CURRENT VOLUME ALL VOLUMES SEARCH TIEE
VOLUME 6 TEACHING ISSUES AND EXPERIMENTS IN ECOLOGY
RESEARCH

Enhancing science teachers' understanding of ecosystem interactions with qualitative conceptual models

AUTHOR

Marion Dresner1 and Monica Elser2

1 – Environmental Sciences, Portland State University, Portland, OR 97207 (dresnem@pdx.edu)

2 – Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287 (Monica.Elser@asu.edu)

ABSTRACT

The project described in this article explores how a series of conceptual ecological models can be used to portray the improvement in ecological understanding over the span of a short course. The course involved high school teachers working collaboratively on ecological research projects. Teachers were asked to construct qualitative conceptual models (a diagram of important ecosystem components and the linkages between these components) and write explanatory essays at three points during their research experience. The progression in development of teachers’ models spanned initial intuitive explanation, with misconceptions, to the post-test elaboration of a more complex and accurate understanding of ecological phenomenon. These results illustrate shifts in teachers’ thinking and understanding. The models essentially provided them with a means to visualize their conceptions of ecosystem processes. Their understanding was further enhanced through collegial discussions. We present a series of models that support the restructuring of novice scientists’ ideas. Teachers and their students need the opportunity to engage in real world research, coupled with reflective use of qualitative modeling and ongoing collegial discussions, to be able to develop more appropriate reasoning about ecological concepts.


KEY WORDS

Research experiences, qualitative conceptual modeling, reflective learning, professional development, high school ecology

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

NSF-DK-12 grant #0554379
Claire Steiner, Lynda Moore, Elena Ortiz for their help in collecting the data described below. Jorge Ortiz, Kimberly Melville-Smith, John Moore, Stephanie Bestelmeyer, and Andy Moldenke for their help in developing the modeling protocols, questions, and procedures used in this article.

CITATION

Marion Dresner and Monica Elser. 23 February 2009, posting date. Enhancing science teachers’ understanding of ecosystem interactions with qualitative conceptual models. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology, Vol. 6: Research #1 [online]. http://tiee.ecoed.net/vol/v6/research/dresner/abstract.html