I. Big Picture
This site explores how to best support teachers/students so that they can conduct real research, collecting monitoring or research data for land managers and scientists. See "The Value of an Emergent Notion of Authenticity; Two Student/Teacher-Scientist Partnership Programs" for further discussion.
We also advocate teachers utilizing reflective conceptual modeling that enhances their learning of ecosystem concepts. See "Enhancing science teachers' understanding of ecosystem interactions with qualitative conceptual models" and "Using participant generated models to capture changes in understanding of ecological interactions resulting from research experiences" for further discussion.
Professional development is critical to reforming science education. By immersing teachers in ecological research experience, you are providing them with a deeper understanding of science and research skills. This is critical in preparing teachers to do authentic ecology research with their students. Research continues to show that student achievement is highly dependent on teacher expertise and that teaching is most effective when the teacher knows well beyond the level of content knowledge they are required to teach (Darling-Hammond, 1999). This depth of knowledge can be developed during trainings through scientific literature and experiences, and through interaction with experts in the field (NRC, 1996).
Collaborations between scientists and student volunteers have the potential to broaden the scope of research and enhance the ability to collect scientific data. Engaged students may contribute valuable information as they learn about science in their local communities. For more information, see "Citizen Science: Can Volunteers Do Real Research?"
Because students will be taking over the care of the Earth, they need to love and appreciate the planet in order for it to be sustained. By teaching teachers ecological research techniques and giving their students a chance to have hands on experiences, the students' stewardship attitudes are expected to improve.
For more information, see:
Barnett, M., Lord, C., Strauss, E., Rosca, C., Langford, H., Chavez, D., and Deni, L. 2006. Using the urban environment to engage youths in urban ecology field studies. The Journal of Environmental Education 37(2): 3-11.
Manzanal, R.F., Barreiro, L.M.R., and Jimenez, M.C. 1999. Relationship between ecology fieldwork and student attitudes toward environmental protection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 36(4): 431-453.
There are many strategies for professional development. The ones described here are a combination of two strategies: "immersion in the world of a scientist" and "immersion into science inquiry". We have found that teachers benefit from having experiences based upon the same principals as the ones they are expected to teach. Teachers who have a first hand experience with research are better equipped to teach science in their own classrooms. Most teachers find it rewarding to become members of a research team. Not only are they immersed in science inquiry, but they experience it the way a practicing scientist uses it.
Developing an effective professional development workshop requires that you first select relevant ecological research topics to provide an immersion experience. Deep science content knowledge must be included throughout the workshop to provide the background information necessary for participants to expand their understandings. Scientific literature and collaboration with scientists are effective ways to deepen science content knowledge. You should expect to develop long-term professional partnerships with teachers to build an active learning community. In addition, you should become familiar with the use of reflective modeling. Reflective modeling provides the transition between observing what occurred in the field and understanding ecological complexity as it occurs in natural systems. Connections between field experiences and science content are strengthened through reflective models, which show connections between variables and require interpretation of those connections. Through these components, participants will come away from the workshop with a more thorough understanding of ecological systems, their processes, and science as a whole.
Teachers are professionals with their own specialized knowledge. The atmosphere of your workshop must be deeply rooted in respect for the capabilities of teachers. In order to make sure that participants are able to build on their existing knowledge and skills, the workshop leaders should recognize that teachers already have their own diverse ideas about scientific phenomenon. What they already know influences what new material they are able to acquire. The social environment can greatly enhance how they mediate their prior knowledge with new knowledge. By offering teachers a chance to have direct experiences with ecological phenomena, positive interactions with other teachers and scientists, and an opportunity to participate in a research project from start to completion, they have a good change of being successful.
Teaching ecology requires some special considerations, due to the nature of the science. Ecological knowledge relies on the understanding of how a variety of systems interact and the interdependence with one another.
Understanding the concept of systems is a critical piece in understanding ecology. "The idea of systems helps make sense of a large and complex world. A system has parts that can be understood separately, but the whole cannot be understood completely without recognizing the relationships among its parts. Systems are nested within other systems. In fact, human well being is inextricably bound with environmental quality. We and the systems we create-our societies, politics, economics, cultural activities, technologies-affect the systems and cycles of the rest of nature. Since we are 'in' the system, a part of nature rather than outside it, we are challenged to recognize the ramifications of our interdependence." (p. 3, Guidelines for the Initial Preparation of Environmental Educators)
These can be difficult concepts for students to grasp, since they are multi-dimensional. To address this, reflective modeling can be a very effective tool (see "What is the Best Approach" for more details).
Guidelines for the initial preparation of environmental educators. 2000. North American Association for Environmental Educators.
“Researchers have shown that participation in outdoor learning experiences is a promising technique for improving children’s environmental attitudes and knowledge” (Bodzin 2008).
Hands-on, interactive, authentic, place-based learning has been shown to be greatly beneficial for students. Well developed and executed outdoor activities lead to stronger knowledge of the topic being covered, greater empathy and willingness to protect the environment, maintain student interest in science, improve understanding of scientific processes and clarify ecological concepts (Kenney et al. 2003; Barnett et al. 2006; Manzanal et al. 1999).
Barnett, M., Lord, C. Strauss, E., Rosca, C., Langford, Chavez, D. and Deni, L. 2006. Using the urban environment to engage youths in urban ecology field studies. The Journal of Environmental Education 37(2): 3-11.
Bodzin, A. M. Integrated instructional technologies in a local watershed investigation with urban elementary learners. 2008. The Journal of Environmental Education 39 (2): 47-57.
Kenney, J. L., Militana, H. P. and Donohue, M. H. 2003. Helping teachers to use their school’s backyard as an outdoor classroom: a report on the watershed learning center program. The Journal of Environmental Education 35(1): 18-26.
Manzanal, R. F., Barreiro, L. M. R., and Jimenez, M. C. 1999. Relationship between ecology fieldwork and student attitudes toward environmental protection. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 36(4): 431-453.