For Dewey, all institutions of a democratic society need to be 'democratic'. By this he means, all members of any group, particularly a school, must have the opportunity to actively participate in an essentially non-hierarchical manner, follow their perceived interests and have the right to assume a leadership role. So in the classroom, students should have a voice in what happens. The teacher exists to serve the perceived needs of the student rather than dictate what the students needs are.
The way we can achieve such participation in this unit will be by offering students the opportunity of working in one of 14 different possible groups, each responsible for different aspects of the curriculum. Each group specializes in a different skill as well as different content. These in turn lend themselves to the use of different learning styles, and as such are intentionally designed to appeal to different kinds of personalities. As will be noticed below, they require for the most part, different methods of processing information. Ideally it is intended that each group will not have more than two members since the curriculum and specialties needed are so broad. Also it is intended as far as possible to encourage students to stay with the same group since the level of skill needed or mastery of content is such that they will need the full semester to make an effective contribution to the class. From my experience, there is nearly always one student in a class that has one of the following interests as a preference. The groups are as follows:-
1. Evolution and Anthropology: included would be study in the behavior of chimpanzees, religion, the bible and traditional culture. The more philosophically or religiously inclined would presumably be interested in this topic.
2. Sexuality and human behavior: of special interest would be the attitudes, values and behavior of teenagers. It would include the history of changes in behaviors and values in sexuality.
3. Human Biology and health: those students particularly interested in medical or health related careers will want to look at the issues of abortion, infanticide, family planning and especially the physical and emotional well-being of women.
4. Ecology: The group would explore the biological dimension of controls in population of species in ecosystems, carrying capacity theory and experimentation. The group would have the special responsibility of understanding Gaia theory, the study of the earth as a single ecosystem.
5. Environment: The difference between this group's interests and the above would be its more practical and earth/ physical science approach to the study of the impact of human population growth on the environment. It would be intended to appeal to the 'Green' activists and include such issues as development of a sustainable economy.
6. Biodiversity 1: Their responsibility will be in maintaining populations of small varieties of animals such as grasshoppers, frogs, fruit flies, fish, mice etc to be used in experiments as suggested above. In the debate on meta-issues their responsibility will be animal rights and the ethics of causing species to become extinct.
7. Biodiversity 2: Not a few students have green thumbs and love plants and so it is important to have a specialty group for them. Since every problem in biology can be looked at from a botanical point of view and plants are generally very manageable organisms in the classroom, a botanical group can always offer a useful perspective to the class. The group would supply a variety of different kinds of plants - mosses, ferns, fast plants and so forth. Their meta-issue would be the proposition relating to the consequences of disappearing rainforests and related business ethics.
8. Arts and Crafts: Every class I have taught has had a student or two that loves to draw, make visuals, construct three dimensional models and games that demonstrate concepts or model statistical relationships and so forth. Their modeling or illustrative (photographic?) services can be made available to students involved in projects. Since visualizing concepts is so important in motivational and understanding conceptual exercises, it is perhaps not necessary for them to have to research one of the debate topics.
9. Computer Services and demographics: A group is needed that can take the time to construct and understand the interpretation of graphs, especially necessary in tracking rates of change in population sizes. Increasingly finding such students is easy and their services essential in assisting in computing data. Mathematical types are needed in this group. In the debate, their contribution could be in the proposition relating to war. They could explore the relationship of wars in history to expanding populations and the option of war as a solution to the population explosion.
10. Media Biology: The use of magazines, popular journals and newspapers is increasingly encouraged in the classroom as a way of encouraging students to read. The topics in this unit are nearly always in the news on television and not infrequently are dealt with by movies (sexuality, abortion, environmental issues and so forth). In the meta-issues debate they can particularly find issues of justice as explosive population increases so directly affect children (needless starvation, early death, misery of overcrowding etc), around the world.
11. Bibliography, W.W.W. search and general research: There nearly always seems to be a student that does not like to work with anyone and only wants to have their nose in a textbook or an encyclopedia. They can be shy low academically achieving students who want to just work from a book and only do paper biology. I find it useful to have this group to fall back on when students join the class late in the semester or have to be away from school for an extended period of time (pregnancy, prison, illness etc). They can be given a particular research or textbook topic to report on.
