Inquiry-Based Approach to Learning about Ecosystem Processes
by R.P. Phillips and M.E. Krasny, M. E. at the 86th Annual
Meetings of the Ecological Society of America, Madison,
research has been proposed as an effective method for teaching
ecology to high school and undergraduate students because
of its emphasis on ecological principles and the process
of ecological research. Engaging students in field research
can also serve to enhance ecology field trips. We developed
a six-week inquiry-based ecology unit for high school students,
which sought to 1) enhance student understanding of ecological
processes, and 2) demonstrate how ecological research is
a process of developing hypotheses, designing an experiment,
interpreting results, and developing new hypotheses. We
selected a study site in a local forest where non-indigenous
earthworms have removed nearly all the leaf litter in select
parts of the forest. After a brief introduction to earthworm
ecology and nutrient cycling in forests, we asked students
to develop a testable hypothesis to assess the ecological
impacts of earthworm colonization. To help students with
their experimental design, we introduced them to several
field protocols. We then visited the forest twice to allow
students an opportunity to practice and improve upon their
sampling protocols. After collecting samples, students were
given two weeks to complete their laboratory and data analyses.
All students presented their results orally and as a manuscript.
Results from student interviews suggests that most students
developed an enhanced understanding of how nutrients are
cycled in forests and how organisms influence nutrient availability.
In addition, nearly all of the students developed an appreciation
for the complexity and creativity involved in designing
a successful ecological study.