NS1, fall 2003: Participatory Research in the Environmental Sciences

| Western Program | Miami University

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General Description of Natural Systems I (NS1 2003, WCP 121/123)

This course is an integrated introduction to concepts and methods of the natural sciences through lectures, laboratories, field work and seminars. Fundamental methods, conceptual and quantitative skills needed for understanding the organization and operation of various ecosystems are explored. Emphasizing patterns and processes in natural systems, the course explores basic tenets of such fields as physics, chemistry, geology and biology to underscore common systems of logic that are shared. Student skills in quantitative reasoning are a feature of this course; these may include descriptive and univariate statistics, experimental design, development and analysis of a database, scales of measurement, unit conversions, significant figures, scientific notation, and construction of basic mathematical models. Discovery-oriented learning featuring a hands-on approach to laboratories and fieldwork characterize the course. Student involvement in experimental design is maximized, utilizing local aquatic and terrestrial systems. Critical thought is engaged by addressing alternative hypotheses and learning to use differing methodologies and data collection strategies. Written reports and oral presentations aid in developing perspectives on the environment and society. This course introduces both biological and physical sciences.

Specific Description for Fall 2003:

Participatory Research in the Environmental Sciences


Dr. Hays Cummins

  • 222 Boyd Hall
  • Phone:9-1338
  • Office Hours: MW 2-5

Dr. Joseph Dorsey

  • 106 Peabody Hall
  • Phone: 9-1276
  • Office Hours: M 1-3, W 3-5

Dr. Chris Myers

  • 203 Boyd Hall
  • Phone:9-5664
  • Office Hours: T,Th 4-5, W 2-4

Mr. Joel Thrash

  • 209 Boyd Hall
  • Phone:9-5811
  • Office Hours:TBA

Natural Systems Course Schedule

Lectures 100-1:50, Wed/ Lab & Discussions, T & TR-Boyd Hall

Section Time Professor
A 8-9:50 Cummins
B 9-10:50 Dorsey
C 10-11:50 Myers
D 1-2:50 Dorsey
E 2-3:50 Myers
F 3-4:50 Cummins
G 4-5:50 GA

Site NAVIGATION: Table of Contents

Specifc Course Topics, Assignments and Due Dates
Research Projects and Lab Reports
Other Resources
Grading Scale& Assignments
Student Generated Labs & Natural Systems Database
Library Resources
SYLLABUS: Module 1-The Nature of Science
Guidelines for Student Generated Labs
WWW Search Engines
SYLLABUS:Module 2-Researching Biomes
The Web Forum-Student Research Feedback& Progress Reports
"In-House" Ecology Database Search Engine
SYLLABUS:Modules 2-Biomes Continued!
Instructor Generated Lab Report Format
Science Journals & Ohio Link

Search The Science Center Equipment Database!!

Course Description

Scientific discovery is a dramatic agent of social change. We have a greater capacity to transform our relationship with other nations, with our environments, and even the structure of our own genetic code. Our increasing power to alter the future of the planet and our species should be balanced by greater understanding, but evidence suggests that, on the whole, we have a fairly shallow understanding of science, especially the process of scientific discovery and its application to human affairs. Environmental science adopts a research-based approach to reveal the complex interactions between humans and their environments, and to improve those interactions in ways that maintain the health and diversity of life

After introducing central ideas about Earth’s origin and the evolution of life, we will explore examples of environmental research in temperate forests, the Antarctic, deserts, oceans, and other biomes. This comparative approach should lead to critical questions. What characterizes research on local, regional, and global scales? How do we determine when envorinmental claims are true? How do cultural norms, politics, and education influence knowledge? How do ecological and social forces influence environmental policy and conservation?

At the heart of this course is the idea that science is best learned by doing science, as well as by critical reflection on the work of others. Most scholars agree that intellectual excitement and stimulation come not from the passive acceptance of information transmitted from the teacher to the student in the classroom, but rather through the active involvement of the individual in the learning process. Quite simply, we learn by doing. Many of the course activities will encourage discovery-oriented participation in the learning process--this includes interpretating of data obtained in the field, writing reports, and presenting in class.

