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Plant and Education Teams: Learning Modules with High School Students in Native Prairies and Woodlands

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As a part of the Missouri Transect project, MU biologist Ricardo Holdo is studying how drought impacts tallgrass prairie community dynamics. He has partnered with Troy Sadler and Patricia Friedrichsen, MU science education researchers, to integrate aspects of his studies at Tucker Prairie into teaching and learning materials appropriate for high school students. Sadler and Friedrichsen are working with biology teachers and students from Rock Bridge High School to develop and pilot these materials. The learning module features climate change as a central issue for the students to explore as they develop an understanding of ecosystem dynamics and ecological relationships.

175 high school students along with their honors biology teachers and a team of 18 scientists and science educators—including faculty and graduate students—from the University of Missouri explored Tucker Prairie, one of the last remaining tall grass prairie ecosystems in Missouri. The students engaged in five activities designed to explore different dimensions of the prairie ecosystem. In the field, students 1) explored the role of fire in maintaining prairie ecosystems, 2) documented encroachment of woody plants into the tall grass community, 3) compared the current landscape with historic records, 4) surveyed insect diversity, and 5) examined soil profiles.

Similar student learning projects will be implemented around the state by Missouri Transect researchers and educators.