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AAAS's Science Netlinks to Launch Ecology Component
Ecology: n. The study of how organisms relate to their environments; from the Greek word "oikos," for house.
Just as building a house requires an array of different skills, ecology draws from a number of different scientific disciplines, from biology to mathematics. As an ecologist at the National Science Foundation (NSF), Penny Firth has long been concerned about how her highly interdisciplinary subject is taught in the classroom.
Now a visiting scientist at AAAS, Firth has been creating a series of ecology-related lessons for Science NetLinks, a website managed by AAAS staff in education and human resources. The site, whose ecology feature will debut this summer, provides science educators with free, Internet-based teaching materials, and offers a comprehensive array of lesson plans and carefully-selected links to related websites. The lessons are tied to the "Benchmarks for Science Literacy," a set of science literacy goals developed by AAAS's Project 2061. They range from water purification to designing a 20-year space mission.
"I wanted to try to integrate ecological understanding with traditional subjects," Firth said. "It seemed to me that elementary and middle, and to some extent high schools, had limited access to interdisciplinary teaching materials."
Firth consulted with experts for some of the lessons. For example, she worked with the US expert on Passenger Pigeons for a lesson about extinction. She draws from her own expertise in other cases, such as lessons on "ecosystem services," which look at how humans rely on nature for services that are not traded in formal markets.
"Students are often taught how humans have impacted the environment. The centerpiece of what I'm trying to do here is to show how ecological systems have influenced humans, and how they continue to do so." Firth said.
The website is part of the "MarcoPolo Learning Initiative," sponsored by the WorldCom Foundation. The foundation has formed a partnership with AAAS and five other organizations to provide free, Internet-based materials for educators across academic disciplines.
The opportunity to connect up with other fields of inquiry through the MarcoPolo network was exactly what Firth believed would help her achieve her goals. It would allow teachers to link, for example, from economics to ecosystem services.
"For me, being part of Marco Polo was a deciding point for coming [to AAAS]," Firth said.
6 June 2002