The labs in this course will be exceptionally participtory. In addition to experiences generated by the instructor during the first half of the course, you will work together to create and conduct your own research. The laboratories for the second half of the course will be up to you! You will be responsible for developing labs that your classmates will conduct.

We hope that when the course is completed you will have a firm understanding of scientific method regardless of your academic focus. This course meets the Miami Plan Foundation IV-Biology and lab science requirement.


Reader at the Oxford Copy Shop

Natural Systems 1 Instructor Generated Discovery Lab Reports -- Pick Your Population, Geologic Time, Personal Ecological Impact, and the Sun Lab

The Fishbusters at Work (Fall, 2002)
IMG 4913

We thought you might like to see some of the Fishbusters at Work. We've had some great days in the field at Collins Run in Oxford, Ohio. You can view their Study Effects of Human Land Use on Fish Populations (THE FISHBUSTERS) on the Natural Systems 1 research WWW pages. There are many other fine, interesting NS1 student research projects--why don't you take a look?

  • See the Fishbusters at Work! Lots of fish species and students having fun.
    Quicktime SLIDESHOWS:
  • The Fishbusters Find Many Fish along Collins Run, 10/13/01. It was their first experience using a Fish Shocker! We collected about 170 fish--there were only three fatalities. The rest of the fish were released unharmed. It was a great day!
  • The Fishbusters Brave the Elements! A Cold (39 degrees), Cloudy Day in late October. We had a blast! All fish were released unharmed.
    Quicktime Movies:
  • A "small" (I use this term lightly) six minute-long quicktime movie. It's really cool!
  • Same Screen Size as Above but, a QUICKTIME STREAMING Version. Fantastic!
  • The Highest Quality Version (Quicktime Streaming).

    Get QuickTime 5 click here for a free copy! Windows users can download Quicktime from http://www.apple.com/quicktime/download/

    During the semester, you will be responsible for 4 Instructor Generated Discovery Labs. Each student will write an individual lab report for each instructor generated lab. Each lab will require a concise, type written, double-spaced report due on the appropriate dates listed on the syllabus. Assistance on the format can be obtained from the Peer Science Center, the Writing Center, or your instructors. The format listed below is recommended.

    No assignments will be accepted by the instructors past any deadline.

    1. Introduction (a paragraph or two)

    2. Materials and Methods (brief and to the point)

    3. Results (no more-no less)

    4. Questions

    5. Discussion (parsimony as well as an aesthetic response is expected)

    Student Generated Labs and the Natural Sciences Database


    In the spirit of discovery-oriented science, a segment of the NS I labs will be devoted to allowing students to ask their own questions, design methods, write their own text, run their own lab, analyze the data, and present the results.

    We will use the Western Duck Pond, the woods behind Peabody, and a site in Pfeffer park as model aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Each lab will be divided into four teaching groups. As an out-of-class assignment, each group will choose a question about natural patterns and/or processes at one of the sites, research literature relevant to their question, decide the best way to address the question given available time and resources, and write a laboratory. These laboratories will be collected and distributed for a peer review and discussion to take place the following week. The revised version of each Student-Generated Lab will be bound and titled the Discovery Lab Manual. This is the lab manual we will use for all subsequent labs. The authors of each lab will be responsible for teaching. They will need to provide data sheets and introductory material, oversee fellow students to make sure the procedures are executed properly, and make adjustments for unexpected events.

    So, every student group can count on having, for one day, their entire lab section assisting them to gather data on their question of interest. Class time is valuable--students conducting labs are responsible for using their classmates' time effectively (e.g. steps should be taken before the lab to make certain the methods are feasible and efficient). Authors of each lab will then enter the data into a computer database, analyze the data statistically, interpret the results and, towards the end of the semester, give a presentation about the findings and turn in a final write-up.

    Student groups interested in related questions are encouraged to share their findings to add new dimensions to their research. For example, a group investigating the spatial distribution of black oaks in Pfeffer park may benefit from a group working on soil nutrients, or from a group characterizing the topography of the study area. A grid may be established for the Duck Pond and Pfeffer park so that all the results can be related to a common, geographically referenced, database. This will facilitate groups who want to share data in a meaningful way.

