Conceptual Understandings of Students with Visual Impairments about Biodiversity across Ecosystems

By Margilee Hilson, Sally Hobson, and Tiffany Wild

Margilee Hilson, Ph.D., is a middle school science teacher at Columbus City Schools and an adjunct instructor at The Ohio State University ([email protected]).

Sally Hobson, Ph.D., is a retired elementary school teacher from Hilliard City Schools and an adjunct instructor at The Ohio State University ([email protected]).

Tiffany Wild, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at The Ohio State University ([email protected]).

Abstract

Researchers have documented the instructional value of conducting summer science camps for blind or visually impaired students (Wild, Hilson, & Farrand, 2013a; Wild, Hilson, & Hobson, 2013b.) In the summer of 2013, shortly after the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were officially released, a week-long summer camp for visually impaired high school-aged students was conducted. The theme of the camp was biodiversity across ecosystems. Inspiration was drawn from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (National Research Council, 2012) which was the guiding document for composing NGSS. Researchers used semi-structured interviews using the questions provided by the NGSS (NRC, 2012) to understand and describe the conceptual understandings of the concepts presented in the camp before and after instruction. Before instruction students’ conceptual understandings of biodiversity and ecosystems were varied and scientifically incomplete. After instruction students’ conceptual understandings were expanded but still scientifically incomplete; there were more than double the initial number of scientific understandings, but there remained nearly as many scientific fragments as before instruction. While the field-based curriculum used in the study provided for some additional scientific understandings for the students, further instruction on the topics presented in this camp utilizing a variety of pedagogical methods appear to be in order.

Keywords

Visual impairment, science education, biodiversity, conceptual understanding

Introduction

Researchers have documented the instructional value of conducting summer science camps for students with visual impairment (Wild, Hilson, & Farrand, 2013a; Wild, Hilson, & Hobson, 2013b.) In the summer of 2013, shortly after the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) were officially released, a week-long summer camp for visually impaired, high school-aged students was conducted. The theme of the camp was biodiversity across ecosystems. Inspiration was drawn from A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas (Framework) (National Research Council, (NRC) 2012,) which was the guiding document for composing the NGSS. Researchers who have studied sighted student understandings about ecosystems and biodiversity have reported numerous challenges to scientific understanding. One problem is that students tend to employ simplistic linear connections between organisms and their environment instead of complex systems-based thinking (Grotzer, n.d.; Magntorn & Helldén, 2007; Yorek, Ugulu, Sahin, & Dogan, 2010). Another problem in understanding was reported by Harris, Berkowitz, Doherty, and Hartley, (2013). They present three big ideas that hampered student understanding about ecosystems and biodiversity: “(1) All ecosystems contain representatives of all kingdoms, including microbes and fungi; (2) variation exists within larger groups in any ecosystem; (3) both species and genetic variation are critical for shaping how ecosystems function” (p. 21).

Previous work investigating student understanding of ecosystems focused specifically on photosynthesis, respiration, and food chains (Lin & Hu, 2003). Others examined student understandings of the cycling of matter through ecosystems (Leach, Driver, Scott, & Woods-Robinson, 1996a; Smith & Anderson, 1986) and the interactions between organisms (Leach, Driver, Scott, & Woods-Robinson, 1996b).   

Furthermore, it has been found that researchers have utilized varied instructional techniques to maximize student understanding about ecosystems and biodiversity. Many relied upon outdoor observation coupled with indoor classroom lessons (Grotzer, n.d.; Harris et al., 2013; Magntorn & Helldén, 2007; Seymoure et al., 2013; Switzer, 2014).

Of importance to note, all studies examined above were conducted with sighted individuals. No research was found to examine this topic with students or individuals who were blind or visually impaired.   

