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Natural Sciences Education Abstract - Articles

Process-Based Thinking in Ecosystem Education


This article in NSE

  1. Vol. 42 No. 1, p. 68-74
    Received: July 16, 2012
    Published: May 20, 2013

    * Corresponding author(s): jordan@aesop.rutgers.edu
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  1. Rebecca C. Jordan *a,
  2. Steven A. Grayb,
  3. Wesley R. Brooksc,
  4. Sameer Honwadd and
  5. Cindy E. Hmelo-Silverd
  1. a Dep. of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources, Rutgers Univ., 59 Lipman Drive, Waller Hall Room 104, New Brunswick, NJ 08901
    b Dep. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, HI 96822
    c Graduate Program in Ecology and Evolution, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ 08901
    d Graduate School of Education, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, NJ 08901


Understanding complex systems such as ecosystems is difficult for young K–12 students, and students’ representations of ecosystems are often limited to nebulously defined relationships between macro-level structural components inherent to the ecosystem in focus (rainforest, desert, pond, etc.) instead of generalizing processes across ecosystems (photosynthesis, decomposition, etc.). This context-dependency might be related to the focus of ecosystem instruction. Most commonly, the components are the first to be introduced and are given the greatest attention in the teaching of ecological and other biological systems. Here, we test the hypothesis that process-centered understanding of ecosystems, as opposed to structured-centered understanding, can facilitate students’ ability to transfer ecosystem concepts to new and novel ecosystems. We found that teachers who taught ecosystem processes more generally were associated with greater variation in student models, indicating a greater range of ideas being represented among the students.

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