Place-based instruction allows students to explore learned concepts while building
emotional connections with the location in which they are studying. Furthermore,
the case for experiential science education continues to grow, and such pedagogy
may be particularly beneficial to learning in ecology and environmental science.
We present an experiential, place-based pedagogy aimed at introducing
international high school or undergraduate students to the concept of biological
invasions. Our lesson began by introducing our class, a group of Chinese high
school students in a summer program in the United States, with examples of
invasive species that had previously been introduced from China into the
United States or vice versa. Guided discussion then focused on plant and
animal species with which the students had some familiarity and covered
concepts of biological invasions more generally. Next, students participated in a
field activity exploring the ecology of the invasive tumbleweed Salsola tragus, a
Eurasian (including much of China) species that has invaded the United States.
Through classroom and field activity, students gained understanding of
biological invasions, and we believe that internalization was enhanced by
connecting the lesson with students’ own experiences and participation in basic
scientific methods and ecological fieldwork.
Key Words: Active learning; experiential learning; range plant ecology;
nonindigenous; nonnative; place-based learning.
Bridging the gap between what can be learned in the classroom and the
natural environment represents a hurdle to many educators. Place-based instruction allows students to experience the natural world
through exploration of learned concepts while building an emotional
connection with the location in which they are studying. When successfully implemented, place-based instruction deepens students’
understanding of classroom-learned concepts by providing a dynamic
working context for the scientific knowledge (Semken & Freeman,
2007). Moreover, cross-cultural place-based instruction has been
suggested as a pedagogical instrument to enable international students
to learn about topics through a focus on examples closely tied to their
own experience and place (Smith, 2002).
A related pedagogical concept that also aims to connect classroom
instruction and practice is experiential learning, which emphasizes
hands-on activities in classrooms and laboratories where students
“learn by doing” or otherwise experience course content firsthand.
Experiential learning has long been considered a cornerstone of
successful environmental education (Cummings, 1973). Indeed, the
benefits of experiential learning in the fields of ecology and environmental science have been documented, as research has demonstrated
considerable influence of childhood interaction with the natural environment – through play and other experiences – on environmental
perspectives as an adult (Bixler et al., 2002; Ewert et al., 2005),
and experiential learning has been a cornerstone of the development
of ecological literacy and related perspectives (reviewed by McBride
et al., 2013).
Here, we present an example that combines place-based and
experiential learning to bridge cross-cultural differences between
instructors from the United States and high school students from
China. The international STEM (iSTEM) program at Texas Tech University was developed when the lack of rural, untouched space in the
large metropolitan areas of China prompted high school science
teachers to look for opportunities for their students to gain experience interacting with environmental sciences and natural resources
outside of the classroom and learning to conduct hands-on research.
The iSTEM program was designed for students to come to the
United States for three weeks and to work with faculty and explore
a new discipline within the environmental sciences daily. In 2014,
the 11 student participants were from a large, academically rigorous
boarding school that teaches classes in English and Mandarin, so the
students were used to learning complex concepts in English.
We began this activity with approximately two hours of class
instruction followed by three hours of guided activity in a field-based lab. The classroom lesson began with the introduction of
several examples of invasive species that had previously been
introduced either from Asia into the United States (e.g., emerald
ash borer [Agrilus planipennis] and Russian thistle [Salsola tragus])
or from the United States into Asia (e.g., American bullfrog [Rana
The American Biology Teacher, Vol. 81, No. 7, pp. 503–506, ISSN 0002-7685, electronic ISSN 1938-4211. © 2019 National Association of Biology Teachers. All rights
reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press’s Reprints and Permissions web page,
www.ucpress.edu/journals.php?p=reprints. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/abt.2019.81.7.503.
THE AMERICAN BIOLOGY TEACHER PLACE-BASED LEARNING WITH OUT-OF-PLACE SPECIES & STUDENTS
Place-Based Learning with Out-of-
Place Species & Students: Teaching
International Students about
• MATTHEW A. BARNES, ROBERT D. COX,