SHOULD TEACHERS TEACH STUDENTS ABOUT ECOLOGY?
schools starting across the country, I asked my grandson Parker what
kinds of ecology projects a teacher might challenge students with at
the beginning of the year.
is going into the sixth grade, but we were looking for projects that
would be appropriate for schoolchildren of any age. After a few missteps
that would require using binoculars, setting traps, or keeping live
plants or animals in the classroom, we decided on the perfect project.
Teach students about lichens.
comprise two species masquerading as one. The two species live together
in the paragon of a mutualistic partnership, with each providing for
the other and neither being able to make it on their own.
they look like a single organism, they actually represent remarkable
and complex associations between fungi and algae.
the fungal nor algal species has the ability to survive alone, and each
contributes to their joint survival in special and essential ways.
chlorophyll and can therefore convert sunlight into usable energy through
photosynthesis. A fungus has no chlorophyll; instead it is able to absorb
vital nutrients from the surface it grows on.
provide energy to the association, fungi supply minerals, and the combination
functions like an independent, free-living organism. In addition to
providing a form of nourishment, the physical structure of the fungus
protects the algae from exposure.
offer opportunities for a classroom science project that is all-inclusive,
regardless of where the classroom is. Lichens live on walls and fences
in cities, on fenceposts and barns in the country, and on tree limbs,
dead or alive, everywhere.
anywhere can find lichens. And what a great organism for the classroom.
are inoffensive to virtually everyone. I have never heard of someone
with lichenophobia, and if I did, I would be suspicious.
are not poisonous, dont smell bad, and do not have thorns or briars.
Every child can be expected to bring a sample to school.
a little explanation and guidance, any student from kindergarten to
college can find a lichen. The teacher can walk outside and find an
example on the school wall or on the nearest tree branch to bring right
into the classroom.
of lichens is even more fascinating when observed through a microscope.
When I mentioned to Parker that some schools might not have microscopes,
he pointed out that a simple magnifying glass can reveal their intricate
structures and allow comparisons between different lichens.
out about lichen biology can be supplemented in the classroom through
library reference books, and the Internet will have numerous links to
sites about these intriguing organisms that are part fungus and part
any web-based information, be certain that you are learning from an
authoritative source. However, you arent likely to be led astray
on the topic of lichens.
provide an ideal living conduit for discussion of a variety of biological
topics, depending on the grade level, including symbiosis, mutualism,
chlorophyll, and photosynthesis. Reindeer moss, perhaps the best-known
lichen, serves as a basic food source for caribou in the Arctic tundra,
which in turn are a staple for wolves of the region.
excellent opportunity for a discussion of food webs and the interconnectivity
of different parts of the living world.
are one of the most ubiquitous yet understated components of the living
world. They can be found in everyones yard and every local park
from the tropics to the poles.
in myriad colors. Lichens of green, gray, orange, brown, yellow, or
red are not uncommon. How many different kinds can the students find
to bring into class to examine?
you do not have to be a teacher or a student to find enjoyment in looking
at and learning about the vast array of this fascinating group of organisms
that are all around us.
will be doing so whether hes in the classroom or not.
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