Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Field Studies

Image result for lark

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

In a beautifully written text on ecology, one that challenges students to think about this area of study while learning about it--hard to believe it was first published some 40 years ago--Paul Colinvaux comments on a distinction between being out in the field studying plants and animals and being an ecologist.  This is his description.

"It is common English usage to talk of larks; of singing like a lark, being happy as a lark, or larking about; an this usage comes from poetic musings about the habits of the North European skylark, Alauda arvensis. In the early summer skylarks trill beautifully, high in the sky over meadows and wheat fields. They start from the ground with a swiftly rising, fluttering flight, singing the while, and climbing up and up until they almost vanish against the blue, then they stop singing and plummet down to earth before repeating the whole performance. You may lie on your back in the sun for hours lulled by this pleasant serenade. Many poets have done so, and for many centuries. Some came to know the birds well, to sense on what days the larks sang, to know where to find larks, to see their nests and eggs and, in short, to be good field naturalists.  And yet, for centuries there was no attempt to look at the lark's beautiful performance with the eye of reason, to realize that here was something odd that required explanation, and to ask the question: 'Why does the skylark behave in this fetching but peculiar manner?' When that question is asked, the field study of the skylark becomes ecology. But reflect on the myriads who have watched skylarks without asking that questions; naturalists all, but ecologists none."

To this end, recommend a blog,Nature Puzzles: Of Forests, Fields, Ponds and Geology. Here, a keen observer and questioner of the natural world, Bob Bystrom, describes an occurrence in the natural world that can lead us to ask the mostly "W" questions of newspaper fame. What? Where? When? How? and Why?

These puzzles can stimulate us to create our own as well as consider how we might investigate the puzzle to provide evidence--a tentative explanation, for the puzzling phenomenon. And they are fun largely because their requirement if noticing and then asking.

I plan to comment on one of them sometime because it reminded me of how two teachers engaged students in exploring small plots on their school grounds to learn about ecology and also to do original investigations.

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