Theoretical Framework

Conceptual change provides a framework that focuses on constructing knowledge in specific areas and describes learning as a reorganization process of existing knowledge (Vosniadou, 2007; Vosniadou, Ioannides, Dimitrakopoulou, & Papademetriou, 2001). Students may have a series of very well-defined mental models they use in order to explain various phenomena that may change over time (Murphy, Alexander, Greene, & Edwards, 2007). These mental models serve as the students’ conceptual understanding of a given topic. Construction of new knowledge is a slow process and involves awareness on the part of the student. The individual tends to rely on past representations of knowledge in order to bridge the gap to the newly constructed knowledge, such as visual representations in books, past experiences, or past instruction to name a few (Vosniadou et al., 2001). This present study utilized conceptual change theory in the examination of change in student understandings about biodiversity across ecosystems during a residential summer camp. 

Summer camp experiences using conceptual change theory have been found to increase blind and visually impaired students’ conceptual understandings of scientific concepts. According to researchers, students with visual impairments increased their conceptual understanding of both geologic concepts (Wild, Hilson, & Farrand, 2013a) and the understanding of sound (Wild, Hilson, & Hobson, 2013b) when provided instruction during a week-long residential camp that focused on hands-on instruction, outdoor learning, and reflection of learning to help overcome misconceptions the students had about the concepts being presented. These varied teaching techniques served as a model to enact during the biodiversity summer camp.

Purpose

This study examined blind and visually impaired students’ understanding of organisms in the environment, interaction of organisms to the environment, flow of energy and matter in an ecosystem, environmental impacts on an ecosystem, biodiversity, and human impact on biodiversity. This study was the first of its kind to evaluate the learning of students with visual impairments on these topics.

This qualitative study sought to understand and describe the conceptual understandings that may exist among students with visual impairments before and after an informal summer camp about biodiversity and ecosystems. The following research questions were used to guide the design of the study and the analysis of the data:

  1. What are the types of conceptual understandings held by middle and high school students with visual impairments about biodiversity and ecosystems before and after instruction?
  2. How does student thinking about the topics of biodiversity and ecosystems evolve over the course of the week at camp?

Methodology

Setting

This study was conducted at a week-long summer camp held at a state residential school for the blind in the Midwest. During the day, students participated in classroom and field-based activities focused on biodiversity across ecosystems. In the evenings, students participated in typical summer camp events such as swimming, making crafts, and group games.

The research was approved by the Ohio State University Institutional Review Board. Informed consent and assent were obtained from all the participants, as well as from their parents or guardians.

Participants

Students.The elevenstudent participants were all legally blind, one was entering 8th grade the next school year and the ten remaining were entering high school grades 9-12. All were attending a summer science camp at a Midwestern residential school for the blind. All students attending this camp were provided consent materials for this study. No student was excluded. Participants were recruited by the investigators through written letters and forms mailed home to potential participants as part of the registration process. Only those students who had consent to participate in the study were included. 

Adults.There were two camp teachers who provided the instruction for the students. These expert teachers were asked to volunteer for this program as part of their current job placements at the local residential school for the blind. They are both certified teachers of the visually impaired. 

Curriculum

The camp curriculum was developed by the two certified teachers and based upon high school life science standards in the Framework (NRC, 2012). Researchers observed all activities of the camp in order to document the curriculum and experiences of the students. The teachers and researchers collaborated to ensure the fidelity of meeting the standards in an informal setting. Furthermore, discussions were held with each of the naturalists at the field trip locations to inform them of the instructional plan. Each day began with a brief camp meeting to let the students know where they were going, what they were likely to see, and how the trip supported the camp focus. There was also a debriefing meeting each day upon returning to the school. Each day of instruction lasted from approximately 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. 

On Monday, all student activities were held at the residential school. Students were given an overview of biodiversity across ecosystems. The teachers led an interactive discussion about terminology such as biome, ecosystem, carrying capacity, predator, and energy flow. Visual and student-created tactile models of a meadow food web were employed to enhance student understanding of the terms. Students also participated in an owl pellet dissection lab to provide an even greater tactile experience of the flow of matter and energy from one organism to another. In the afternoon, students conducted research into an endangered animal for a poster presentation delivered to their peers later in the week. Students were provided with a list of animals from which to choose, as well as given access to reference books and Internet-enabled computers.

