Column One: Curriculum

March 06, 1991 2 min read

The micro-environments that exist in the water-filled crooks of trees are handy, and frequently overlooked, laboratories for teaching ecological concepts, according to a University of Wisconsin scientist.

The study of “tree-hole habitats,” according to Dan Young, an entomologist at the university’s Madison campus, can help make high-school students aware of the relationships between the insects, bacteria, and fungi that thrive in depressions filled by snowmelt and spring rains.

Tree holes “are highly specialized examples of miniature aquatic communities,” he explains. “Most of the organisms associated with [them] are found nowhere else in nature.”

Yet the ecological balance struck in those communities is similar to that which rules in much larger bodies of water.

And so, with the assistance of Sara Obern, a local high-school teacher, Mr. Young is refining a curriculum that will allow teachers to easily replicate the habitats in the typical classroom.

The lesson plans and instructional materials, which are scheduled to be published this spring, show teachers how to develop self-contained, artificial tree-hole communities in two-liter soft-drink bottles.

Among the advantages of the technique is that it encourages students to collect living specimens and to observe them in a recreated habitat without risk of harming the creatures, Mr. Young said.

The Ohio Department of Education is undertaking one of the most extensive longitudinal studies to date of the popular Reading Recovery program for children having trouble learning to read.

The $515,000 study, begun last fall, will track 2,000 1st-grade students who completed Reading Recovery, or some other compensatory reading program, through the 4th grade.

Franklin B. Walter, the state superintendent of public instruction, said the program has already been successful in enabling 85 percent of the state’s students who participated to read independently after about 30 hours of assistance. The new study, he said, will determine whether those students can continue to read successfully without further remedial help as they get older.

The program, developed by a New Zealand researcher, is used by school districts in 22 states in this country. (See Education Week, Nov. 7, 1990.) Ohio in 1984 became the first state to launch the program statewide. The method provides highly structured, individual tutoring for 1st graders who are in the bottom 20 percent of their classes in reading ability.--dv & pw

A version of this article appeared in the March 06, 1991 edition of Education Week as Column One: Curriculum