The ECO mission course module, lead by the scientist from the University of Tartu has won the the Science Magazine Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction. The goal of this award is to recognize new and innovative study programs. Because of its effectiveness as a teaching tool, the mission, an investigation of ecosystems that involves Web-based and hands-on experimentation the program was the perfect choice for the award.
The awards was won in collaboration with the European Union funded project called the Science Created by You (SCY), which was lead by the University of Twente. Margus Pedaste, a technology education professor from the University of Tartu, lead the team of Estonian, Dutch, Cyprian, Norwegian and French scientist and teachers who together developed the ecology study module called ECO mission.
The ECO mission, designed for high-school students, looks specifically at the ecosystems of a freshwater lake. It starts by asking students to create a "concept map" representing their initial understanding of the different processes in the body of water and how they relate. Pedaste says such a map or visualization helps students think about the relation between different scientific processes and concepts. What follows in the ECO mission is a combination of approaches. Students assess the role of light in the level of photosynthesis through a hands-on experiment. They see the effect that the composition of the lake bottom could have on the pH rise in the lake from acid precipitation stemming from acid rain. Students use computer simulations, however, to understand nutrient concentration and food chains.
For the students, the most important benefit is experiencing the wonder of scientific research as it is done by scientists. "Through the learning environment, we are trying to show students what science is," says Pedaste. "It's not memorizing. It's doing something; it's doing research work, and it's really attractive to students who are by their nature interested in finding something new."
The Science Prize for Inquiry-Based Instruction (IBI) was developed to showcase outstanding materials, usable in a wide range of schools and settings, for teaching introductory science courses at the college level. The materials must be designed to encourage students' natural curiosity about how the world works, rather than to deliver facts and principles about what scientists have already discovered. Organized as one free-standing "module," the materials should offer real understanding of the nature of science, as well as providing an experience in generating and evaluating scientific evidence.
You can read more about the SCY project here: http://scy-net.eu/
Cover picture: http://www.stockfreeimages.com/8956277/Ecology.html