On Tuesday, an all-day field trip to the Wilds was conducted. The Wilds is a private, non-profit facility dedicated to conservation research and educational programming (Wilds, 2016). Naturalists there explained the life habits and needs of rare and endangered species from around the world that are housed at the Wilds. Discussions included information about the role played by the Wilds in repatriating organisms to their natural ecosystems. Students had the opportunity to touch live animals (armadillo, tortoise, and American alligator), and animal artifacts such as hides, hooves, antlers, and skulls, while traveling by bus throughout the nearly 14 square miles of varied ecosystems.

Wednesday, camp participants traveled to the Ohio Wildlife Center. The Center is a non-profit conservation, rehabilitation, and educational facility dedicated to fostering awareness of Ohio native wildlife (Ohio Wildlife Center, 2016). Students toured a small collection of animals undergoing rehabilitation from accidents or confinement due to permanent injury. The collection included hawks, owls, coyotes, and a skunk. Inside the education center, naturalists explained the main work of the Center, rehabilitating animals for reintroduction to their home habitat, while providing animal artifacts for the students to handle such as box turtle shells, feathers, skulls, and preserved pelts.

Thursday, camp participants traveled to the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for a guided tour of the North American exhibit. The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a large non-profit institution dedicated to connecting people and wildlife (Columbus Zoo Media Kit, 2016). In addition to housing 10,000 animals, the Columbus Zoo is active around the globe in conservation and educational efforts. The docent who led the tour focused on the habits and ecosystems of North American animals. In the afternoon, students and adult chaperones toured areas of the zoo selected by the students.

On Friday morning, camp participants went to the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park. The Wetland Park is a large-scale aquatic research facility associated with a major Midwestern university (The Ohio State University, School of Environment and Natural Resources, 2016). Graduate students led the campers on a hike throughout the park to explore the unique plants and animals that reside in the wetland. The graduate students explained how the depth of the water largely determined which plants grew where. Samples of reeds, cattails, water lilies, and algae were available for students to handle. On the hike, students also saw examples of animal adaptations to the wetland ecosystem such as a beaver dam and bird nesting sites. Friday afternoon students presented their endangered species reports to each other.

Data collection

Qualitative data were gathered through pre and post semi-structured interviews and classroom/field observations. The interview questions used in this study encompassed multiple topics, based upon high school life science standards in the Framework (NRC, 2012). Table 1 indicates the interview questions and scientific response options. The labeling convention used in the Framework (NRC, 2012) is as follows: LS, means life science, the numeral refers to which of the core standards in the area is referenced, and the letter indicates a subcategory of the standard. The researchers used a semi-structured approach to allow themselves to ask clarifying questions of students to ensure researcher understanding of the answers provided. 

The participant interviews were recorded in video and audio and then transcribed. Only students with signed parental and assent forms were considered participants of this study. The pretest student interview was conducted individually with all participants prior to instruction. A posttest student interview was also conducted individually after the last instructional episode was completed on Friday. Video and still photography taken in the classroom/field locations focused on instructional content and techniques. 

Table 1: Interview questions and scientific responses


Question

Response Options

LS2 Core Idea
How and why do organisms interact with their environment and what are the effects of these interactions? (Framework, NRC, 2012, p.150)

Organisms grow, reproduce, and perpetuate their species by obtaining necessary resources through interdependent relationships with other organisms and the physical environment. These interactions can also change the biotic and abiotic characteristics of the environment.

LS2.A
How do organisms interact with the living and nonliving environments to obtain matter and energy? (Framework, NRC, 2012,  p.150)

Ecosystems have carrying capacities which are limits to the number of organisms and populations they can support. Organisms need to obtain food, water, shelter, and favorable temperature. Key words: competition, predation, mutually beneficial interactions. Food webs: producers, consumers, decomposers.

LS2.B
How do matter and energy move through the ecosystem? (Framework, NRC, 2012, p.152)

Energy from light is needed for plants because the chemical reaction that produces plant matter from air and water requires an energy input to occur. Animals acquire matter from food, i.e. other animals or plants.  At each level of the food web some matter provides energy for life functions, some is stored in newly made structures, and much is discarded to the surrounding environment.

