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Grade: Middle
Subject: Science

#4427. The cultural and ecological "worlds" of Central Asia: An Int

Science, level: Middle
Posted Tue Jul 20 11:32:11 PDT 2010 by Cassie Quigley (Cassie Quigley).

Clemson University, Greenville, SC
Materials Required: See website
Activity Time: 5 weeks
Concepts Taught: The cultural and ecological "worlds" of Central Asia: An Integrated Science and Social Studies Unit

As science teachers we often clearly see the connection between science and society but sometimes it is difficult to find curricula that is integrated while meeting the national standards. With a grant through Indiana University's Department of Central Eurasian Studies, we developed an online five-week unit that discusses the cultural and ecological "worlds" of Central Asia, specifically the countries of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. There are two main ideas throughout this curriculum: 1. The natural world affects the daily functioning of the man-made world and may determine its fate and 2. The man-made world affects the daily functioning of the natural world and may determine its fate. This integrated unit of instruction will capitalize on the novelty of the subject matter, namely the countries of Central Asia, to help students explore the interplay between the natural and man-made worlds. One advantage of this unique subject matter is that incorrect preconceptions will be minimal or non-existent, so the study of this area of the world will help to provide a clearer lens for the study of the interconnectedness of the natural and man-made spheres in America. Another advantage is that students gain an appreciation for countries and cultures that are not typically the focus of middle school curricula. Specifically, this unit of instruction offers students the opportunity to examine common sets of data both from the perspective of the social and the natural sciences. For this reason, it is strongly suggested that science and social studies teachers coordinate the lessons as described so that students will be continually approaching common content from two distinct perspectives. However, it is also possible to separate the lessons based on primary subject area, i.e. science and social studies. In either case, this unit is designed in such a way that students produce products suitable both for accurate assessment and for presentation to peers, families and/or the community at large.
Through the website, http://www.indiana.edu/~iaunrc/camsep/index.shtml teachers can access for free week-by-week lessons based on 50-minute lessons (See Table 1 for Timeline, Sequence and objective of lessons). Each unit outlines includes an overview, national science standards and national social studies thematic strands that it addresses, materials, procedure, homework suggestions and a downloaded PDF including all supplementary materials. Additionally, each lesson provides hints to teachers for things that need to be prepared ahead of time, possible stopping points in the unit, and suggestions on background information.
The science unit begins with students keeping a record of the activities of the living beings in their neighborhood. Then once the data is conducted over several days, the class compiles the data and begins a discussion of observations and inferences and begin to work on discovering patterns in the data and how to form conclusions. The next week, students begin creating an ethogram or is a list of behaviors observed in a species. The ethogram that the students will construct will include an exact description of the behavior. Students also record inferences about the purpose of the behavior. For example, in the action column students observing squirrels might write "sitting in tree, flipping tail up and down," and in the inference column they might write "squirrel teasing barking dog who is at the base of the tree." This lesson should be used as another opportunity to help students differentiate between inference and observation. This lesson ends with the students making predictions about specific animals located in various biomes such as a steppe, desert, etc. The third week students make predictions about habits of animals in Central Asia. Then, they explore the terrain of this area using GoogleEarth tm. Next, students evaluate their predictions and then gather data about one endangered species from Central Asia using the provided websites. Finally, students evaluate the relationship between the natural history their chosen species and the elements of their environment. Week 4 focuses on one specific endangered animal, the snow leopard. Students evaluate the factors leading to the endangered status of the snow leopard and then students evaluate efforts being made on behalf of the snow leopard. This unit culminates in two webquests in which students learn what common pool resource is, and be able to identify at least two and then discuss role of government in deciding environmental concerns. Finally, through following the webquest the students work on answering the question, "Should the United States come to the aid of Central Asia?" Students determine if U.S. involvement in the restoration of the Aral Sea is advisable. Groups of students are assigned stakeholder roles and conduct the background research necessary to inform their positions. Students then present their positions in a mock Congressional hearing. Finally, the class as a whole makes a policy recommendation.
Overall, this curriculum is a useful tool for science and social studies educators to collaborate on a project. Additionally, this curriculum serves as a helpful resource for teachers on a topic that is generally not covered in middle school while meeting the national standards. In this way, students benefit from learning about an area of the world that they may not be familiar with which helps to bring a global perspective into our middle school classrooms.