Weekly Writing 6: Course objective for an Ecology Unit

The readings assigned this week made me reflect on how I use taxonomies and the UbD Facets of Understanding (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). I felt that they were all useful tools in designing student learning, but had different roles in lesson planning. I primarily use taxonomies to define objectives, while I use the Facets of Understanding to design assessments.  These two topics, assessment and objectives must be designed in concert with each other and I think that Fink’s (2005) taxonomies give a good framework for connecting the two. I think taxonomies are also important for designing learning objectives because they give us a framework in which to recognize rigor in the content. In Utah, science curriculum standards are primarily content based rather than skills based. As such, much of the content is designed at the lower taxonomic levels. The USOE (Utah State Office of Education) has added a list of “Intended Learning Outcomes’ or ILO’s that address specific skills that should also be taught, most of which require learning to take place in the upper taxonomic levels. Taxonomies allow me to integrate the ILO’s in with the desired content to create learning activities that require higher levels of critical thinking. I think the use of taxonomies is more to identify level of understanding, so that there is consistency between different instructors and also to provide opportunities for greater depth of knowledge on certain topics. I use Bloom’s taxonomies when creating all my objectives and I feel that by including objectives at several levels I can better scaffold the lesson.

I think the Ub.D. Facets of Understanding are most useful for creating formative and summative assessments (Wiggins and McTighe 2005). Though I rarely use “empathy’ in science, I find that using the other facets help prioritize what students that have achieved mastery should ultimately be able to know, understand or do. For example, in the lesson plan I am creating for this class, students will need to be able to design, conduct and evaluate an experiment. They will need to be able to explain the concepts that led them to their hypothesis and design, interpret the data they collect and apply their understanding of biogeochemical cycles, energetics, and population dynamics to make inferences about the results they find in their experiments.

I felt that Fink’s (2013) approach to taxonomies was more holistic than Bloom’s or as he states “it is not hierarchical but rather relational and even interactive.’ According to Fink’s taxonomy I would say that my lesson plan centers on the taxonomic level of “Integration.’ The subject of Ecology is primarily about understanding relationships or “the connections between different things.’ Students will also spend much of their time in this project “Learning how to learn’ by engaging in scientific inquiry and learning to be a “self-directed’ learner (Fink’s 2013) .

My online lesson plan will be titled “Exploring Ecosystem Interactions’ and will focus on the Utah State Office of Education Core for Biology (USOE 2013):

STANDARD I:  Students will understand that living organisms interact with one another and their environment. Objective 3:  Describe how interactions among organisms and their environment help shape ecosystems.

I chose this unit in ecology, because I think it requires some level of lab work and I am particularly interested in producing meaningful lab experiences for the online environment. My three objectives are also based on the USOE Biology Core and I have included the level of Bloom’s taxonomy that I believe each objective would fall under (Krathwohl, 2002).

  1. Students will be able to formulate and test a hypothesis on the effect of changing one variable upon another in a small ecosystem. (create or synthesis)
  2. Students will be able to investigate an ecosystem using methods of science to gather quantitative and qualitative data that describe the ecosystem in detail. (analyze or analysis)
  3. Students will be able to interpret interactions among biotic and abiotic factors within an ecosystem. (evaluate)

Student mastery of these objectives will be assessed based on the successful design and analysis of an experimental ecosystem and the summary of what is learned in the production of a well written lab report.

Works Cited

Fink, L. D. (2013). Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses. San Fancisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Krathwohl, D. (2002). A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy:An Overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(4), 212.

USOE. (2013). Utah State Office of Education: Concurrent Enrollment. Retrieved from https://www.schools.utah.gov/CURR/earlycollege/Concurrent-Enrollment.aspx

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design (Expanded 2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Ecology Unit Obj.

5 thoughts on “Weekly Writing 6: Course objective for an Ecology Unit

  1. lsowa

    Jenny, I look forward to seeing the outline of the lab activity that you develop. I really like that you are having the student design the experiment. I am also quite curious to see how you assess and provide feedback along the way in the online environment. Your objectives read well – they are focused and yet span a number of facets of understanding.

    Incorporating empathy in science can be a challenge but yet is so important. I like how you refer to stakeholders in the concept map. Particularly with environmental issues there are so many conflicting perspectives, and they are so emotional – it is an important skill for students to be able to see these issues from others’ perspectives. I taught a natural resources management course one semester, and when we started talking about mining, I asked my class if anyone had family or friends that worked in the mining industry – and they seemed quite shocked. They were a very environmentally conscious group, which I think is a positive thing, but definitely saw issues as black and white, good vs. bad. Having empathy, even for those with different opinions, is a great quality to foster.

    1. Owen

      Lori – I love that you asked the question about whether or not any of your students were related to anyone working in the mining industry. Good to ask the question to frame the perspective of discussion.

  2. Owen

    Jenny – I too am a fan of Fink’s taxonomy. Aiming for “Learning how to Learn” and spending time and attention in that direction is great. That is generally my hope as well. But, how do we assess whether someone has learned how to learn? How do we assess their understanding at that level?

    I agree with Lori – nice objectives and I like that you’re putting students in the “role” of professional ecologist conducting their own inquiry. A strong foundation.


  3. Bob

    My first reaction was planted aquaria. At least that is how I would do the homework you assigned were I in the class. I don’t know if that is what you mean by “small ecosystem”? However, it seems to me that if you want them to modify the environment it is a good way to limit the variables.


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