LS2.C
What happens to ecosystems when the environment changes? (Framework, NRC, 2012, p.154)

Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all of its populations. Key words: extinction, endangered, invasive species.

LS4 Core Idea
How can there be so many similarities among organisms yet so many different kinds of plants, animals, and microorganisms?
(Framework, NRC, 2012,  p.161)

Biological evolution explains both the unity and diversity of species and provides a unifying principle for the history and diversity of life on Earth. Key words: adaptation to available resources, common ancestry.

LS4.D
What is biodiversity?
(Framework, NRC, 2012,  p.166) 

Biodiversity describes the variety of species found in Earth's terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems (p.155). Biodiversity, the multiplicity of genes, species, and ecosystems…(p166)

LS4.D
How do humans affect biodiversity?
(Framework, NRC, 2012, p.166)

Humans affect ecosystems through: habitat destruction [or reconstruction], pollution [or cleaning] of air and water, overexploitation of resources [or reintroduction of lost natural species], introduction [or removal] of invasive species.

LS4.D
How does biodiversity affect humans?
(Framework, NRC,2012, p.166)

Biodiversity...provides humans with renewable resources, such as food, medicines, and lumber. Humans also benefit from "ecosystem services" such as climate stabilization, decomposition of wastes, clean water, and agricultural pollination. Humans benefit from the aesthetic component of biodiversity.

Data analysis

Constant comparative analysis was utilized to analyze the data (Glasser, 1965). Overall coding of student understandings about biodiversity across ecosystems was based upon the Trundle, Atwood, and Christopher (2007) system in which conceptual understandings were divided into six major categories: scientific understanding, scientific fragments, scientific with alternative fragments, alternative, alternative fragments, and no understanding. In a few cases, the audio portion of the recorded interviews was unclear, and so some portions were coded as “not able to code”. The scientific understanding was determined by the NGSS (NRC, 2012). Table 2 explains how these codes were interpreted in the present study.

Misconceptions were noted in each student’s answers as well as those responses considered scientific based upon the standards. Each researcher coded the data individually, paying close attention to misconceptions and scientific explanations. Then researchers came together to report their analysis. Initial codes showed over a 90% agreement between researchers. Any discrepancies were discussed and noted. After discussion all responses were given a final code of either misconception or scientific understanding with all misconceptions given their own defining code as noted on Table 2. Defining codes were assigned by the researchers in order to define the content of the answer provided by the student. 

Table 2: Types of conceptual understandings and criteria


Categories of Conceptual Understandings

Criteria

Scientific

Included the gist of scientific elements listed in the core ideas (Framework, NRC, 2012)

Scientific Fragments

Included a subset of the scientific elements, but not an integrated understanding of the elements listed in the core ideas

Scientific with Alternative Fragment

Included the gist of scientific elements listed in the core ideas with an additional unscientific element

Alternative

Conceptual understandings that were at variance with scientifically accepted norms

Alternative Fragment

Included a subset or subsets of alternative understandings

No Understanding

Refused to answer, or claimed no knowledge of the answer to the question prompt

Results

Findings indicate that participation in the week-long summer camp focused on biodiversity across ecosystems improved the conceptual understanding of the blind and visually impaired students. Table 3 shows a large increase in the number of scientific responses provided by the students from the pre- to the post-interview. There also was a significant decrease in the numbers of responses labeled “no understanding” from the pre- to the post-interview. The number of responses labeled scientific fragments had declined by one at the post-interview. Percentages are reported as the total number of responses divided by actual responses in each category. 

Table 3: Composite profiles of participants’ conceptual understandings


Type of conceptual understanding

Participants expressing this conceptual understanding during Pre-interview (n=11)

Participants expressing this conceptual understanding during Post-interview (n=11)

Scientific

22 (25%)

45 (51%)

Scientific Fragment

32 (36%)

31 (35%)

Scientific with Alternative Fragment

2 (2%)

2 (2%)

Alternative

2 (2%)

3 (3%)

Alternative Fragment

1 (1%)

1 (1%)

No Understanding

28 (32%)

3 (3%)

Table 4 indicates the conceptual shifts by question. Each change from no understanding, misconception, or scientifically accurate or vice versa is noted on this table.

