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High School Students as Ecologists: Learning the Nature of Science through the Science of Nature

Paper presented by T. DePriest at the 88th Annual Meetings of the Ecological Society of America. Savannah, GA, 2003.

Scientists have the capacity to play a key role in the education of secondary school students through engaging them in research activities. However, to be effective at meeting new standards in science education the learning experience must include more than following a research protocol. As a participant in a NSF program that places graduate students in school settings to teach science, I attempted to integrate my own experiences in forest ecology research into an educational setting for the purpose of meeting current reform standards, which emphasize learning the nature of science (NOS) and skills in scientific inquiry. In one project we carried out investigations into local “Old-growth” forests through a structured inquiry in which I defined the class research goal of establishing a “null model” for native forest ecosystems based on specific biological (tree size class and species composition) and physical (amount of course woody debris and leaf litter depth) characteristics. The curriculum then follows a pedagogical model that reflects a progression from structured inquiry to guided, and eventually open-inquiry through a process of shifting the identification of the research question and research process from the instructor to the student. In another project, we applied a research protocol to investigate the genetic variability of sugar levels in the sap of maple trees in an active sugarbush. My goal for this project was to investigate methods of incorporating aspects of the NOS related to the research process into a structured inquiry model. From these experiences I learned that attempting to meet science education standards through facilitating student research involved not only an integration of skills in ecological research processes, but also a critical reflection of my own conceptions of the NOS.



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