Contributions from Science Education Research

pp 361-374

Learning and Teaching about Ecosystems Based on Systems Thinking and Modelling in an Authentic Practice

  • René Westra
  • , Kerst Boersma
  • , Arend J. Waarlo
  • , Elwin Savelsbergh

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This paper is a report on educational design research concerning learning and teaching contemporary ecology. To be able to understand ecosystem behaviour as derived from a complex and dynamic view, learning and teaching systems thinking and modelling skills is essential. To accomplish context-based ecology education, a cultural-historical approach was chosen, using three authentic social practices in which ecology is involved. A sequence of learning and teaching activities was thought out, elaborated and tested in classrooms. Throughout the field test the learning and teaching process was monitored in detail using various data sources. The results show that the students acquired basic systems thinking; they were able to articulate similarities and differences between the levels of biological organization (individual, population, and ecosystem). In addition, they understood which factors are crucial in an ecosystem and how they work, in particular how they impact quantitatively on each other. Most students were able to explore the required computer models. However, for most of them it remained problematic to build models themselves


Authentic practices Complexity Cultural historical approach Developmental research Dynamics Ecosystem Modelling Systems thinking