Table 4: Pre- and post-interview results aggregated by question

Q#

Sci pre

Sci post

Sci
frag
pre

Sci frag post

Sci alt
frag pre

Sci alt frag post

Alt pre

Alt post

Alt
frag
pre

Alt frag post

No
under
pre

No under post

No
code
pre

No code post

1

2
(18%)

5 (45%)

6
(55%)

5 (45%)

 

 

 

3
(27%)

 

1
(9%)

2

2
(18%)

6 (55%)

5
(45%)

4 (36%)

1
(9%)

 

 

4
(36%)

 

 

3

1
(9%)

6 (55%)

5
(45%)

5 (45%)

 

 

 

4
(36%)

 

1
(9%)

 

4

6
(55%)

8 (73%)

5
(45%)

3 (27%)

 

 

 

 

 

5

2
(18%)

1 (9%)

3
(27%)

5 (45%)

1
(9%)

 

2 (18%)

1
(9%)

5
(45%)

2 (18%)

 

6

4
(36%)

8 (73%)

2 (18%)

1
(9%)

 

1
(9%)

1 (9%)

 

5
(45%)

 

 

7

4
(36%)

8 (73%)

5
(45%)

3 (27%)

 

 

 

2
(18%)

 

 

8

1
(9%)

3 (27%)

3
(27%)

4 (36%)

1 (9%)

1
(9%)

 

1
(9%)

 

5
(45%)

1
(9%)

2 (18%)

total

22
(25%)

45 (51%)

32
(36%)

31 (35%)

2
(2%)

2    (2%)

2
(2%)

3    (4%)

1
(1%)

1
(1%)

28
(32%)

3
(3%)

1
(1%)

3
(3%)

Question 3 had the greatest number of pre- to post-response changes coded scientific (n = 5). An example of this shift for question 3, “How do matter and energy move through the ecosystem?” is indicated below:

Student H pretest (no understanding): Um… maybe through…organism A… like after it did… [Mumbles… shrugs shoulders].

Student H posttest (scientific): Like, the sun creates plants and plants are eaten by small animals and the small animals are eaten by a bigger animal and maybe that animal is eaten by an even bigger animal. It all starts from the sun and the energy that was put into the plant gets moved to that small animal and the energy that was in the small animal is moved to another animal in the food [mumbles], something like that.

In keeping with the interpretation of demonstrating a scientific response, Student H was scored as having a scientific answer even though he/she failed to differentiate between matter and energy. Student H was able to explain in his/her own words the concept being asked about in the question.

The least well understood question was number 5, “How can there be so many similarities among organisms yet so many different kinds of plants, animals and microorganisms?”In the pretest, two students rated scientific and three held scientific fragments. At the posttest, only one student rated scientific and five held scientific fragments. An example of this shift is below.

Student I pretest (no understanding): Don’t know that one. [Researcher: OK, maybe we’ll figure that one out this week.]

Student I posttest (scientific fragment): Because there are a lot of different species. They are all connected by the fact that they are all alive. But they don’t all look the same and that’s because… [Researcher: Yes and why is that?] I have no clue. [Researcher: when you looked at the different birds at the zoo...] I guess you could say evolution according to their environment… [Researcher: what do you mean by that?] like the penguin that has fat that keeps itself warm. Whereas the robin, is a more aerodynamic kind of … not that much body mass to it.

