from another species (host), causing damage to the host without killing it (Herrera & Pellmyr, 2002; Pacini et al., 2008).
Furthermore, ecological interactions occur in all ecosystems and
help to promote and maintain the biodiversity of the Earth. However,
ecological interactions, in addition to individual species, are highly
threatened by the loss and fragmentation of ecosystems and other factors, such as poaching (Gentry, 1992; Montagnini & Jordan, 2005).
Whereas environmental teaching often focuses on isolated concepts,
our argument is that a focus on ecological interactions can help students to understand concepts of cause and effect and their role within
and influence on the biological and physical world. In this sense,
when one species or habitat is negatively affected by human activities,
a cascading effect may also occur, resulting in negative effects on other
species and habitats. In this context, awareness of our planet and its
resources and how these are shared with other species that, in turn,
provide us with important natural resources is an important concept
to understand, and one point of intervention is within the educational
system. Therefore, transferring knowledge of ecological interactions to
new generations and to students is fundamental for creating a change
in consciousness and promoting greater respect for nature.
In response to this problem, we present a teaching strategy to
capture the attention and interest of a wide range of students. We
tested a dynamic classroom activity with high school students to
facilitate their learning of diverse scientific topics. In this case, the
topic of ecological interactions was used to exemplify this strategy.
The method involves two parts: (1) a theoretical class, and (2) a
group activity referred to as The Ecological Interactions Olympiad.
Lesson: Ecological Interactions
The day before initiating this activity, we recommend that the teacher
inform students that an activity will be carried out the following day,
allowing students to investigate information about the topic on their
own. The activity should engage students to make observations about
the world around them and to infer, compare, and communicate ideas
based on prior knowledge. To promote student participation, the
teacher should start the class with a question, covering the main concept of the topic that will be reviewed. Based on students’ responses,
the teacher should confirm the current knowledge of students by, for
example, writing the concept on the blackboard. Because students are
in constant contact with technology, the teacher can use audio-visual
tools to convey the desired subject in a dynamic and fun way. The
teacher should take into account the concepts brought up in the initial
class discussion to inform the questions to be later used in the activity.
To exemplify this method, we first asked the students: What is
ecology? Then, we explained this concept with PowerPoint slides
that included photos and videos of several of the main ecological
interactions. The presentation included the following topics:
• The concept of ecology
• Definition of ecological interactions
• Types of ecological interactions, positive and negative, and examples
• The ecological and economic importance of plant-animal
• Conservation of ecological interactions
• Review of the learned concepts and discussion of examples of
ecological interactions provided by students.
To reinforce the lesson, we recommend that the activity be performed outdoors, although it can also be done in the classroom.
Activity: The Ecological Interactions
Physical activities promote cognitive processes and the learning of
complex issues. In addition, physical activities can double as group
activities or reinforce the role of the teacher as the group leader
(Clarke & Hollingsworth, 2002). In the following, we describe
how this activity was carried out.
• Plastic rolls to make the game board
• Permanent markers to draw on the board (we recommend
using at least five colors)
• Scissors for cutting and adhesive tape for joining the board
• Square carton boxes to use as dice
• Medium-sized cards to write on or half sheets of paper to print
out the questions, challenges, and penalties
• Papers and pencils to record the progress of the game.
Making the board
We suggest using vibrant colored plastic to make the game board;
we used blue plastic. The plastic was divided into four equal sections
of 1 × 6 m. To create the board, the first section was divided into five
squares of 1 m2, which were drawn with permanent markers and
numbered from 1 to 5. In the final square of the first section, the
outline of a star was drawn— this frame is the challenge frame.
The same was done with the three remaining plastic sections, which
were labeled in consecutive order from 6 to 20. The final square of
the second and third sections corresponded with “challenge,” an
activity to be performed by the entire group. Finally, the final square
of the fourth section marked the end of the game, and whichever team
arrived first to this square won (Figure 1). The dice can be made from
square carton boxes, and a black permanent maker can be used to
Figure 1. Board with frames numbered from 1 to 20; every
fifth frame contains a challenge (the star frames).