Winter ecology, evolutionary adaptations and extremes of the physical environment, critical crane habitat, migration, and human use of the landscape, microenvironment

Learning Objectives

The primary learning objectives involved understanding the relationship between evolutionary adaptations and extremes of the physical environment.

Description of the learning process and activities

The term contextualization is used here to describe the process of drawing specific connections between content knowledge being taught and an authentic environment in which the content can be relevantly applied or illustrated. This environment includes the cultural backdrop, other actors, the physical environment, and a scenario in which the concept is inherently related and applicable.

High school administrators in the Western United States were asked to nominate highly qualified teachers with upcoming plans for extended field science classes for their students. 

Students lived and learned in highly contextualized environments for an extended period (between3 and 8 days). The courses were designed and conducted by each teacher independent of this study. Two of the courses (Cases 1 and 2) were part of residential high school programs in which the students learned principles of winter ecology while living in mountain settings adjacent to wilderness. The students regularly traveled on skis into wilder-ness settings as a part of their studies. In Case 3, the students spent three days at a migration stopover for sandhill cranes. They studied the relationships between critical crane habitat, migration, and human use of the landscape. Case 4 students traveled to Florida for eight days to canoe and hike through the Everglades ecosystem and learn about regionally unique ecological characteristics, focusing on evolutionary adaptations to microenvironments. For each of these courses, the location was selected to highlight or contextualize the learning goals. While the instructional patterns varied from case to case, they all included (1) students and teachers living and learning in the field; (2) some pre-planned lessons, lectures, readings, and itineraries; (3) impromptu lessons as ‘teachable moments’ arose; (4) time devoted to lessons and to free time in context; (5) specific field data collection assignments in groups; (6) conceptual connections to classroom lessons back at school; and (7) some student choice in topic foci and presentations of student learning. The student experience could be characterized as an extended journey through a novel ecosystem in which they were receiving teacher- or curriculum-sourced information in pulses, making individual observations throughout, participating in a learning community in which the ecosystem was always a part of the discourse, and consistently reflecting on their learning.

Resources required

Transport, time out of school, equipment for trips

More information

Giamellaro, M. (2014) ‘Primary Contextualization of Science Learning through Immersion in Content-Rich Settings’, International Journal of Science Education. Michael Giamellaro, 36(17), pp. 2848–2871. doi: 10.1080/09500693.2014.937787.