Alternative Conceptions

An alternative conception is a non-scientific explanation employed by the student to answer science content questions (Hewson & Hewson, 1983). Like scientific conceptions, alternative conceptions can be fully or partially developed. A partially developed alternative conception is called a fragment. Data indicate that students expressed five alternative conceptions in the pretest when answering questions 5, 6, and 8. The expected questions and answers used are listed in Table 1. For question 5, one student merely referenced that different birds are still part of the “bird kingdom”. This view was coded as alt-classification. A different student described diversity (question 6) as the way plants and animals interact, so the alternative view was titled alt-interaction. One student thought that biodiversity was evidenced by the external coverings of animals, so it was termed alt-physical characteristics. The fourth and fifth alternative explanations were to question 8 to which one student replied that an effect of biodiversity upon humans was similar to pollution; consequently, it was described alt-contaminant. Another student stated that biodiversity had no impact on people who lived in cities, which was subsequently named alt-no impact.

During the post-interviews, five students espoused six alternative conceptions when answering questions 2, 5, 6, and 8. When replying to question 2, concerning organisms interacting with living and nonliving elements in the environment, one student claimed that energy was obtainable from water so it was termed alt-water energy. Three different students struggled with question 5 and offered two different explanations to explain the unity and diversity among organisms. One student said that there were similarities and differences among organisms because they depended upon each other; this was called alt-interdependence. The remaining two students referred to the ways animals are grouped; this suggested the same label employed during the pretest results: alt-classification. Neither of the two who expressed this view were the same person who offered a classification explanation during the pre-interview. For question 6 one student confused the terms biome and biodiversity, so it was tagged alt-biome. The final question pertained to how biodiversity affects humans; one student cited racial differences among people as evidence, so it was termed alt-race.

The first research question was, “What are the types of conceptual understandings held by middle and high school students with visual impairments about biodiversity and ecosystems before and after instruction?”

Before instruction, the visually impaired students’ conceptual understandings of biodiversity and ecosystems were varied and scientifically incomplete. Views of biodiversity focused mainly on animals, as only a few students mentioned plants in their responses. Half of the students could not even define the term biodiversity. It is interesting to note that most students did not seem to include humans when thinking about biodiversity and ecosystems as only one could explain how biodiversity affects humans. When asked how humans affect biodiversity, student responses were mostly negative. When asked about the cycling of matter and energy through ecosystems, students did not differentiate between matter and energy, rather their responses focused on energy flow through food chains. Data indicate that students held a very limited understanding of the role of evolution in biodiversity; however, students did mention adaptation as a survival tool when environments change.

After instruction, students’ conceptual understandings were expanded but still scientifically incomplete. When asked to describe the flow of energy and matter through an ecosystem as required by the standards, students still ignored matter and answered as though matter and energy were was the same thing. Describing food chains remained the dominant explanation of how matter and energy moved through an ecosystem; many added the role of photosynthesis but no one included cellular respiration. The chemistry of transfer was not covered during camp, but it is a middle school state standard that all of the students should have learned in sixth grade. Its absence in student explanations may indicate that the standard was not taught, or that students failed to connect textbook learning with field-based instruction. Students included plants and animals in their explanations of biodiversity but largely failed to discuss abiotic factors. While admitting that humans were capable of influencing positive change on the biodiversity of ecosystems; most maintained a negative view of human involvement. We found this intransigence remarkable considering the information presented at each of the field trip locations. At the end of camp, students were still struggling with the role of evolution in biodiversity. This question generated three alternative conceptions and two “no understanding” codes. 

The second research question was, “How did student thinking about the topics of biodiversity and ecosystems evolve over the course of the week at camp?”

Prior to camp, students demonstrated a limited and/or incomplete scientific understanding of biodiversity and ecosystems. Twenty-eight instances of no understanding and 32 instances of scientific fragments were coded, but only 22 scientific statements were recorded. Scientific student understanding of biodiversity and ecosystems improved dramatically after instruction. Only three instances of no understanding were recorded, and the number of scientific fragments (31) stayed nearly the same, but scientific responses more than doubled to 45. Overall student responses were more robust, that is they were full of examples and included a wider diversity of thinking. However, student thinking remained at a parochial level of specific instances and limited systems-based thinking. This was evidenced by students’ lack of understanding about the importance of abiotic factors as controlling mechanisms in biodiversity. Furthermore, failing to recognize that in matter and energy transfer some matter is incorporated into new structures, some is utilized for energy, but most is discarded back into the ecosystem, hampered student understanding of the complex interactions within systems. Over the course of the week at camp, student thinking did progress in terms of becoming more scientific, but complete understanding was not achieved.

