Martha Murphy: Teaching A Growing Concern in Introduction to Environmental Science at Santa Rosa Junior College
About this course
An introductory general education course.
Syllabus (Acrobat (PDF) 614kB Jul18 14)
ENVS 12 is an introduction to environmental issues from a scientific perspective, focusing on physical, chemical, and biological processes within the Earth system, the interaction between humans and these processes, and the role of science in finding sustainable solutions. Topics include contemporary environmental issues related to resource use, pollution, and human population growth.
After completing this course, students will be able to:
- Identify and describe major global, regional, and local environmental issues.
- Analyze the scientific basis of major environmental issues and identify and evaluate potential solutions.
- Show relationships between human actions and environmental issues and examine the impacts of environmental issues on human populations.
- Use scientific methodologies, including the construction and utilization of scientific models.
- Correctly use information sources related to environmental issues.
ENVS 12 fulfills the natural science general education (GE) requirement for graduation and the physical science GE requirement for transfer to the CSU and UC systems. It is also a core class for the Environmental Studies major.
A Success Story in Building Student Engagement
I taught this module in a once weekly, 3-hour-long evening class. My goal was to teach all six units consecutively over a two week period in my course, teaching 3 units each in two consecutive 3-hour-long classes with breaks. Instructing in this manner required a good deal of planning ahead, so that pre-work was done ahead of time and so that homework was assigned when appropriate. Because my class is an evening class, many of my students are what are described as "returning" students, many of whom are already working full time. This type of students is usually quite engaged in the subject matter and they usually come to class well prepared. The structure of the module was very similar to the way I run my class, so it was easy for all of my students to engage in the in-class activities. They were used to learning this way.
I was quite pleased at how well the module progressed. The units built on one another, and at the end my students, who were not specifically agriculture students, understood how soil, agriculture, and climate change are all related. Based on what they had already learned during the semester, I think my students understood going in that soil is a natural resource that we are in jeopardy of losing, but by the end of the module they really understood the general science behind soil as a resource and how agricultural practices impact its loss or retention.
My Experience Teaching with InTeGrate MaterialsMy goal was to complete all activities in the module as written. Because we ran late the first week, we completed Units 1 and 2 the first week, then completed units 3 through 5 the second week, and then unit 6 at the beginning of class the third week. This actually worked better than trying to do three units in three hours for two weeks in a row. It allowed the students to do homework from Unit 1 after the first class, and the homework for Units 3 and 5.
Relationship of InTeGrate Materials to my Course
Instruction began during the eighth week of a 16-week semester of a general education introductory Environmental Science course. The students had already been introduced to the study of Environmental Science and had studied environmental history/ethics/economics, ecology and ecosystems, and matter and energy. The module was a good introduction to the potential impacts of global climate change, which my students were to study later in the semester.
Unit 1 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
No changes; homework was due the second week and therefore followed doing Unit 2 in class the first week
Be careful as your students are doing their observations in this unit. I got so carried away with walking around and listening to them that we ran out of time. It was amazing at how good they were at just making observations without interpreting what they were observing. It is a skill that is easy to lose the more you know about a subject.
Unit 2 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
No changes; I showed all 7 minutes of the YouTube video because I feel it is so valuable for students to see this demonstration
Unit 3 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
Because we live in a rich agricultural area with many small farms, farmers markets, and places at which to obtain locally grown food, I started this unit by reminding my students that not everyone has this availability of local food. This is important when looking at country-wide erosion rates; others around the country might be impacted by large-scale agricultural erosion and loss of food resources much more than we are.
I reviewed mathematical conversions with my class at the beginning.
Otherwise, no changes.
Unit 4 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
We ran out of time, so I assigned the exit slip exercise as homework, along with the Unit 4 homework.
Otherwise, no changes.
Unit 5 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
I began with a review of what we had learned so far in Units 1-4.
The pre-work had been assigned as a homework during the first week, so they came prepared for the RUSLE jigsaw activity
Unit 6 (50-minutes within a 3-hour class)
Because we were running over into a third week and using time that I had already allocated to a new subject, the agricultural fact sheet was completed outside of class. This was not ideal, because some of the students just did not comprehend what the fact sheet was supposed to contain. This was despite the fact that they were given the links to the examples so that they could remind themselves of what both good and bad fact sheets looked like. I also did not have the time to show the "Know Your Audience" video, and it was obvious that some students did not take the time outside of class to view it even though they were given the link. I would recommend that after investing all of this time in the module, the students will have a better overall experience if you make the time for Unit 6 to conducted as instructed – mostly in class.
I used all of the assessments included in the module, both formative and summative, but I don't think that the students really viewed them as assessments. They are, however, an extremely important part of the learning process. The agricultural fact sheet was the ideal summative assessment for this module. It tied together concepts they learned throughout the module and it allowed them to tie in some of their work from earlier module units.
My goal for teaching this module was to have students learn a new topic within their subject matter and at the same time learn to be systems thinkers. Students tend to focus on knowing the facts, whereas those facts cannot be applied without a context – in this case, Earths' systems. My students did a good job of stepping back and taking a look at the big picture, mainly because they were prompted to do so by the module materials. It was a good reminder for them to do this. They also learned how to make objective observations and analyze data, two very important scientific tools. To wrap it up, the summative assessment gave them the opportunity to produce something as a scientist that would be useful to the public.