COS 41-4
Metacognitive learning in the ecology classroom: a tool for preparing problem solvers in a time of rapid ecological change?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013: 2:10 PM
L100E, Minneapolis Convention Center
Katie Villano Spellman, International Arctic Research Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK

Building human communities that are resilient and adaptive to ecological change requires the development of education strategies that train the vast majority of community members to rapidly assimilate and apply advances in ecological knowledge. The k-12 public school system provides great opportunity to develop and train future decision makers in adaptive thinking. However, public education systems have tended to emphasize ecology content and awareness of environmental issues rather than emphasizing skill building strategies that improve student ability to solve problems. Increased emphasis on metacognitive skills in ecology education, such as critical and reflexive thinking, may build adaptive capacity of individuals and societies.  To investigate the effects of explicit metacognitive learning structures on student socio-ecological problem solving ability, I taught 54 seventh grade students a 6 week ecology unit using guided inquiry methods, and 54 students the same unit using guided inquiry with additional explicit metacognitive journaling exercises. Students completed pre- and post- metacognitive skills inventories and written socio-ecological problem solving assessments. Student interviews were also conducted.


Students who received regular explicit metacognitive journaling exercises as a part of their ecology instruction tended to show an increase in their scores on the post- metacognitive inventory assessment relative to the pre-assessment score. Students receiving regular inquiry instruction showed no difference in metacognitive inventory scores between pre- and post-assessments. Students who were proficient in grade level academic skills tended to improve their metacognitive inventory scores after the structured metacognition exercises more than students who were advanced or below grade level. Evidence from student interviews suggest that proficient students may benefit more from the metacognitive learning exercises than below grade level or advanced students. Analysis of the socio-ecological problem solving written assessments show an improvement in the assessment scores for students who used metacognitive journaling exercises compared to students learning through regular guided inquiry only. These data suggest that metacognitive teaching approaches may be useful in enhancing the ability of some students to apply knowledge flexibly and restructure knowledge in the face of rapid socio-ecological change.