It became apparent to me while designing a curriculum unit for the "Ecology and Biodiversity Conservation" Seminar for Oswald Schmitz, that my students need to understand that the environment is everywhere. Many of my students have spent most of their lives in urban or suburban areas. They view their immediate environment as one that consists primarily of a random scattering of trees, shrubs, grass, dogs, squirrels and pigeons. Furthermore they do not differentiate between the various types of trees, shrubs and plants. To the uninitiated urban student a maple tree is the same as an oak tree is the same as a birch tree. I've heard the comment "Mr. Coleman, trees are trees" all too often from my students. They remind me of former President Ronald Reagan's remark regarding redwoods; "If you've seen one then you've seen them all".
Furthermore the students do not understand the relationships and dependencies that exist among these magnificent organisms, with the exception that they will admit that birds build nests in trees. Most of my students think that nature with its vast array of flora and fauna starts somewhere beyond the suburban environs of Hamden. Certainly not here in New Haven. To make matters worse, their Environmental/Ecology textbooks illustrate ecosystems only in rural, woodland or other exotic settings. It is a real challenge to find references to urban biodiversity. It is no wonder that most students think ecosystems only exist in places, far beyond their world.
Unfortunately, my AP Biology curriculum (along with my other biology courses) only briefly touches upon ecology. Time is the major constraint. We are required by the College Board to cover a very broad curriculum in a short time span. When it comes to ecology we are limited to high level discussions in which the emphasis is on vocabulary (herbivore, omnivore carnivore. etc) since only 10 percent of the standardized test questions come from this category. In our ecology lessons we will use the standard illustrations of food webs and food chains. Later, the students will be asked to predict what happens if an organism is removed from a food web. However, these activities do not give the students a full appreciation for a living, breathing ecosystem that starts just outside their front door. Instead, Ecology is viewed as a subject on the same level as Shakespeare or Geometry. They perceive it as just another academic exercise that has little to do with their lives.