Teach the Earth > Teaching Methods > Role Playing > Land Use Debate

Land Use Debate

An article from the Journal of Geoscience Education

David J. Anastasio, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA 18015-3188, dja@lehigh.edu
Diana K. Latta, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Lehigh University, Bethelehem PA 18015-3188, dk16@lehigh.edu

Student enthusiasm is enhanced by course activities that apply basic science issues such as land use and its attendant environmental impacts. A land-use-planning exercise requires synthesis of relevant geologic processes, economics, and stewardship issues for students in introductory courses such as Earth system science, environmental geology, or physical geology.

This exercise uses role-playing and discussion to simulate the deliberations of a hypothetical planning commission on a proposal for a large residential development that requires the rezoning of farmland. The example cited here was designed by the Lehigh Environmental Education Consortium specifically for the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania (Contact: LEEC, Director of Environmental Education, Wildlands Conservancy, Emmaus, PA, 610-965-4397), but the hypothetical development can be modified to suit any community, and the roles can be modified to accommodate a range of student levels (for example high school, college, or continuing education) class size (10-40) and class duration (1-4 hours).

A facilitator assigns roles to students that include the farm owner, other farmers and local business owners, developers, advocacy groups (for example, conservation organizations, chambers of commerce), local media, citizens with various interests and backgrounds (for example, homemaker, retired steel worker), and the township supervisors who ultimately must decide whether to approve the zoning change.

Each student receives a packet containing his or her character's background and opinion and a worksheet of directed questions pertaining to the land-use proposal. The class is provided with reference materials on the site proposed for development, including county planning commission documents; published geologic, topographic, soil and land-use maps; surface and ground-water data; aerial photographs; and articles on land-use issues. Individually or in groups, students consult the reference materials to complete their worksheeets and construct arguments to support their assigned roles. At a mock township meeting, the students (the "community") present and defend their stands on the development proposal before the township supervisors. In the ensuing debate, the students consider the geologic, economic, environmental and social consequences of land use and development, irrespective of the rezoning decision reached.

Anastasio and Latta, 2000 . Journal of Geoscience Education v. 48 no. 5 (November 2000) p. 593.
A publication of the National Association of Geoscience Teachers. (more info) Reprinted with permission.

National Association of Geoscience Teachers