Can constructing ecosystems teach Earth's biosphere properties?
Can non- or pre-STEM students gain an appreciation for the Earth’s biosphere and human impacts upon it by constructing and observing their own (250-1000 ml bottle) ecosystems? The experiential project would require four laboratory sessions, or in non-laboratory courses, a special project undertaken by a cohort of students and the results presented to the class. Half of the experiment would be instructor defined (the controls) and the student team would select the stressor (pesticide, nutrient enrichment, temperature, light-dark cycles, etc.) for the other half of the experiment. Observations are made weekly and require no instrumentation. To date, these projects have been performed by individual students or small teams earning Fish 499 (Independent Studies) credits. We would like to extend the projects to students earlier in their academic development and to those with minimal scientific background. We are looking for instructors willing to try the project and evaluate its impact on the student’s understanding of Earth’s regulation of Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen cycles (Photosynthesis and Respiration) and human impacts on these processes.
Our student projects have been largely successful in having the students learn about nutrient-photosynthesis-grazing-nutrient recycling relationships. We have a series of projects looking at nutrient concentrations and C to N&P ratios. Earlier students have demonstrated the effects of insecticides, herbicides, nutrient enrichment, and temperature increases on algal-grazer interactions. In the process, they learn about O2 and CO2 cycles. We have not had formal evaluation of the effectiveness of the learning, but the student reports, both written and often presented at UW’s Undergraduate Research Symposium, reflect a deeper understanding of the ecological relationships. Work that remains to be done include 1) testing that our Closed Ecological Systems work with purchased supplies, 2) instructions are developed for students and instructors to function independent of our laboratory’s expertise, 3) instructors test the project, and 4) formal evaluation of the student’s learning experience is performed.