Transfer, in the context of learning, is “the ability to extend what one has learned in one context to new contexts” (Darling-Hammond & Austin, 2003, p. 190). Opportunities to try out new ideas in another context can help students secure the idea and expand their understanding of things around them (Harlen & Qualter, 2014). The whole point of school learning is that students are able to transfer what they have learned to contexts outside of school, yet the ability to transfer information or ideas is not a given. It is therefore important to provide opportunities for students to use knowledge in multiple contexts (Darling-Hammond & Austin, 2003).
Find out how students used knowledge from the marine food web activity and applied it to their school grounds.
This project was undertaken over one term to investigate how teachers at different levels of schooling used and adapted Science Learning Hub (SLH) resources for their science teaching. The project involved six teachers from four schools comprising year levels 3 to 10. Two teachers were specialist science teachers. Data was collected through videotapes, photographs, audiotapes, observations, field notes, interviews, student work and teaching materials.
This research brief focuses on how a year 7 and 8 teacher, Cath, adapted a food web activity by providing another context so that students could transfer their ideas.
Cath used the Build a marine food web activity with her year 7 and 8 students. In this activity, students built their own food web using images of organisms from the marine ecosystem.
By the end of the activity, students were able to understand the difference between a food chain and a food web, to explain that food webs are made up of producers, consumers and decomposers and to build their own food web to show the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem. Students also started to understand the effects of removing or reducing a species in the food web through a series of scenarios, for example, what would happen if the annual catch of red cod increased?
Cath said, “The activity gave them a good understanding of exactly that big idea – the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem and that it’s not just stand-alone. A lot of the students in their pre-assessment put ‘food chain’, so just going from one organism to another one. It’s broadening their thinking, getting them to think a little wider and deeper.”
The activity gave them a good understanding of exactly that big idea – the interdependence of organisms in an ecosystem, that it’s not just stand-alone
To build on their understanding of food webs, Cath adapted the Build a marine food web activity to focus on the school grounds. Students identified an ecosystem within the school grounds, such as grass or trees, and took photographs of producers, consumers and decomposers. Ian (12 years) said, “We looked for insects, beetles, birds, stuff like that.” The students enjoyed the opportunity to explore the school grounds, discover organisms living in the grass and trees and take photographs. The students searched the internet to find additional pictures, in particular, for decomposers, which Cath said “was the hardest concept for them to understand”. The pictures were then categorised into consumers, decomposers and producers.
Using these images, the students created a food web using their knowledge from the marine food web.
Students presented their food webs and other findings to the class and put them on their blogs.
Teachers can build on their students’ knowledge and deepen their understanding by providing opportunities to transfer information and ideas to another context. In this case, students were able to use knowledge from the marine activity and apply it to a familiar context – the school grounds.
Darling-Hammond, L. & Austin, K. (2003). Session 11: Lessons for Life: Learning and Transfer. Stanford University School of Education. Detroit Public Television and Mort Crim Communications.
Harlen, W. & Qualter, A. (2014). The teaching of science in the primary school (6th ed.). London: Routledge.