REEFS 2011

REEFS is a reoccurring event held during ESA’s Annual Meeting. It is organized jointly by ESA’s Office of Education and Diversity and the Education Section.

The following resources were presented during the REEFS Session at the 2011 ESA Annual Meeting.

Learning Activities

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Descriptions

SOS (Student Outreach in Science)

Author: Meg Lowman, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, meg@canopymeg.com
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: For five years, I trained my ecology students in science communication and they were required to develop a unit for K-12 school children. The activity required a link to state science curriculum, a hands-on activity, a creative method of presentation, and a pre- and post-quiz to assess the learning success. I then linked students with specific science teachers in our region, and they “practiced” their unit on peers at the college campus prior to heading into the classroom. As a result of this ongoing activity, my students were presented with the Sarasota County Conservation Achievement Award and a large cadre of these students have gone on to pursue science teaching careers (which they claim is a result of this activity).

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Insects on the menu?1 Exploring the future of entomophagy as an intersection between society, ecology and climate change

Authors: Dr. Romi L. Burks, Southwestern University, burksr@southwestern.edu
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: Undergraduate students
Abstract: Ecosystem services associated with invertebrates might include soil aeration by earthworms, pollination by bees or habitat provision by coral reefs or oyster beds. However, we do not typically list provision of food and lessening inputs of greenhouse gasses (GHG) among the positive benefits that invertebrates, particularly insects, may supply to our environment. Inspired by both an episode of Top Chef Master’s and a recent article in PLoS One 2, I introduced my upper-level Invertebrate Ecology course to the emerging trend of entomophagy, or eating insects. Although many cultures rely on insects as a protein source, a culinary bias seems to exist among North Americans, including college students. To give context to this exercise, students read and critiqued Oonincx et al. (2010) and learned that five species of insects exhibited a higher relative growth rate and emitted comparable or lower amounts of GHG than described in literature for pigs and much lower amounts of GHG than cattle. Then, we used the last lab of the semester to test the hypothesis that invertebrates could provide an alternative, yet still tasty, protein source. As the food was being prepared, we watched a number of video clips and news stories about entomopaghy. All students tasted roasted crickets done two ways (candied and spiced or chocolate dipped). Most showed a sense of adventure and ate pancakes made from dry mealworms. A few of the braver students tried earthworm sliders with a portabella mushroom base. Everyone agreed to describe the foods as “edible” although they may not choose to partake again. To tie things together, the final exam included questions about the strengths and weaknesses of the experimental design of Oonincx et al. (2010) and ended with an essay asking students to: 1) describe the demographic trends in the bug-eating movement; 2) explain how eating bugs can be considered green and sustainable; 3) write a public service announcement advocating for entomopaghy; and 4) speculate about the future of the movement in regards to climate change. Although a little apprehensive at first, I believe that the students enjoyed the discussions brought forth from the debate and will never look at a steak in quite the same way again.
1For news article, visit: http://southwestern.edu/live/news/5281-insects-on-the-menu
2For primary literature paper, see: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0014445

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Hey Buddy, How Much for the Carbon? Understanding a Biogeochemical Cycle by Developing a Business Plan to Sequester Carbon

Authors: David R. Bowne, Elizabethtown College, bowned@etown.edu
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: Having science and non-science majors understand the carbon cycle is a common student learning objective of general ecology and environmental science courses. Achieving this objective is all the more urgent given its direct link to global climate change. For the past two years, I have taken a novel approach to this topic by challenging undergraduate students to develop a marketable product that sequesters carbon. After reading the textbook and hearing a lecture on the carbon cycle, students are assigned a short story in which the main characters argue over the causes and solutions to climate change. One of the characters proposes to make his fortune and save the planet by sequestering carbon. In the subsequent exercise, students in small groups follow his lead by researching and proposing their own product that sequesters carbon. Each group then pitches their idea to their classmates, who assume the role of potential investors. The assignment is challenging in that the students have to master the science of carbon cycling while also being creative in an entrepreneurial manner. By approaching the topic of carbon cycling at several different but complementary angles (traditional lecture and textbook reading, fictional case study, entrepreneurial activity), students leave the course with a deeper understanding of carbon cycling and its relationship to global climate change. By actively proposing and critically evaluating possible mitigations of climate change, students are more personally engaged with the material. This approach is particularly effective with non-science majors as it allows them to bring their own knowledge and creativity to the course.

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An in-class group activity to improve student understanding of biogeochemical cycles

Authors: Teresa Heisey, Lehigh Carbon Community College, theisey@lccc.edu
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: Introductory biology textbooks typically include diagrams and explanations of various biogeochemical cycles. Students, particularly those not majoring in biology, find these cycles daunting. Projecting a slide of the textbook diagram and explaining the biogeochemical cycles in a traditional lecture format does little to ease student anxiety. Since active learning approaches are frequently cited as promoting learning, I have incorporated an in-class group activity into my non-majors biology lecture allowing students to create a visual aid depicting components and processes of various biogeochemical cycles. When studying the carbon cycle, for example, stacks of cards with words like “photosynthesis”, “carbon dioxide”, and “decomposition” and cards with arrows are distributed to groups of three or four students. Groups arrange their cards in a way that makes sense based on what they have read in their textbook, or based on their general knowledge. As I circulate around the room visiting each group, I ask questions and offer feedback, allowing students to rearrange the cards as necessary. After each group has completed an initial draft of their arrangement, one student from each group joins the neighboring group, so that each group has one new member. Original group members explain their card arrangement to the new member and new members offer feedback. Group member reshuffling is repeated until each student has visited another group’s card arrangement. Students become actively engaged with the material as they discuss components and processes of biogeochemical cycles with their peers. At ESA’s Education Fair and Share special session in Austin, I would be delighted to bring materials to demonstrate this activity to colleagues seated with me.

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The use of an analogy to facilitate students’ understanding of population regulation and limitation

Authors: Malin J Hansen, University of British Columbia, hansen@zoology.ubc.ca
Activity type: Learning Activity
Audience level: undergraduate students
Abstract: Analogies taken from everyday life can make abstract concepts in ecology more concrete and therefore help students understand and apply those concepts. However, in order to successfully transfer the knowledge from the analogy to a scientific concept, students need to correctly map, i.e. match corresponding terms or processes between the analogy and the concept or problem to be solved. The goal of this activity is facilitate students’ understanding of population regulation and limitation using an analogy. The activity has three parts: 1) an analogy (e.g. comparing the chance of winning a lottery to the growth rate of a bird population regulated by the competition for resources), 2) five to ten questions based on an ecological study, which require students to draw conclusions from graphs or tables, and 3) a mapping exercise in which students are asked to match corresponding terms and processes between the analogy and the ecological concept. The activity has been used twice in upper level ecology courses at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. The activity has been posted on-line so that students can prepare answers to the questions ahead of class. Students discuss the questions in small groups (3-4 students) during class and present the answers to the entire class. The instructor leads the large group discussion and ensures that several possible answers are discussed for each question and that the link between the main concept and the analogy is clear. The activity takes 30-45 minutes to complete and can be preceded and followed by mini lectures.

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