Limitations

This study focused on a small convenience sample of students with visual impairments who voluntarily completed a combined field-based and classroom-based curriculum during a week of camp focused on biodiversity across ecosystems. The students came from diverse locations throughout the state and therefore may not represent the larger population of blind or visually impaired students. Specific data relating to additional disabilities, etiology, and academic performance were not collected due to stipulations in the approved research proposal. This may affect the interpretation of the relationship between the students’ pre-instruction and post-instruction understandings.    

Discussion

Students in this study struggled with some of the same problems as their sighted peers in terms of developing a scientific understanding of biodiversity across ecosystems, such as the cycling of matter through ecosystems (Leach et al., 1996a; Smith & Anderson, 1986) and the interactions between organisms (Leach et al., 1996b). After a week of instruction, there were more than double the initial number of scientific understandings but there remained nearly as many scientific fragments as before instruction which may indicate that the students are not yet engaging in systems-level thinking (Grotzer, n.d.; Leeds, 1992; Magntorn & Helldén, 2007; Yorek, et al., 2010). As discussed by Fischer and Young (2007), the students seemed to grasp the gist of biodiversity across ecosystems but do not quite have the scientific details figured out yet. Without further research it is unclear what the cause of this type of understanding by the students is. Further instruction on the topics presented in this camp (organisms in the environment, interaction of organisms to the environment, the flow of energy and matter in an ecosystem, environmental impacts on an ecosystem, biodiversity, and human impact on biodiversity) appear to be in order. Perhaps more repetition of modeling the systems in class using concept maps and diagrams (Grotzer, n.d.), card games (Vaughn & Strauss, 2013), or creative drama (Çokadar & Yilmaz, 2010) might help the students solidify the abstract concepts inherent in the complex interconnections between biodiversity and ecosystems they were learning about in the field. Taking a direct instructional approach to highlight the underlying factors of interactions in nature may also lead students to deeper conceptual understanding (Magntorn, 2007). To ensure that all students are learning scientific concepts accurately, future research should be conducted on teaching methodologies to help blind and visually impaired students to overcome their partial understandings and increase scientific understanding in biodiversity across ecosystems.  

Acknowledgement

The authors would like to acknowledge Shannon Clancy for work on this study.

Resources

Çokadar, H., & Yilmaz, G. C. (2010). Teaching ecosystems and matter cycles with creative drama activities. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 19(1), 80-89. doi: 10.1007/s10956-009-9181-3

Fischer, A., & Young, J. C. (2007). Understanding mental constructs of biodiversity: Implications for biodiversity management and conservation. Biological Conservation, 136(2), 271-282. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2006.11.024

Glasser, B. G. (1965). The constant comparative method of qualitative analysis. Social Problems, 12(4), 436-445. doi: 10.2307/798843

Grotzer, T. (n.d.) Addressing the challenges in understanding ecosystems: Classroom studies. Retrieved from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1117424.files/GrotzeretalNarst4.18.09Fin.pdf

Harris, C., Berkowitz, A., Doherty, J., & Hartley, L. (2013). Exploring biodiversity’s big ideas in your school yard. Science Scope, 36(8), 20-27.

Hewson, M. G., & Hewson, P. W. (1983). Effect of instruction using students’ prior knowledge and conceptual change strategies on science learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 20(8), 731-743. doi: 10.1002/tea.3660200804

Leach, J., Driver, R., Scott, P., & Wood-Robinson, C. (1996a). Children’s ideas about ecology 2: Ideas found in children aged 5–16 about the cycling of matter. International Journal of Science Education, 18(1), 19–34. doi: 10.1080/0950069960180102

Leach, J., Driver, R., Scott, P., & Wood-Robinson, C. (1996b). Children’s ideas about ecology 3: Ideas found in children aged 5–16 about the interdependency of organisms. International Journal of Science Education, 18(2), 129–141. doi: 10.1080/0950069960180201

