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A Sample of a Research and Development Project: "Border Blues" an Episode from the Scientists in Action Series
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The Scientists in Action Series: Border Blues Episode

Teacher’s Web Page

The Border Blues episode of the “Scientists in Action Series” focuses on exotic invasive plants and animals and the problems they can have for ecosystems. The episode is probably best taught in a large group/small group method where initial class discussions are held about segments of the video and then groups of students investigate particular aspects of the challenges presented. These groups can then report back their findings to the full class through group presentations. It is divided into five segments plus the credit information these are:.

  • An introductory segment where the idea of the “Challenge Zone” is presented by the narrator and an initial question is presented. A student, Jim, talks about a family vacation to Mexico and how he picked up a plant there that was supposed to repel mosquitoes. He buys it planning to take it home. He does not understand why he has to give up the plant to the agricultural inspector when he returns to the U.S.
  • A response to the initial challenge by students from Illinois who investigate if Jim’s plant was confiscated because it might be poisonous. They do some research and pose a challenge of their own to the “Zone” themselves.
  • A response to the initial challenge by students in California who investigate if Jim’s plant might have been a problem because of insects that might have been traveling on it. They present some ideas about the problem of Mediterranean fruit flies and also present two challenges for the “Zone”.
  • A response to the initial challenge by students in Georgia who investigate if the plant itself might be a danger to the local ecosystem. They give the example of kudzu and how it has become a very difficult problem in parts of the United States. They also present two challenges for the “Zone”.
  • The “Final Challenge ” that presents a related problem to the students. In this case it is the issue of the “musk thistle”, another exotic invasive plant.
  • Credit information

Suggested Instructional Methods

Day 1

The teacher would probably find it most instructive to start with the introductory segment and the initial question as a whole class activity. These segments are relatively short taking only about two minutes to show. It is probably instructive to either put the questions that Jim raises on the board or show them to the class via the webpage for the initial question.

It is often very useful for students to write down their initial thoughts about their answer to the questions raised by Jim. It requires them to formulate an initial response and it is instructive for them to compare their initial thoughts to the ideas that they develop after they have done more research.

A class discussion will probably be useful after the students have written their initial thoughts about the question that Jim raised. Collecting various ideas on the board or in a word processing document would be useful for later discussions.

Days 2 & 3

Teachers can follow two different routes to continue the episode. The first method is to use small groups of students to work on the sub-challenges presented in the episode by dividing the class into three (or multiples of three) groups. This will mean that most classes will have either six or nine groups with 2 to 4 students per group. It is probably best to keep the groups in multiples of threes so that each group can work on one of the challenges from the three groups of students shown in the video (Illinois, California, Georgia ). Having more than one group working on a challenge is useful since different groups can come up with different interpretations. Groups are provided with a URL for the challenges and may then work on that segment via the webpage associated with it.

The second alternative is to keep the class together as a large group and do the challenges as either full class discussion activities or assign individual students to conduct research about one or all of the sub-challenges. The teacher might show a new challenge each day in class and then allow students to go to the webpage associated with that challenge to start their investigation. This method may be more appropriate for schools where a computer lab is the location where multiple computers are available to students. The challenge segment could be shown to the full class in the lab and then students could work on individual machines to collect information from appropriate websites to come up with a solution to the challenge.

The length of time needed for individual groups or students to conduct their web based research will vary with each class but it is expected that appropriate information can be found by students in a two to three class period time frame. The teacher will want to circulate among the groups to check for on-task behavior and to answer questions or pose questions to groups as appropriate.

If students are familiar with presentation programs such as PowerPoint tm they might want to prepare a simple presentation where they list their question(s) from the challenge and then present their research results. They can link web pages where they have found information into the presentation. Alternatively, students with web page development expertise might make a simple web page where they show their question and present their solutions along with web links to other pages. In classes where technology alternatives are not as numerous simple written reports, with evidence from their research, can be prepared

Day 4

This day will be one where different groups present their research results. If the episodes (Illinois, California, Georgia) have not been shown to the full class then the group that presents this challenge should show it to the other students so they know the type of problem they were working on. They can then share their research results with the rest of the class. Teachers will probably need to assist in the report discussions to encourage other students to comment on the presenting groups work and see if others know information that the group may not have found. Given the related nature of the sub-challenges groups may have come across common websites, e.g., the Agricultural Inspection Service.

Day 5

After the students have presented what they have found out about their assigned challenge, the initial questions raised by Jim can now be discussed as a full class activity. Have the students go back to their original ideas that they wrote down when the unit was started to see how they have changed since they have been studying the issue.

The first question “Why was Jim’s plant confiscated at the border?” is probably the easiest to answer since the students have seen examples of the problems of exotic plants and they have done research on their individual challenges. The second question, “Can plants really repel bugs?” may not be quite as straight forward. Students will probably have to share information they have found from the web to come up with some answers. This is also a good time to remind them that all information they find on the web may not be reliable. Some plants have been advertised that they repel insects for commercial purposes but actual tests have found them to be not very effective.

If there is sufficient time, showing the “Final Challenge” video segment may be appropriate on this day or it may be started the next class period. This challenge may be assigned as either a small group, or individual research project.

Day 6 -7

“Final Challenge” solutions by students after they have had some time to do some research would be appropriate now. Students might again use a presentation software, web pages, or oral reports to present their ideas

Day 8

For instruction such as this, involving student research and reports it is often useful for them to complete a “Go Public” activity where they present some of their ideas to a wider audience. One way to do this would be for the class (or groups) to prepare informational web pages, brochures or posters about local invasive exotic plants and animals. Almost every part of the country has some of these exotics that have put pressure on local ecosystems. Some of this information will probably have surfaced during the students work on the individual and final challenges. Additionally, A very good source of information is the United States Department of Agriculture local “county extension agent” who will often have local information about plants or animals that have been introduced. They can often provide names of organisms that are a problem locally. An e-mail to the agent (a listing of all states in the US is provided at http://www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension/) will often provide information that they teacher can share with students.

For more information about the "Scientists in Action" series or to provide feedback about this episode please contact Prof. Robert D. Sherwood, School of Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.  rdsherwo@indiana.edu (812) 856-8154.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. (ESI-9350510). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Video and Text Copyright © 1996, 2003 Vanderbilt University

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