    Western students catch a snake on the first field trip to Peffer Park

    The student-generated database will be continued from year to year, which will allow future classes access to previously collected data to augment their research interests. The result will be an evolving "Natural Science Database," which will provide the basis for progressively more in-depth and sophisticated analyses of the model aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. A student from the class of 1998, for example, may use the "Natural Science Database" to examine yearly changes in the pH of the duck pond as part of an investigation on acid rain. Peer Science tutors will assist student groups in formating their data for the Natural Science Database. A copy of the Discovery Lab Manual will be placed in the library so future classes can become familiar with what has gone before. For those students who wish to research Western Pond, here are maps of the pond's local watershed and bathymetry .

    The Julia Rothermel Center for Science Inquiry

    Western Program has a Center for Science Discovery staffed by upperclass students with strong commitments to science. The overall goal of the center is to: 1) serve as an important resource for students thinking through research or pursuing independent investigations, 2) provide a living link between the Natural Science Database and ongoing student investigations, and 3) serve as a central hub for scientific equipment and supplies.

    Each student group will work closely with an upperclass science tutor, who will provide advice and help coordinate data.

    Guidelines for Student Generated Labs

    Search The Science Center Equipment Database!!

    Points to Consider:

    WEB FORUM FOR THE NATURAL SYTEMS DISCOVERY PROJECTS: Visit Research Entry by week 4 to put your project ideas, etc. on the web. We will work together online. Students and instructors will provide ideas and critiques as the projects develop. You will also post Progress Reports as the semester moves along.

    Natural Systems 1, Fall '03, Discovery Lab Web Feedback and Database


    Natural Systems 1, Fall '03, Entry Forms.......

    Natural Systems, Discovery Project Submissions...

    Natural Systems Progress Reports



    View Progress Reports & new progress postings.....

    Search The Science Center Equipment Database!!

    The "Acid Lab" concentrated on the dissolution of limestone due to acid rain.

    The "Lab Teaching Packet" and Final Report Format

    Each "Lab Packet" should be a minimum of 5 pages long, plus references, research timeline, and data sheets. Your lab packet submission should be complete the first time you submit it, but be prepared for feedback from your peers, tutors and faculty which will result in further revision. Your final report should, of course, be much more complete than your "Lab Teaching Packet."

    Title (with all authors)

    1. Introduction

    1. Purpose/Problem. What is (are) your hypothesis(es)?
    2. How did you decide on this project? How did you decide upon your specific questions?
    3. What do you plan to accomplish?
    4. Relevance, if any. Why is this research interesting?

    2. Relevance of your research question

    1. Literature Review--What have others done?
    2. How does your research relate to a larger question(s)? What contribution will your project hopefully be able to make to the broader base of human knowledge?

    3. Materials and Methods

    1. What is your experimental design? Is it statistically sound? What are the reasons behind the different parts of your experimental design? Why are or aren't you doing certain things?
    2. Is your experimental design statistically sound? How do you know? Did you ask for advice?
      1. How will you ensure unbiased results?
      2. How will you ensure that the data collected by the class can be trusted? Will you show adequately demonstrate your data collection methods and the importance of consistency?
    3. Describe important materials and how they will be used.
    4. Describe other methods. How will you involve the class in your study? Be specific! Will the class be asked to process data? How?
    5. Have you included a Data Sheet?
    6. Include a specific timeline (your own and the class!) of research execution.

    4. Results (To be included in your final report)

    1. Observations. Do you have preliminary results from work done to date? Include these initial results in this report.
    2. Think about how best to convey your findings. What types of statistics will be of use to you? Why?
      1. How will you best display your results? Graphs, tables? Think long and hard about this!
    3. Include statistical tests, tables (numerical data) and figures (graphs, drawings, etc.) when appropriate.

