Small groups' ecological reasoning while making an environmental management decision



The objective of this study was to explore the ideas and reasoning students use to make a collaborative environmental management decision. Eight groups of 8th-grade students (n = 24) considered ecological and economic information about an invasive aquatic species to make a management recommendation. In addition to discussing the exact information they were given, the groups made a variety of interpretations, elaborations, and inferences concerning ecological structure and dynamics and practical aspects of the management scenario. Value judgments and concerns with uncertainty also appeared in students' discussions, to differing degrees. The students' discussions were compared with scientists' guidelines for making environmental management decisions, and with one expert's analysis of the particular management scenario the students considered. A major finding was that whereas across groups students touched on all of the themes that scientists consider to be important for making environmental management decisions, within most groups students focused more narrowly on particular themes, giving cursory treatment to other dimensions of the problem. The results point to a need to foster students' ecological background knowledge and integrative, systems thinking skills for making principled decisions about complex environmental issues. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals Inc. J Res Sci Teach 39: 341–368, 2002