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School Woodlands Ecosystem Study Project

In this project, we focus on big ideas that can help teachers support students in understanding that diversity matters, not just because ‘more diversity is better’, but because different trees have traits that translate into different functions.

To illustrate a key concept, we explored the idea of tradeoffs in plant ecology, such as how some trees have smaller, numerous seeds to aid in traveling a long distance, while others have larger, heavier seeds to support seedling growth. Similarly, we investigated the differences in leaf area, thickness, transpiration rates, and stomatal density among sun and shade leaves and between species.

Setting up litter bags and culturing the microbes and fungi present on decomposing leaves allowed us to study how and why decomposition varies between species, and our final topic focused on herbivory rates and the chemistry of different tree species’ leaves.

Teachers collected real data during each of these topical explorations, and learned practical ways to bring these tools back into their classrooms. A set of curriculum materials were developed to help teachers use their schoolyard trees as a method for exploring these big ideas in ecology. 

Project Leadership:

Alan Berkowitz, Project Director

Cornelia Harris, Project Coordinator

Founding Teacher Fellows:

Colleen Bucci, FDR High School, Hyde Park, NY

Josie Cain, Harrison High School, Harrison, NY

Laura Murawski, Cohoes High School, Cohoes, NY

Tom Tokarski, Woodland High School, White Plains NY

Samuel Washington, Woodland High School, White Plains NY

Pilot Test Teachers:

Cheryl Patty, Westmoreland School

Lorie Scheinwald, Farmingdale High School

Lisa Gizzarelli, UnionVale Middle School

Andrea Victor, FDR High School

Rob Borowski, Patchogue-Medford High School

Melissa Shumer, Young Women's Leadership School of Queens

Tom Hall, Westlake Middle School

Alyse Dietrich, Saugerties High School