12. Independent Study Project: Similarly to the general research and textbook group, independent study projects are loved by loners but unlike the above have special interests that are unique to them. For example, a student may want to read widely about Jane Goodall's research in Chimpanzee behavior and sexuality. For the student who wants to be different or has a special passion or ability, this group acts as an alternative option to conformity.
13. Microscopy: There is nearly always a student or two who loves the microscope and can offer the development of this skill to the class as a whole. Included in its responsibilities would be growing populations of bacterial cultures and conducting related experiments. Growing populations of protists and general microorganisms come under their gambit too. Because of the sensitivity of microorganisms to changing abiotic factors such as acidity and light, they are most useful for conducting environmental and ecological experiments.
14. Laboratory Assistants: A few students are needed to assist in setting up general class activities and experiments. They need time to master the experimental technique so that they can assist small groups and the teacher when conducting whole class activities. I have found that they transform the viability and effectiveness of class activities. It particularly helps keep the more challenged students from becoming discouraged or socially destructive or disruptive.
At the outset of the semester or academic year, the task of most of the above groups is to start building up their stock of organisms, ecosystem or learning those skills needed in the group or project they intend to work on. In lesson one, which will last several weeks, the focus will be on the media biology group to find magazine or newspaper articles that sensationalize and make relevant the issue of population explosion to the class. The arts and crafts, can quickly put together graphic visuals of the meaning of overpopulation or explosive population growth around the world. The environmental group can provide information about alarming crises coming from overpopulation. The computer/demographics group can demonstrate the use of the 'Sim-earth' CD-ROM computer program.
By the end of the first quarter, the populations of animals, plants and micro-organism should be built up enough so that some preliminary reports can be made from experiments on ecosystem overcrowding, if not population collapse as in the case of experiments with fruit flies. The ecology, environment, biodiversity and microbiology groups will have the main teaching role to play. These experiments can be repeated, refined and developed during the next quarter and used perhaps as entries to the Science Fair at the end of the semester. The arts and crafts group can assist in the visuals and models for purposes of presenting the experimental problem to the class.
During the second quarter, the themes of evolution, genetics and sexuality are taught. Lesson three is intended to start the quarter off, especially using the groups studying evolution and anthropology, media biology and sexuality and health. They contribute throughout the marking period as the content of the course requires them. The ISP and General Research group participate as their special topic is needed or relevant. As described above, the idea of lesson three is to take a particular problem related to the population explosion and to explore a variety of solutions with projected scenarios. In the light of expected consequences of the three or so proposed solutions, the best is chosen. It is examined more carefully to examine more detailed costs and changes needed in life-styles and so forth. (The exercise is repeated separately from this unit, but using the same method for exploring ethical issues in genetics). The same students who have been involved in the sexuality and human health projects media biology and anthropology/religion/evolution will have a particularly useful contribution in the unit preceding lesson 4, when the biology of sexuality and human sexuality are taught.
The lesson can be directed or introduced by the Ecology group who have as their main responsibility the understanding of the dynamics of ecosystems and the Gaia concept. All the groups (except the Arts and Crafts and the Lab Assistants) participate in the Meta-Issues debate. Some of the Gaia propositions naturally lend themselves for debate by particular groups (see readings, especially the class text). For assessment, it may be useful for students and teacher to use score sheets used by judges for debating teams. The script can be written up as an essay or paper and presented with the debate. Equally the actual script used in the debate could be evaluated according to standard criteria for essays or papers. For less academic students, the identification of issues and supported reasoning may be the key criteria for assessment. If students find debating too intimidating or difficult, then the activities for their group can be used an alternative way of presenting a debate on the issues, such as a trial or a game, for example, see group 7 below
In the broad sweep of the four lesson plans, we will follow the above out-line. However in the particularities of their execution, we will follow a quite different tack, the Deweyan principle of democracy, or as is more popularly stated, a student centered methodology.