Environmental Studies: Improving Group Discussions Using a Human Continuum

Title:  Improving Group Discussions Using a Human Continuum
Discipline or Field: Environmental Studies
Authors: Wayne Bocher, Kate Hasenbank, and Jan Wellik, UW-La Crosse

Abstract:  The lesson study plan focused on population issues as the topic of discussion. We assigned a reading in preparation for the discussion, opened the topic with a turtle game activity, and transitioned from game results focusing on turtles to the broader discussion about the population issues. We utilized a prepared list of nine general population statements (e.g. “In a real crunch, jobs are more important than environmental quality”) to discern student agreement/disagreement on related topics, and then focused on the three statements that elicited the most diverse responses in order to promote an engaged discussion. We used a mix of individual writing, small group and large group discussion prior to whole class discussion to examine which style promoted more student participation. At the end of the class period, students were asked to complete an anonymous evaluation to help us gauge lesson success from the students’ perspective. Our findings to date from evaluation feedback and lesson observation include: utilizing small groups prior to whole class discussion is helpful for students and results in better participation; students enjoy interactive, experiential learning; students found the turtle activity effective as a warm-up to discussions on population issues; some students are not clear about the difference between a discussion and an argument.

Physics and Biology: Helping students understand their ‘connections’

Topic: Helping students understand ‘connections’ between physics and biology
Discipline(s) or Field(s): Physics, Biology
Authors: Shusaku Horibe, Bret Underwood, Peter Timbie, University of Wisconsin – Madison.
Submission Date: June 17, 2008

Executive Summary: The goal of the lesson is for students to develop an understanding of how physics is connected to biology through the building of physics models of biological phenomena.

We developed three versions of the lesson, evaluating Versions 1 and 2 and making changes based on those evaluations. In Version 1 students engaged in model building activities and were asked to develop physics-based models for a variety of biological and physiological facts. In Version 2 significant modifications were made to address difficulties students had in meeting the learning goals of Version 1. In particular, the number of different biological facts students were asked to model was reduced significantly, and more attention was paid to developing students’ model building skills. Only minor modifications were made in Version 3 to help provide more feedback and a clearer framework for model building to students.

We found that students suffered from several difficulties that prevented them from achieving the learning goals: a lack of conceptual understanding; underdeveloped models; and a lack of reflection on the models that they built. The revisions in the lesson were designed to address these difficulties, resulting in a lesson, which provides ample opportunities for feedback to students on the model building process and how it helps to make connections between physics and biology

Links related to the Lesson:

Links related to the Study:

Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

Title: An Interdisciplinary Lesson Plan to Foster Student Engagement
Discipline(s) or Field(s): Interdisciplinary
Authors: Denise Bartell, Scott Furlong, Regan A. R. Gurung, Andrew E. Kersten, Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges, University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
Submission Date: February 26, 2007

Executive Summary: We designed a lesson that could be used with students from different classes working collaboratively together in a problem-focused learning exercise, namely the design of a university whose objective was to teach individuals from another planet about the cultures of Earth.

Learning goals. We had three primary learning goals for our lesson. The first was to provide students with experience analyzing and solving problems from an interdisciplinary perspective, and to foster an understanding of the value in doing so. The second goal was to increase student engagement in freshman-level courses by means of working together in interdisciplinary teams (with students from a variety of classes) to solve a complex problem. And finally, we wanted the lesson to foster students’ communication skills, specifically their abilities to write, speak in front of large groups, and communicate effectively in a small group environment.

Instructional design. To achieve these goals, students were introduced to the lesson and then given informational materials on the design of our own university. Students were told that they would be working with group members from six different courses in this project, and that they each would be representing the discipline of their class in this project. Students worked to complete an individual worksheet detailing what they considered to be primary objectives in the development of the university, as well as the basic components of curriculum, governance, and student development opportunities at the university. After discussing this in their individual classes, students spent two class days working in interdisciplinary groups with students from 5 other classes to design their university. They worked together to identify their top objectives for the university, as well as its key structures, and then created a physical representation of their work, which some groups then presented at the conclusion of this group work. After the group work was completed, students completed an individual paper on the experience where they were asked to discuss their understanding of interdisciplinarity, and the contributions of their group members to the project, and were also asked to complete a survey assessment of their experiences.

Major findings about student learning. The survey and observational findings of our project indicated that the lesson had a positive influence on all three of our learning goals. Students’ level of knowledge about interdisciplinarity seemed to increase as a result of their interdisciplinary group work, and they seemed to have developed a greater appreciation for the value of such a perspective by the end of the semester. In addition, students seemed to find the project highly engaging, a fact that was supported in our observations of their group work and in the results of our survey analysis. Finally, students seemed to perceive that the lesson work had a positive influence on their communication skills, particularly the group work that they completed. Overall, we feel that the lesson was quite successful in accomplishing our learning goals, but in the future we may change the assignment to that of designing an ideal university on our own planet, to avoid some of the issues raised in giving this rather abstract assignment to freshmen students. In addition, we may also try to build in more time, at the end of the group work, to a discussion of the groups’ projects.

Lesson Materials – Interdisciplinary Problem-Solving Study, “The University of Tre-Eh” Activity