Environmental Studies: Improving Group Discussions Using a Human Continuum

Title:  Improving Group Discussions Using a Human Continuum
Discipline or Field: Environmental Studies
Authors: Wayne Bocher, Kate Hasenbank, and Jan Wellik, UW-La Crosse

Abstract:  The lesson study plan focused on population issues as the topic of discussion. We assigned a reading in preparation for the discussion, opened the topic with a turtle game activity, and transitioned from game results focusing on turtles to the broader discussion about the population issues. We utilized a prepared list of nine general population statements (e.g. “In a real crunch, jobs are more important than environmental quality”) to discern student agreement/disagreement on related topics, and then focused on the three statements that elicited the most diverse responses in order to promote an engaged discussion. We used a mix of individual writing, small group and large group discussion prior to whole class discussion to examine which style promoted more student participation. At the end of the class period, students were asked to complete an anonymous evaluation to help us gauge lesson success from the students’ perspective. Our findings to date from evaluation feedback and lesson observation include: utilizing small groups prior to whole class discussion is helpful for students and results in better participation; students enjoy interactive, experiential learning; students found the turtle activity effective as a warm-up to discussions on population issues; some students are not clear about the difference between a discussion and an argument.

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