241, (25 April 2024).
Published: 25 April 2024

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climate change
flowering time
inquiry investigation
linear regression
plant ecology
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