Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Food webs offer serious food for thought!

I am just starting to recover from my summer ‘vacation’… Having revised my Educational Technology course, I had to realign elements to the various standards: the TEKS, the NETS, the PPR, and so on… I’d need a 3D Microsoft Surface table to show you how each ties into the actual course – and over to the others – really. Because my course is cumulative across 15 weeks, the spiral design creates a fantastic interweaving of connections. I’d bet your practice produces a similarly intricate mesh when you take a step back from the general lessons and add in all of the IEPs. Representing such complexity is a challenge. My dream is to realize an interactive volvox model to literally connect the dots within and around the parts that make up the whole of education.

On a more practical note, the Oops, I Broke It activity provides a memorable way for students to dramatize a food chain. Hopefully you’ll have time to extend that simple linear model into a food web. Making the connection to energy, they sometimes forget that all food chains and webs begin with the sun. It’s also important that they realize how inter-dependent both chains and webs are when considered within an environmental context. As a formative assessment, I’ve found this to be a fun way to introduce the topic of food webs or to check for a thorough understanding of the importance of protecting endangered species.Click here to download the ‘analog’ activity detail.

Please refer to the EPA’s website to learn more about the issue of Pesticides, Chemicals, and Toxics and incorporate that issue into your discussion of food webs. Their Design for the Environment Safer Product Labeling Program is one tool for empowering us all to help protect human health and the environment.

HippoCampus Connections: Depending on your curriculum needs, there are several wonderful resources to support this activity in the HippoCampus collection. Hydrothermal Vent Food Web in NOAA: Chemosynthesis and Vent Life provides a real-life simulation of a unique underwater food web. In NOAA: Ocean Pollution, the Biomagnification animation shows how toxins move into and through a food chain.

Instructor Notes: Depending on your students, I was also pleased to find several interesting ‘games’ on the web that might offer additional assessments or appropriate remediation. Exercise your creativity to integrate this topic with geography and social studies! In the food chain game you drag the parts of the generic progressive food chains (from simple to full) to their correct places; when the chain is complete it ‘comes to life’! There are locale specific activities for meadow, arctic and pond chains, Canadian northern or forest food chains, and endangered animals in the Mexican ecosystem and/or you can learn about other animals by level then see complex webs for Australian or African Grasslands and Antarctic or Marine food webs. While the Oops, I Broke It activity targets a particular environmental science concept, you’re certainly not limited to addressing a single standard with such real-world examples!

An obvious benefit of new technologies is the ability to individualize teaching to accommodate different learning styles and special needs cases. With a slightly different tack, I try to design content that fosters individualized learning for everyone. (Yes, I am a true constructivist.) In fact, for my doctoral work I helped my graduate students weave their areas of interest into a single virtual field trip. The closest I’ve come to pursuing my volvox dream is an ancient, home-made project called the GEMweb. (Yes, I use it in my Science Education course each summer! The inter-relationships of ecology, geology, and humankind are basically the same still. Students help expand the site by contributing their own pages.) I’m eager to implement the playlist feature on the new HippoCampus site to let students to exercise a little more of that ‘shared control’ measured on the CLES. How are you empowering students to explore their interests within the scaffolding of our current educational system? How is that changing how you continue to learn?