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Wetland Ecology Insight through Field and Laboratory Study


Abstract: Aquatic Ecology Studies: Exercises in Scientific Literacy is a collection of lessons designed primarily for earth science and biology classrooms. The lessons may be taught in a cluster as part of a water resources unit or they may be used individually to enrich any preparation with special focus on NCSCOS secondary science goal 1.05: analyze reports of investigations from an informed scientifically literate viewpoint. The aquatic ecology theme pays particular attention to aquatic environmental issues of eastern North Carolina and connects learners to authentic data and technology resources from the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology at North Carolina State University. The lessons are created for collaborative group classrooms, promote technology integration and are formatted to enhance the development of project based learning frameworks. Diverse learning outcomes and contexts for skill development are addressed in each lesson and the overview document in depth.

note: detailed goals and objectives for North Carolina SCOS, National standards, and learning outcomes are found within each lesson introduction

Background Goals and Objectives

Attaining science literacy skill is an evolving process. The numerous skills are often isolated and placed throughout traditional classroom activities. Each of the strands included in the North Carolina standard course of study for secondary sciences describes a very specific aspect of scientific literacy which is to be addressed by or woven into classroom instruction. Such strand requirements include developing student skill in: technological design, understanding issues that face society to make decisions based on evidence in areas of environmental stewardship, understanding that scientific explanations must adhere to rules of evidence/ data, and inquiry where students will think critically to formulate their own questions.

Even though there is not a specific goal or objective so named, the current term used to describe some of this complex thinking process is “21st” century. It is not considered sufficient at this time in education to impart mere knowledge of facts and processes to students, but rather a developed ability to manipulate and apply data to problem solve. This includes creating data and models for collaborative understanding, considering/incorporating the ideas of the larger community to develop understanding and communicating ideas in multiple formats. The central objectives closest to describing these skills are found in goal one of the high school science standard courses of study. Goal 1.05 is common to most of the secondary science curriculums. In this goal, students are required to “analyze reports of scientific findings from an informed scientifically literate viewpoint.” The earth /environmental science course of study adds goal 1.06 which specifically requires students to “identify and evaluate solutions to environmental issues at the local, national and global levels.” The sub goals then specify: interdependence of natural systems, diverse perspectives, short and long range impacts, economic development, environmental quality and sustainability, opportunities for and consequences of personal decisions, risks and benefits of technological advances.

The exercises included in this supplemental program of study seek to fulfill the complex collective focus of this goal. The aquatic ecology theme as it translates into the current environmental issues of eastern North Carolina provides perfect fertile ground to activate each of these sub-goals into a vivid environmental picture for students. Finding a way to create an integrated picture like this can be difficult under the time constraints many teachers experience with the very aggressive North Carolina standard courses of study in Biology and Earth/Environmental science. Often students are exposed to content objectives with little time left to incorporate their individual thinking processes or experiences into the content of the study, let alone develop the interconnected thinking processes this objective is requiring. The exercises included in this supplemental enrichment unit offer students the opportunity to develop this diverse set of necessary literacy skills and practice applying them in a real context. Each lesson plan utilizes different instructional methods and includes products that will appeal to a broad audience of student learning strengths. ( additional NCSCOS goals and objectives and National standards alignment are included in the introduction to each lesson.)

Instructional Rationale and Implementation

Lately there has been much attention given to project based learning. Project based learning (PBL) is a powerful way to develop authentic scientific literacy through student engagement with relevant real world applications. The lessons in this supplement revolve around the troubled state of waters in eastern North Carolina. The Neuse River plays an important part in the life of many of our students in Wayne County. Wherever students live, they have some sort of familiar local water resource. Drawing on this experience fosters an affective component to water resources that helps engage students in the learning. Teachers should exercise sound pedagogy by creating a classroom environment which makes aquatic resources relevant to students. PBL is best achieved with a hands on community component which could include a local field trip to a water resource for a macro-invertebrate study ( see Water resources page) or a speaker from a local organization. The teacher could also develop a slideshow to familiarize students with water resources in their geographic area.

The four lessons in this enrichment unit can be taught as standalone lessons. Each is inherently interdisciplinary and incorporates multiple aspects of the identified goals and objectives. A teacher can choose one or more lessons to supplement a water resources unit and cover needed objectives in their preparation. This may be the case in Biology when trying to address goal 5.03. The lessons may also be taught in a cluster as evidenced by the common unit theme of aquatic ecology and the incorporation of the website for the Center for Applied Aquatic Ecology at North Carolina State University. The availability of computers for students is a common problem teacher’s encounter. For this reason, two of the lessons do not require computers and the other two can be conducted with one central source if necessary. Teachers with access to classroom sets of computers can utilize the lessons to their full potential.

The lessons flow together and can be covered in six to eight ninety minute classes. If a teacher chooses to fully develop the PBL aspect of the supplemental unit, it would be nice for students to develop a small portfolio of the projects with personal written reflections. The lesson plans were designed with this sort of flexibility in mind. There are many opportunities for extensions that creative teachers can add depending on the needs and abilities of their own students. As classroom teachers, we acknowledged that we rarely use any lesson material we find in the “presented format.” Also, many enrichment lesson plans require multiple time periods and for this reason are of little use in practical application. In our experience, very few teachers have time in their preparations to adopt a whole unit plan and much prefer the flexibility of pulling in material a “lesson at a time.” We hope that the design of this unit will allow for multiple uses and application of the vivid Aquatic Ecology theme, which is made accessible through the resources provided in this project and is of major concern in our 21st century climate of sustainable living. A resource page is included as a start in crafting personalized use of aquatic content in these and other lessons involving water resource education.

For those with a desire for a concentrated unit plan, there is a very rich picture of aquatic content and literacy skill development created with the flow of the entire enrichment unit as presented. The design of this unit uses multidisciplinary lessons to maximize skill development in a minimum of classroom time investment. The unit flow for a teacher planning to implement the entire sequence of lessons would be: station design, real-time water quality, and computer data modeling and water safety. The lessons flow from using the design process to collect data, to interrelating authentic data to find patterns, to advanced modeling and interpretation of data, to examination of how human society is creating aquatic ecology challenges and what those implications are. Collaborative learning is central to each of the lesson designs with multiple styles of communication and group dynamics. The lessons adhere closely to the new appraisal instrument for instruction with the collaborative learning, technology interaction, peer assessment and reflective pieces for students.