Leeds National Curriculum Science Support Project. (1992). Children’s ideas about ecosystems: A research summary. In Leeds National Curriculum Science Support Project: Resources for supporting pupils' learning at key stage 3. Leeds, Eng.: Leeds City Council. Retrieved from http://www.learner.org/courses/essential/life/support/pdf/2_Ecosystems.pdf

Lin, C.-Y., & Hu, R. (2003). Students’ understanding of energy flow and matter cycling in the context of the food chain, photosynthesis, and respiration. International Journal of Science Education, 25(12), 1529–1544. doi: 10.1080/0950069032000052045

Magntorn, O. (2007). Reading nature: Developing ecological literacy through teaching (Doctoral thesis, Linköping University, Department of Social and Welfare Studies, Norrköping, Sweden). Retrieved from http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:23647/FULLTEXT01.pdf

Magntorn, O., & Helldén, G. (2007). Reading new environments: Students’ ability to generalise their understanding between different ecosystems. International Journal of Science Education, 29(1), 67–100. doi: 10.1080/09500690600708543

Murphy, P. K., Alexander, P. A., Greene, J. A., & Edwards, M. N. (2007). Epistemological threads in the fabric of conceptual change research.  In S. Vosniadou, A. Baltas, & X. Vamvokoussi (Eds.), Reframing the conceptual change approach in learning and instruction (pp. 105-123). Amsterdam, NL: Elsevier.

National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

The Ohio State University, School of Environment and Natural Resources. (2016). Research: The Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park. Retrieved from http://senr.osu.edu/research/schiermeier-olentangy-river-wetland-research-park

Ohio Wildlife Center. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.ohiowildlifecenter.org/meet-us/

Seymoure, B., Moeller, K., Borchert, J, Stahlschmidt, A., Ganesh, T., & Webber, A. (2013). Our watery world: Teaching middle school students about biodiversity. Science Scope, 36(8), 72-78.

Smith, E., & Anderson, C. (1986, April). Alternative Student Conceptions of Matter Cycling in Ecosystems. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association for Research in Science Teaching, San Francisco, California.

Switzer, C. (2014). Using place-based inquiry to inspire and motivate future scientists. Science Scope, 37(5) 50-58.

Trundle, K. C., Atwood, R. K., & Christopher, J. E. (2007). Fourth-grade elementary students’ conceptions of standards-based lunar concepts. International Journal of Science Education, 29(5), 595-616. doi:10.1080/09500690600779932

Vaughn, M. H., & Strauss, E. (2013). Tried and true: Simulating biodiversity: The effects of human and environmental factors. Science Scope, 36(8), 86-92.

Vosniadou, S. (2007). The conceptual change approach and its re-framing. In S. Vosniadou, A. Baltas, X. Vamvokoussi (Eds.), Reframing the conceptual change approach in learning and instruction. Amsterdam, NL: Elsevier, 1-17.

Vosniadou, S., Ioannides, C., Dimitrakopoulou, A., & Papademetriou, E. (2001). Designing learning environments to promote conceptual change in science. Learning and Instruction, 11(4-5), 381-419. doi:10.1016/S0959-4752(00)00038-4

Wilds, The. (2016). Retrieved from https://thewilds.columbuszoo.org/home/about

Wild, T., Hilson, M., & Farrand, K. (2013a). Students’ with visual impairments conceptual understanding of geological concepts. Journal of Geoscience Education, 61, 222-230.

Wild, T., Hilson, M. & Hobson, S. (2013b). Conceptual understanding of sound by children with visual impairments. Journal Visual Impairment and Blindness, 107(2), 107-116.

Yorek, N., Ugulu, I., Sahin, M., & Dogan, Y. (2010). A qualitative investigation of students’ understanding about ecosystem and its components. Natura Montenegrina, 9(3), 973-981. Retrieved from http://kisi.deu.edu.tr//yunus.dogan/Yorek%20et%20al%20ISEM4.pdf


The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research is copyright (c) 2016 to the National Federation of the Blind.