Wednesday, August 6, 2008 - 4:00 PM

OOS 17-8: Teachers in the desert: Creating ecological research opportunities for teachers and students on the US-Mexico border

Stephanie V. Bestelmeyer and Rink Somerday. Asombro Institute for Science Education


Considerable research provides evidence for the value of teaching science using enhanced context strategies. These strategies include making learning relevant to students by using real-world examples and problems as well as taking students out of the classroom to learn about the topic. Unfortunately, these best practices are seldom used in the border region of southern New Mexico and west Texas due to a lack of funding, few teachers trained in inquiry-based science practices, and a lack of locally relevant curriculum. Ecological science here is often taught only from a textbook, a method that fails to demonstrate the excitement inherent in inquiry-based ecological science research. As part of the Teaching Ecological Complexity project funded by NSF, the Asombro Institute for Science Education and the Jornada Basin Long-Term Ecological Research Program conducted a two-week teacher professional development workshop in July 2008. High school teachers were immersed in their own ecological research projects, and they presented their hypotheses and results with the use of qualitative conceptual models. They also had opportunities to share and compare data collected by teachers and students at five other LTER sites. All workshop activities and research projects were correlated with state science and math education standards, making them instantly relevant and useful for teachers in the upcoming school year.


We will present the results of pre- and post-workshop assessments of the participating teachers’ understanding of ecological complexity and inquiry-based teaching strategies. Teachers also made extensive plans for extending what they learned during the workshop into their classrooms for the 2008/09 school year. We will highlight some of these plans as case studies of how to use ecological research studies to teach science in culturally, economically, and linguistically diverse regions.