What We Did and Why We Did It

Is biology nearly impossible to teach? That was one sentiment we heard in discussions among the participants in the first Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute held in July of 1991. For the typical 10th grade biology student there are so many abstractions in biology that are difficult to grasp, and it isn't obvious to all our students why they should learn this stuff anyway.

Worse yet, biology is so many different things -- molecular biology, anatomy, physiology, systematics, cell biology, evolutionary biology, biochemistry, nutrition.... does it never end?! How can it all be covered? And now, here we are facing a vitally important environmental crisis, a drug crisis, an AIDS crisis, and all of these CRISES have an important biological component that biology teachers feel (or are made to feel) responsible for.

So now here comes the Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute with a module on human ecology. Does this mean we've found yet more for Biology teachers to cover? Should you close this book before you have the opportunity merely to be frustrated? By no means. Please read on!

We believe that a focus on human ecology actually simplifies our task. Humans -- including those in high school -- find humans interesting. The study of humans, therefore, provides a natural motivation and attraction for students. In addition, to understand the interaction of humans with their environment we have to understand many of those things traditionally taught in isolation in biology class. Physiology, genetics, energetics and nutrition as well as the evolutionary and ecological relationships of organisms are all important subjects if we are to see how we are impacting our environment and how our changing environment will impact us.

The following pages are not a curriculum meant to reform biology teaching from the top down. They are simply a collection of exercises that an enthusiastic and hard working group to teachers offers to others who wish, bit-by-bit, to make their teaching of biology better. We've included a very wide range of exercises, both in terms of pedagogy and subject matter as a concrete way of asserting that there is much more to the ecology of Homo sapiens than is traditionally thought.

Enjoy the exercises. Make what use of them you wish. Change them and adapt them to your special situation so that your students will get the very most out of our favorite subject. And if you want, let us know what you think.

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