The teaching of ecology: Community studies in the secondary school
- Auckland Secondary Teachers' College
The last fifteen years have seen an increasing awareness of the importance of ecology in the teaching of senior biology in our secondary schools. The approach, however, has usually been along traditional lines with the study of well defined natural communities involving the detailed description of the physical features of the habitat. The compilation of species lists and an emphasis on methods for method's sake. This narrow and academic approach to the study of living communities has tended to bring fieldwork into disrepute and, for many students, has obscured the basic issues involved. More recently, we have seen a re-emergence of ecology as a fundamental part of senior biology courses with a more dynamic approach placing the emphasis on the principles illustrated by a particular ecological situation rather than by the rote-learning of isolated or ill-assorted facts.
This change in our attitude towards ecology is but one facet of a widespread reappraisal of science teaching as a whole. The accumulation of facts and the memorization of detail which has been a feature of science courses in the past, is seen to have little meaning for the majority of students and is recognised as being an unrealistic preparation for those wishing to advance in science. Modern science teaching aims at a cultivation of understanding with an emphasis on scientific method. Pupils are encouraged by open-ended experiments and original investigations to become personally involved in scientific situations and to develop powers of independent thought. Fieldwork, more than any other branch of school science, offers a challenge to both the gifted and less able student in providing opportunities for original investigations and true scientific endeavour.