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A Natural Process: Fostering Critical Thinking Through an Ecological Allegory

This exercise develops critical thinking and reading comprehension in an undergraduate ecology course. Students read and discuss an ecologically-based fictional narrative A Natural Process that promotes a critical analysis of the societal context of decision-making and interpretation of observations. The exercise aligns with Vision and Change’s Core Competency #5 Ability to Communicate and Collaborate with other Disciplines and #6 Ability to Understand the Relationship between Science and Society, and the human-environment interactions dimension of the 4DEE Framework. In A Natural Process, a boulder descends from an uphill construction site and obliterates a newly built home. The three-person construction team debate whether nature or humanity is to blame for the destruction. Students must critically evaluate and justify their subjective view of which character is “right” concerning who, if anyone, bears responsibility for the home’s destruction.
A more advanced take of the story is as an allegory for global climate change or the COVID-19 pandemic. One character makes a conceptual mental model that correctly predicted their actions would cause harm. A second character refutes the validity of the model by focusing on the very specific prediction that was not correct. This dynamic is an allegory for the relationship between climate modelers or epidemiologists and their detractors. The third character, the crew leader, is more complex and open to interpretation. She appears to be knowledgeable of their role in the disaster but still denies responsibility. I wrote her to represent those in power who know better but cannot bring themselves to accept blame.
Associated files
Primary or BEN resource type
Secondary resource type
Discipline Specific Core Concepts
General Biology Competencies
Life science discipline (subject)
Keywords human-environment interactions, critical thinking, reading comprehension, climate change
Intended End User Role
Educational Language
Pedagogical Use Category
Pedagogical Use Description The assignment can be easily adapted to fit one’s own teaching style and needs. I suggest using the assignment at the beginning of the course to establish the importance of critical thinking and reading comprehension in the science classroom in both normative and positive contexts. This assignment is not about ecological content, but about discovering, defending, and evaluating perspectives. The assignment has three parts: 1) read the story, 2) answer several short answer questions about the characters and their individual motivations, and 3) participate in either an online or in-person discussion. The story is a work of flash fiction, meaning it is quite short (less than 1000 words). Through the short answer questions, students demonstrate that they have read the story, thought about it, and can use text-dependent evidence to support their answer.
Uniqueness Learning through narratives is a well-supported educational strategy but is still fairly unique in ecological education.
Aggregation Level
Full Name of Primary Author David R Bowne
Primary Author Affiliation Department of Biology
Elizabethtown College
Elizabethtown, PA 17022
Primary Author email
Added By Id
  • Bowne
Rights David R Bowne
Review type
Drought and Water Ecosystem Services Collection Off
Conservation Targets Under Global Change Collection Off
Big Data Collection Off
Editors Choice No
Resource Status
Date Of Record Submission 0000-00-00
I Agree to EcoEdDL's Copyright Policy & Terms of Use Yes
Date Of Record Release 2020-09-23 08:47:54
Last Modified By Id
  • JJohnston
Date Last Modified 2020-09-23 08:47:54
Release Flag Published

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