Educator Spotlight: Comparing Global Biomes

Kevin Rohn’s sixth-graders applied the scientific process to investigate and compare locations around the world. Each student used an interactive world biome map to select two locations, develop a question about them, and answer the question based on data from the map. Students then shared their findings by designing infographics.

Kevin Rohn teaches science at Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Photo by lizlinder.com

For your National Geographic Educator Certification project, you asked students to compare locations using data from HHMI BioInteractive’s BiomeViewer. What did you hope students would learn from this investigation?

I hoped to empower students to confidently apply the scientific process beyond the classroom, using provided data from around the globe rather than data they recorded themselves. They defined their own scientific question, focusing on one factor through which to compare the locations they selected. Through this, they saw how they could use the scientific process to investigate anything in the world, not just things they could measure in the classroom.

Students demonstrated strong problem-solving skills as they analyzed information from the map in order to answer their question. Many students also asked a follow-up question in their conclusion. This demonstrated their understanding of the cyclical nature of the scientific process.

What types of locations and questions did students choose to explore?

Many students chose to compare their home to another location around the globe. One compared two locations in which he had recently lived. This personal connection helped him fully engage in the assignment.

Students asked a wide range of questions based on their individual interests. Many investigated how some abiotic (non-living) factor affects some biotic (living) factors of the biome. For example, one student asked, “How does the temperature affect the number of mammals in a biome?”

Others were interested in comparing the overall biodiversity of biomes. This curiosity about how the environment affects the living beings that depend on it for survival can drive students toward meaningful study of ecology.

Students used an interactive world biome map to gather data and compare two locations of their choice. Photo by Kevin Rohn

How did your students react to this activity?

My students were personally invested in the activity because they followed their own interests and curiosity. Interested students are engaged students, and engaged students learn more!

Your students created infographics to share their findings. Why do you think it is important for them to present data visually?

By engaging in the task of visually representing data, students develop a deeper and more meaningful understanding of the data they collect. Their visual representations often reveal trends that help them analyze the data and extrapolate meaning from the numbers. Furthermore, the work of a scientist includes communicating results so that humanity can benefit from and build upon past discoveries.

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

What are other exciting ways you have engaged students in using the scientific process?

Last fall, I worked with students on a fall foliage investigation in which they explored factors that could affect the changing colors of autumn leaves. Just as in the biome comparison infographic assignment, students asked their own scientific question for investigation based on their interest and curiosity. This time, though, they had to gather data in the field themselves in order to answer their questions and present their findings.

What is your mission as an educator?

I strive to challenge and empower my students to ask their own questions about the world around them and answer those questions through the scientific process. To me, nothing is more powerful or more rewarding than empowering young minds to seek answers to their questions about the world.

In this role, I do not simply disseminate knowledge because I do not have all the answers to my students’ questions. Rather, I serve as a partner who is there to support them in the process of crafting their own understanding. I truly enjoy being a part of that process and learning along with my students.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Interested in joining Kevin as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.

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