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UF/IFAS helping teachers with creative biology lessons

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Need a creative way to teach students about Florida’s ecosystems?  How about tracking the journey of an invasive plant or putting together a puzzle of freshwater plants?  The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has you covered.

Fun lessons are available through The Florida Invasive Plant Education Initiative, a partnership between the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

“Introducing a new topic can be challenging for teachers given time constraints, required education standards, and other factors. The initiative was created to provide educators with the information and resources needed to teach students about the harmful impacts of invasive plants on our natural areas and neighborhoods,” said Katie Walters, the center’s education coordinator. “Lessons on the real-world problem of invasive species provide an opportunity for students to integrate and weigh multiple sources and types of data from science, engineering, math, and social studies. The long-term goal is for youth to draw on this knowledge as they become responsible environmental stewards.”

Curricula includes topics like “Silent Invaders,” “A Fish Tale” and “Why Manage?,” along with “Viva la Difference!” Each module has a 15-25 minute video presentation that introduces students to the main concepts of the module and lesson plans for associated activities and labs. Curricula resources are available to freely download at http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/education.

The initiative has also developed fun educational games, including the “Hydrilla Game,” which tracks the journey of an invasive plant, “Lakeville – A Natural Resource Management Activity,” and “Freshwater Plant Bingo.” They are perfect for in-class presentations or after-school programs.

The most popular activity is “Lakeville,” a multi-disciplinary unit about Florida’s ecosystems, natural resource management and civic responsibility. Students role-play in costumes as stakeholders and organisms in a freshwater ecosystem, working in small groups. The organisms are challenged to advocate for their creature to be allowed into the ecosystem.

“The students were involved in the game and seemed to be engaged the entire time – they learned a lot of information about invasive plants because they were involved,” one 10th-grade teacher wrote in an evaluation. “It also caused them to think on a different level about how actions affect other things besides just themselves.  It strengthened their critical thinking skills along with everything else.”

Other games include an artificial plant kit and a freshwater plant puzzle kit.

Materials needed to implement “Lakeville” and other educational games are available in loaner kits provided by UF/IFAS’ Center, with one month advance notice. The kits are also available for purchase.

All of the activities come with detailed lesson plans and the “Lakeville” activity comes with a 10-minute instructional video. Each educational game takes about 50 minutes, although some require prior background knowledge.

If you are involved in youth outreach and are interested in borrowing a kit or would like more information, please contact Katie Walters at katie716@ufl.edu or 352-273-3665.

By Kimberly Moore Wilmoth, 352-294-3302, k.moore.wilmoth@ufl.edu

Sources: Katherine Walters, 352-273-3665, katie716@ufl.edu

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