Sand County Almanac in the ecology classroom: An active learning approach to teaching about ecology and natural history
It has been suggested that storytelling facilitates learning, however, this approach is largely missing from college-level science courses. Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac provides a thought-inspiring narrative that may be used to introduce students to ecological concepts. At Lehigh Carbon Community College, Sand County Almanac is used in an introductory ecology course to enhance material presented in the traditional textbook and to foster an appreciation for knowledge of natural history. Students were assigned to read ten essays in Sand County Almanac over the course of a semester. Essays were selected to coincide with the sequence of topics covered in the textbook. For example, the essay “Cheat Takes Over” was assigned when students were studying invasive species. Following each of these reading assignments, students collaborated in small groups to answer a series of open-ended questions progressing from lower to higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Subsequent whole class discussions facilitated by the instructor allowed students to share ideas and receive immediate feedback. The objective of this active learning instructional strategy was to encourage discussion of concepts presented in Sand County Almanac to provide an opportunity for deeper understanding of ecology and natural history.
This structured classroom activity involving various Sand County Almanac essays provided a formative assessment tool for use in the ecology classroom and resulted in thoughtful collaboration among students. Students combined information from the textbook with Leopold’s observations to construct reflective responses to questions about Leopold’s essays, ecological concepts, and related contemporary environmental issues. A Likert scale was used to assess student attitudes about the Sand County Almanac classroom activities. During spring semester 2013, a substantial majority of students (77%) indicated they were surprised by how much they had learned from the group activities and 85% preferred using Sand County Almanac to simply reading the textbook alone. In contrast, during a previous semester where students were assigned to write a report on the entire book, only half indicated they learned from the reading and writing assignment, and half would have preferred simply using the textbook. These results suggest an active learning strategy may be an effective way to utilize Sand County Almanac in the classroom. Excerpts from student assignments and student comments about the Sand County Almanac essays will be presented.