    5. Discussion & Conclusions (For your final report!)

    1. Based on your background research, your own project, and analysis of the data, explain why you got the results you did.
    2. Think beyond the project. How does your work fit in with what others have done? What additional questions do you have?
    3. What suggestions do you have for further investigation?

    6. Literature Cited

    1. Be sure to include an impressive suite of literature citations that directly relate to your study. This literature must include citations from the peer reviewed journals. World Wide Web citations are of secondary importance!

    Here's a little boost in your search for a suitable topic!!

    Books, Articles, Journals, Library Resources

    The world's largest bookstore!

    The Library of Congress

    The Current Issue of Scientific American

    Science Magazine

    Other Library Resources

    Download the Cross-platform ADOBE Acrobat Reader

    Miami Link

    Ohio Link Electronic Journals--Amazing Online Resource

    Search the Ohio Link Journal Index

    Earth & Planetary Sciences
    Environmental Sciences
    Physics & Astronomy
    Life Sciences

    Other Cool Library Stuff!

    FIRST SEARCH   Biology Science Citation Index Applied Science & Technology    Environment and Ecology
    AGRICCOLA   Geology    GEOBASE Life Sciences   General Periodicals  

    Search Engines-Search Worldwide


    Searching with WebCrawler(TM)


    Lightning One August Evening in Oxford, Ohio

    The Try it, You'll Like It Web Database--Ecology, Global Change and Much More

    Got Mac OS X 10.2 or Higher?   Download Hays' Sherlock Channel

    There are two main sources of research information on this website: (1) The first is a password protected science article database while (2) the second is a non-password protected Within-Site Search of all of the web pages on this site.

    Search the PDF Science Article Database--Password Protected

    The science article library contains thousands of PDF articles. It is an amazing resource. The database is password protected.

    Search This Website--Open Resource

    There are over 15,000 web pages on this website, so many pages that it can be difficult to even know what is here. Many of these web pages are student research articles, complete with literature sources. Use the Within-Site Search Engine to look for past student research work that may aid you in your research! It is not password protected.

    Search WWW Search this Website

    Grading Distribution

    A picture of one NS class at the base of the "Bluffs" in Collins Run

    Academic Honesty

    Please read part V, Sections 501-507 of The Miami Student Handbook on Academic Dishonesty since the policy articulated pertains to all work done in this course.

    Assignments & Points
    Instructor-Generated Labs (4 reports@50 pts each) 200 pts
    Discovery-Oriented Projects
    Naturalist Essay (50 pts)
    Peer Review (100 pts)
    Class Participation (100 pts)
    Exam I (short answer and essay) (100 pts)
    Final Exam (short answer and essay) (200 pts)
    Total Pts. 1400 pts

    Participation: This course will be interactive; 3% will be subtracted from the final course grade for each absence without excuse. This includes absence from scheduled group meetings with science tutors. To receive a grade in this course, you must complete an end-of-course evaluation.

    Quicktime Movie-The Creek Walk: Watch Alec as he is outfoxed by a Reptile!


    A photocopied reader to be purchased at Dubois Bookstore on High Street

    Discovery Lab Manual (written by you)

    Geologic Time Scale
    EON        | ERA      | PERIOD              | EPOCH      | DATES  | AGE of       | Interesting Biological Events:
    Phanerozoic| Cenozoic | Quaternary          | Holocene   | 0-2    | Mammals      | Humans
                |           |                      |Pleistocene|         |               |
                |           |Tertiary| Neogene  | Pliocene   | 2-5    |               |
                |           |          |           |Miocene    | 5-24   |               |
                |           |          |Paleogene| Oligocene  | 24-37  |               |
                |           |          |           |Eocene     | 37-58  |               |
                |           |          |           |Paleocene  | 58-66  |               | Extinction of dinosaurs
                |Mesozoic  |Cretaceous                        | 66-144 | Reptiles     | Flowering plants
                |           |Jurassic                          | 144-208|               | 1st birds/mammals
                |           |Triassic                          | 208-245|               | First Dinosaurs
                |Paleozoic |Permian                           | 245-286| Amphibians   | End of trilobites
                |           |Carboniferous| Pennsylvanian     | 286-320|               | First reptiles
                |           |               |Mississippian     | 320-360|               | Large primitive trees
                |           |Devonian                          | 360-408| Fishes       | First amphibians
                |           |Silurian                          | 408-438|               | First land plant fossils
                |           |Ordovician                        | 438-505| Invertebrates| First Fish
                |           |Cambrian                          | 505-570|               | 1st shells, trilobites dominant
    Proterozoic | Also known as Precambrian                     | 570-2,500              | 1st Multicelled organisms
    Archean    |                                                | 2,500-3,800            | 1st one-celled organisms
    Hadean     |                                                | 3,800-4,600            | Approx age of oldest rocks 3,800
    Note: Dates are in millions of years

