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Teaching the Ecology Nature of Science

In this project, we wanted to know: can students develop an understanding of the ecological nature of science  that is useful and productive in environmental citizenship? To address this question we developed curriculum and support materials for teachers to use in the classroom and researched the efficacy of these materials.  

Understanding how evidence is collected, evaluated and applied to address pressing problems is an essential component of NOS, something that every high school graduate should have. 

Promoting students ability and desire to use scientific information outside of the classroom is an important goal in science education. Reaching this goal, however, requires not only a general understanding of scientific concepts, but also an understanding of how scientific data and claims are generated. Through this National Science Foundation supported DRK-12 project entitled: Ecosystems and Evidence we sought to better enable students to understand how ecological claims are generated and supported by evidence.

In our this DRK-12 project, we asked: Can students develop an understanding of the nature of science as it pertains to ecology in high school biology and environmental science classes in a way that is useful and productive in environmental citizenship? To address this question, we began by developing a conceptual framework which addressed questions regarding (1) explicit teacher instruction of the nature of science through ecology and (2) student understanding of the nature of science, ecological evidence and contemporary environmental issues. A team of master teachers, science educators, and ecologists collectively developed this framework for an ecology related nature of science (ENOS).

The ideas articulated in that framework set the context for testing four core hypotheses:

  • ENOS is distinctive in important ways from generic NOS.
  • ENOS mastery enhances students? abilities to critique claims, address issues and support scientific approaches to problems.
  • Personal facility with ENOS and related teaching, recognition of ENOS as a worthy target of instruction, and self confidence enable teachers to integrate ENOS into their instruction.
  • Students can develop ENOS mastery when they have direct experience creating arguments from ecological evidence of diverse types in equally diverse contexts, reflect on ENOS, and have scaffolded experiences transferring ENOS within ecology and to other arenas.

To test these hypotheses we worked with two Learning Communities (high school biology and environmental science teachers, ecologists and educators), one centered at the Cary Institute in the mid-Hudson Valley, NY, and the other at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. A Concept Development Team of 8 ecologists, educators and teachers helped us develop case studies and assessment tools that relate directly to ecological evidence.

Enduring understandings of the Nature of Science in the Context of Ecology

The Reflections and Lesson Examples page contains fuller descriptions of what we have identified as key understandings we hope to achieve in teaching Ecology NOS. That page also contains teacher reflections along with synopses of lesson examples and links to resources. For more clarification, click on the teacher’s guide to understanding. In addition, you can provide your students a copy of the student’s guide to understanding. We also found it useful to hang a poster in our classrooms to remind students.

Research team:
  • Alan Berkowitz - co PI, Cary Institute
  • Rebecca Jordan - co PI, Rutgers
  • Jackie Delisi - evaluator, EDC
  • Steven Gray - researcher, Rutgers
  • Gel Alvarado - researcher, Cary Institute
  • Wes Brooks - researcher, Rutgers
  • Maribel Pregnall, Arlington High School, Cary Institute Learning Team
  • Channa Comer, Urban Assembly Academy of History and Citizenship for Young Men, Cary Institute Learning Team
  • Sandy Fisher - Chatham High School, Cary Institute Learning Team
  • Rebecca McLelland-Crawley - Perth Amboy High School, Rutgers Learning Team
  • Kristina Nicosia - West Windsor-Plainsboro High School, Rutgers Learning Team
  • Judy McLoughlin - Westfield High School, Rutgers Learning Team