Tara Jo Holmberg: Using the A Growing Concern and Soils, Systems, and Society Modules in Introduction to Environmental Science at Northwestern Connecticut Community College
About this CourseIntroductory course for majors and non-majors.
Introduction to Environmental Science Spring 2016 (Microsoft Word 47kB Jun16 16)
Cultivating Students and Soils Sense in Introductory Environmental Science
Historically, this course does not have a lab, and due to time constraints we do not take field trips, but I do try to make the course as meaningful as possible with a wide variety of projects, writings, discussions, and traditional assessments. Soils have always been covered but I've found that with the InTeGrate materials, I've been able to weave soils as a thread throughout the class, much as I do with climate change. By doing so, the students can see the both the interdisciplinarity of the sciences but also the integration of these varied issues with one another.
This course was taught within a newly designed 21st century classroom. The 16 students were from a variety of majors, most taking it as their science elective and 3 as a major requirement. This particular class was one of the most engaged I have ever had. While the personality of the class was unique, upbeat, and engaged, the design of the classroom cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor in the success of this implementation.
The classroom is arranged in "pods" of 4-6 students that includes a CPU, laptop/tablet connections, and a large monitor for group work and projects. There are 4 of these pods in the room plus a master teaching station. This setup lends itself to group and hands-on work; traditional lecturing in this room is quite difficult. Implementation of the modules was therefore nearly effortless as the necessary technology was available for all students and collaboration was seamless. The assessments utilized were primarily group-based, formative, and relative to other content within the class.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrateMaterialsDue to the nature of my course and the amount of content to be covered in my class, I incorporated Units 1, 2, and 4 from "A Growing Concern: Sustaining Soil Resources through Local Decision Making" and Unit 2 from "Soils, Systems, and Society". I modified the material as needed including removing subsets of units if time or student level did not allow and added content in other areas.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
The course was a full semester (16 weeks) and the modules were introduced from weeks 5-11. Before the modules were introduced, the class covered the basics of science and the scientific method; environmental ethics, justice, and history; and the physical environment (geology, hydrology, and basics of climatology). The modules were introduced after the physical environment, during the basics of ecology, as well as climate change, food systems, and resource extraction.
AssessmentsThe integration of the material went very smoothly overall. I was teaching in a newly developed, 21st century classroom this semester, which allowed for much easier group work and in-class projects such as those provided by InTeGrate. Students were very engaged with the materials so the activities often took longer than I intended but they were very well received by the students. My advice to colleagues would be to really sit down with the materials and see where modules fit best in the course rather than trying to fit them where there seems to be time. It will take rethinking the course but it is worth it. Leave plenty of class time for any in-class activities, more than they think they will need!
OutcomesThe materials were very well suited for my level of student (introductory) and provided me with materials and assessments that I could easily modify for my own needs! It allowed me to bring more information into the class about soils that I had wanted to for a long time in a way that did not require me to reduce material in other areas; I could use the modules to supplement other content. It was freeing to know that these materials could be modified for our needs and timeframe and that we could even add to it if we found a good resource! I feel the only difficulty I faced was in trying to limit the time the students spent on the activities.
The students performed very well on the assessments (averages ranged from 85-95%) and mentioned the activities in later reflective assignments. I did happen to have one of the highest-performing classes I've had in a long time so I did not have to spend a great deal of time on reinforcement or clearing up areas of confusion for them. I am hoping it goes as well next semester.
I found the entire experience worthwhile and I am very much looking forward to see how these and other InTeGrate materials can be used in other courses I teach. I would like to thank all of the authors, mentors, and fellow InTeGrate members for a wonderful semester and a great experience with these materials!