    Taken from: MODERN PHYSICAL GEOLOGY, Graham R. Thompson Ph.D., Jonathan Turk Ph.D., Saunders College Publishing and the University of Alaska, Department of Geology.

    Schedule of Lectures, Exams, Readings & Field Trips

    Interested in this year's nature hike? Here is a Quicktime Slideshow of the 2002 walk.

    Pictures (2001) are shown below.
    Natural Systems Field Trips
  • Pfeffer Park Morning Hike photographs
  • Pfeffer Park Afternoon Hike photographs

    Natural Systems Field Trip Quicktime Slideshows
  • Pfeffer Park Morning Hike Quicktime Slideshow
  • Pfeffer Park Afternoon Hike Quicktime Slideshow

    You'll need Apple's Quicktime to view quicktime movies and slide shows. Here's some pictures from our yr 2000 walk!

  • Morning dew and Tent Catepillars
  • One morning class at the Fabulous Bluffs One "Bluff" afternoon class!
  • The Cutbank
  • Lauren and her 400 million yr old rock
  • Olivia's class makes it's way upstream along Collins Run. More folks followed in the afternoon!
  • A beautiful mushroom And, finally, a close-up of a praying mantis' claws!


    Module 1-Course Introduction and Overview

    Students relax on huge boulders deposited at the base of the Bluffs during a recent storm.

    Date Topic Readings
    Week 1


    • Lecture: Introduction to the Course
    • Lab: T - Introduction to the labs
    • Lab, Th- Field Trip to Peffer Park (Sneakers!!), Meet in front of Peabody/Naturalist Essay
    • Seeing the Familiar, R
    • Measuring Time, R
    • Thinking Like a Mountain, R

    A Quicktime Slideshow of our 2002 Peffer Park Walk

    Week 2


    Week 3


    • Lecture: Evolution
    • Student generated lab brain storm session
    • Lab: Sampling, Estimating, and Comparing Populations
    • Population Analysis Lab
    • Here are T-Test Notes you'll need for your Population lab.

    Module 2-Researching Biomes

    These hominids feel an affinity with the Class Reptilia

    Date Topic Readings
    Week 4


    • Lecture: Earth's Thermostat: Global Bio-Physical Patterns
    • Labs: Earth-Sun laboratory
      • Student Generated Labs

    Week 5


    • Lecture: Global Perspetives and Georgraphic Information Systems
    • Lab:
      • Student Generated Labs
    Week 6


    • Lecture: Research in Temperate Forests--Download Powerpoint Lecture
    • Lab:
      • Student Generated Labs
    Week 7


    Week 8


    • Lecture:**EXAM I (covers through 10/4)
    • Lab:
      • Student generated lab work!

    Module 2-Researching Biomes (post mid-term exam)

    Date Topic Readings
    Week 9


    Lecture:Research in Freshwater Ecosystems

    Lab: Student-generated labs,organization

  • The Role of the Mississippi River in Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia: Oversimplification and confusion
  • Effects of Human Land Use on Fish Populations Western Students Research Project website
  • **LAB PACKETS DUE (Posting + Hard Copy)
  • Post Progress Reports
  • Week 10


    Lecture: Research in Marine Ecosystems


    • Student Generated Labs


  • Hurricanes, Coral Reefs and Rainforests: Resistance, Ruin and Recovery in the Caribbean
  • Shifting ecological baselines and the demise of Acropora cervicornis in the North Atlantic and Caribbean Province: a Pleistocene perspective
  • Discovery Lab Manual, 1

