Published In

Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology

Document Type


Publication Date



Reflective learning -- Study and teaching, Ecology, Professional development


The project described in this article explores how a series of conceptual ecological models can be used to portray the improvement in ecological understanding over the span of a short course. The course involved high school teachers working collaboratively on ecological research projects. Teachers were asked to construct qualitative conceptual models (a diagram of important ecosystem components and the linkages between these components) and write explanatory essays at three points during their research experience. The progression in development of teachers’ models spanned initial intuitive explanation, with misconceptions, to the post-test elaboration of a more complex and accurate understanding of ecological phenomenon. These results illustrate shifts in teachers’ thinking and understanding. The models essentially provided them with a means to visualize their conceptions of ecosystem processes. Their understanding was further enhanced through collegial discussions. We present a series of models that support the restructuring of novice scientists’ ideas. Teachers and their students need the opportunity to engage in real world research, coupled with reflective use of qualitative modeling and ongoing collegial discussions, to be able to develop more appropriate reasoning about ecological concepts.


This is the publisher's final pdf. © 2009 – Marion Dresner, Monica Elser, and the Ecological Society of America. Teaching Issues and Experiments in Ecology (TIEE) is a project of the Education and Human Resources Committee of the Ecological Society of America. This article can be found online at:

Persistent Identifier