What is Environmental Science?

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Objective

Students will be able to explain the reasons that effective approaches to environmental problems require a broad base of interdisciplinary knowledge.

Big Idea

Environmental science is more than just biology and chemistry. It is interdisciplinary and utilizes social science as well as physical science.

Introduction

This lesson seeks to introduce, in very broad strokes, the discipline of environmental science by comparing and contrasting it with other physical and social sciences.  

The lesson essentially consists of two parts:

1. A pre-class textbook reading and homework assignment focused on close reading techniques, critical-thinking questions, and content vocabulary development.

2. An in class presentation that provides supplementary examples to review the concepts and vocabulary from the chapter along with a class discussion seeking to draw students into more critical examination of the topic at hand and assist in their ability to connect the concepts to their personal experiences. 

The textbook reading comes from Environmental Science: Your World, Your Turn by Jay Withgott.

If you do not have that particular textbook, I would recommend finding a similar chapter or chapters (in this case, an introduction to the interdisciplinary nature of environmental science, covering the reasons why environmental problems require knowledge of both physical and social sciences) and modifying the lesson accordingly.  

Alternately, the powerpoint attached to the Direct Instruction section covers most of the same concepts and vocabulary as the chapter.  If you have a shorter class period, you may want to skip the reading assignment and assign the discussion questions as homework.  You could then hold the class discussion on the following day.       

In my case, I assign the textbook reading on the meeting previous to this lesson.  In that way, students will have already covered the concepts on their own and the powerpoint presentation will be less of a lecture and more of an opportunity for students to ask questions and clarify their understanding. 

Connection to Standard:

In this lesson, students will prepare for class by reading and determining the central idea of a text, establish familiarity with relevant scientific vocabulary, and then draw evidence from the text to support arguments and opinions presented as part of their participation in a group discussion.  

 

Direct Instruction

30 minutes

Like I mentioned above, I assign the textbook reading as a homework assignment to be completed upon arrival to this class period.  The powerpoint presentation is then more of a review and an opportunity for students to ask questions.  

At times I have resisted spending class time "lecturing" as a means to introduce content that the students should have already covered while doing their homework.  Recently though, I have changed my thoughts on this and considered going through with the presentation to be a worthwhile use of class time.  My reasons for this are as follows:  

1. Let's be honest here... High school students can be overloaded with work, or just plain lazy about doing their homework.  To assume that students are learning simply by completing a reading assignment leaves open too many possibilities for them to miss the course content.  

2. Even in a perfect world where all students do their homework every time, many students may have dutifully completed their assignment and still not have comprehended the lesson (this is especially true of ELLs and students reading below grade level).  By going over the same content as the text in a live presentation, I have more opportunities to differentiate the instruction, offering multiple explanations and illustrative examples.    

3. As teachers, we sometimes have a blind spot where we assume that students understand the content and vocabulary of our class simply because of the fact that we teach the same content so many times.  In reality, our students only go through our lessons one time.  At the very least, this opportunity for a review can reinforce concepts that are essentially brand new for our students and, through the give and take nature of actual teacher-led content instruction, allow them opportunities to make new connections and deeper understandings of the content we are, ourselves, so passionate about.   

 

When class begins, I ask students to get their homework out and first give them about 10 minutes to discuss the critical thinking questions with their group members.  During this time, I walk around and put a stamp on completed homework and answer any questions that students bring up.  If students bring up a good question or insightful comment, I ask them to please remember to bring that up in the larger class discussion to follow the presentation.  

Affording this time before the presentation allows students to "field test" their answers with a smaller group, increasing their confidence to participate in the larger discussion.  Also, because the discussion is graded by groups, it allows the ideas of individual members to influence the thinking of their peers which may lead to greater insights or even new questions.  Finally, while I walk around, I listen to the nature of student discussions and get a better sense of what kinds of questions may be floating around the room, allowing me to emphasize certain aspects of the lesson or offer more detailed examples to scaffold the instruction.

After I have stamped all the homework assignments, I distribute the note sheet that accompanies the presentation.  As I've mentioned in previous lessons, offering students a note sheet provides a readymade study guide for later and allows students to focus on their thoughts and the concepts being discussed as opposed to focusing all of their attention on copying down copies amounts of notes.   

Discussion

30 minutes

Following the presentation, I let students know that we will wrap up by having a class discussion to review the concepts of the lesson.  Again, depending on your class length, it may be preferable to have this follow-up discussion on the following day.  

The discussion protocol for this lesson:

  1. all groups are required to participate in the discussion and will receive a “participation” grade for the day

  2. groups with more than one member that participates will receive a higher participation grade

  3. groups that participate more frequently will receive a higher grade

 

These criteria make the group collectively responsible for their grade and accountable to each other. If no one in the group participates, the group as a whole will receive a failing grade.  If only one member of the group participates, regardless of how often, the group can’t receive any grade higher than a C.  

 

To keep track of participation, I begin by making a map of the class with the group tables labeled by group name.  Since there are four students at each table, as a student from a particular group participates, I make a tally mark in the position of that student in their group.  In this way, I can tally how often the group participates, which members are participating, and how often.  To determine "average" participation, I add up all tally marks and divide by the number of groups, rounding down.  I then use this rubric to determine their participation grades.

This discussion guide gives a basic idea of what I'm looking for students to cover during the class discussion.