  • Post Progress Reports
  • Week 11


    • Lecture: Research in Desert Systems
    • Lab:
      • Student Generated Labs
    Week 12


    • Lecture: Research in Urban Ecosystems 1
    • Lab:
      • Student Generated Labs
    Week 13


    • Lecture: Research in Urban Ecosystems 2
      • Student Generated Labs
    • Discovery Lab Manual, 4
    • Shading our Cities: Ch 1, 2, 9, 10, 14, 23
    • Inside Ecosystems
    • Urban Ecosystems
    • Reclaiming Cities for People
    • Brownfields and Greenfields
    • Post Progress Reports
    Week 14


    • Lab:Student Generated Labs
    • Thanksgiving Holidays
    Week 15


    • Pedagogy of the Oppressed: Ch 2, P. Freire
    • Children's Participation, Ch. 1, Hart
    • Discovery Lab Manual, 5
    • Post Progress Reports


    Week 16


    Week 17

    Final Exam Time???

    Comprehensive Final Exam!!
    See ya next semester!

    The Swans show off their feeding strategy in this Quicktime Video Check out the final report of the Swan Study.

    Other Important Stuff

    WCP 121/123 is part of your education in interdisciplinary studies. It is also part of your liberal education and the course is planned to explicitly address the principles of the Miami Plan for Liberal Education, Foundation IV-biology and lab science requirement. In the section that follows we give you some idea of the ways these principles are expressed in the course curriculum.

    Critical Thinking: This course is characterized by DISCOVERY-ORIENTED Learning. Discovery labs are process-oriented and centered on the student. Students will learn to generate their own laboratory exercises, which the whole class will do together. We will critically evaluate hypotheses, experimental designs, and the methods of acquisition, and the analysis, of data.

    Whereas content is important, student involvement is even more so. By stressing the process of scientific inquiry, discovery-oriented labs impart the content of science in a manner that makes science a way of knowing. Laboratory work is not added; it is integral to the development of critical thinking. Critical thinking is revealed in writing, presentations and discussions.

    Understanding Contexts: The central context to be understood is that of science and scientific knowledge itself. This context is established by placing ourselves, faculty and students, as scientific learners.

    Engaging with Other Learners: Engaging with other learners is of vital importance to the pedagogy of Natural Systems courses. Besides weekly discussion sessions, students will be working together on both instructor- and student-generated laboratories. We are building a cumulative "Natural Science Database" monitoring our local environment on the Western Campus and immediate locality. Student involvement in generating this Database will influence "other learners" in the future as well as the immediate group in any particular class. This unusual interaction permits contributions to be made from one class to another.

    Reflecting and Acting: All Natural Systems courses recognize the relationship between the environment and society and each course provides a distinct, though related, series of angles from which this relationship may be viewed. The first course, WCP 121, is a course that reflects on both the biological and the physical sciences, with about two thirds emphasizing the biological sciences and one third the physical sciences. Implications of scientific data for making citizenship decisions are important to the students. The course is composed mainly of students majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies and Environmental Design. For both of these constituencies it is important to raise the questions: What is scientific knowledge? and, What does this knowledge mean for both local and global society?

    Assessment: The very nature and direction of this course depend on student input. To a greater degree than most courses, WCP 121/123 evolves as a result of your participation. Your assessment of what the course has covered and what questions you would like to investigate next will determine the subjects and events of the last half of the course. We use an experimental approach (e.g., student-generated laboratories) to teaching that will demand much from you and the instructors.

    Besides the formal assessment procedures of the Western Program, your instructors consult extensively with each other during course planning and work together closely to share resources and ideas.

    Interdisciplinary Studies: Natural Science Program Teaching Philosophy

    Click if you'd like to learn about our instructor and student generated labs, independent research & publications, the natural science database, opportunities for field research, writing in the sciences, the Julia Rothermel Peer Science Center, and tutor responsibilities.

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