Disturbed about Succession TL Unit


Laurie Anderson, Paul Benzing, Suzanne Koptur, Linda Nagel, Hilary Swain (facilitator)

Course description:

Sophomore (ecology) class, 100 students

Majors and non-majors, have taken general biology before

Two 50 minute periods in a classroom environment.

Topics already covered in the class are:

·  Resources vary in space and time

·  Plants vary in structure and function

·  Plants compete for limited resources

·  Students have some previous experience with models

Learning goals/objectives:

The student will...

1)  Define and describe the processes of (three) contrasting models of succession

2)  Work in groups and use their knowledge of plant life history traits and successional theories to predict ecosystem change over time for a given scenario

3)  Be able to identify successional processes in their local environment

Rationale for Instructional Approach: (based on experiential knowledge, not data)

Students have:

·  Narrow-minded preconception that there is one general unidirectional and linear model of ecological succession

Succession is hard to teach because:

·  It is more complicated, muddy and diffuse than it appears at first

·  Understanding all the mechanisms and processes is difficult and requires integration of ideas

·  How to distill the subject of ecological succession at an introductory/sophomore level to provide sufficient depth and knowledge of complexity – avoiding the “veneer of knowledge”

The challenges for the teacher (us) include:

·  Somehow we all seem to think that our teaching of ecological succession has been boring – probably because it is hard to teach well, so we have resorted to oversimplification

·  Many of the examples that we have used are old and traditional – we need to incorporate more recent examples that are relevant for student lives

Brief Description of TL Unit:

The two-day unit introduces the concepts of succession, walks through several examples of succession and various pathways/models that are commonly used to describe successional processes, and uses active learning strategies to facilitate integration of ideas and application of knowledge to new examples.

How does the TL Unit address active learning:
The TL unit involves several in-class exercises where students answer questions independently, share ideas with their group members or neighbors, construct a consensus answer, and upon solicitation, share their answers to the class. The TL unit also involves independent homework with collaboration among group members, culminating in integrating and refining ideas into a coherent model and explanation.

FIRST National Meeting 2005 2
Kellogg Biological Station
Executive Summary