Overview of WRL

New Resource library for science education

The Wallace Resource Library is an innovative and novel resource for science and geography students and teachers, first launched in October 2012 and with its new and updated WRL 2014 version now available. Produced by the international biodiversity research and conservation organisation Operation Wallacea, it provides important datasets that students can freely access to guide and inform their learning activities.

Preparing 16-18 year students for key Science exams can be a challenging and often frustrating experience for teachers. Certainly in the UK and America there are fundamental changes occurring in many key examinations such as the American AP Biology and Environmental Science courses, UK Biology and Geography A levels and Scottish Science Higher exams.

There has been a universal and ever increasing emphasis placed on the analysis of scientific data, guided inquiry through learning activities and preparing students by extending their knowledge for synoptic examination questions.

One major problem facing science teachers has been finding good data sets to support all of these new initiatives and one survey in America suggested that over 50% of teachers found it really difficult to find such sets. Also many of the examples often used within present education fail to represent recent advances in research, especially in the field.

Operation Wallacea have been working with 16-18 year old students for over ten years, allowing them to participate in biodiversity surveys around the world, and the WRL has been designed to help science teachers by providing novel data sets for the class room. Uniquely, these data sets have all been processed and produced by the actual scientists involved in the research, each of them experts in their field, and many include data collected by the school students themselves.

A growing resource

The initial WRL launched in 2012 was co-funded by Garfield Weston Foundation and Operation Wallacea, and included 12 data sets in three core modules, as well as ten example lectures covering important components of many biology, environmental science and geography curricula.

In November 2013, WRL 2014 was launched to build on the popularity and success of the 2013 version. WRL 2014 sees an expansion in the number of modular topic headings, and the number of data sets is now 19. Modules now included are (1) Ecosystems – Coral Reefs, (2) Ecological Survey Techniques, (3) Animal Behaviour, (4) Ecosystems – Tropical Rainforests, and (5) Natural Resource Use and Sustainability. The range and scope of data sets will continue to grow over the coming years, and we are looking forward to reaching even more areas of curricula from around the world.

These data sets all originate directly from Operation Wallacea research sites around the world (15 different countries) and in each country there is a long-term agreement that has been signed with the partner organisation to achieve a survey and management development programme. Over the past decade there has been a vast amount of very important scientific data produced and this is now being made available to schools around the world.

Each resource has been organised so that it can be used almost immediately by a teacher and it will appeal to all 16-18 year old science students but also stretch the most able. The examples provided will almost certainly be novel and exciting and should provide a real catalyst for learning and being enthusiastic about ‘your subject’. Each resource will also have backup material such as photographs, video clips, glossary of terms, curriculum links, and a profile of the scientist and the research site.

Data sets

One of the first data sets produced was part of the Ecosystems Coral Reef module and it looks at a ‘real life’ research project into ‘the effect of light on the morphology of the great star coral found in the Caribbean’. The data has been collected and processed by Dr Dan Exton, Head Marine Scientist for Operation Wallacea, and poses two key research questions for students to study. Students get involved in the analysis of a series of photographs and there is a detailed ‘walk through’ on how to analyse the data and make valid conclusions, including the use of basic statistics.

Other examples that formed part of the initial data sets include:

Animal Behaviour: calculating elephant hierarchies; impact of intertidal height on the feeding rates of fiddler crabs; time budgets of Mantled Howler Monkeys; effect of water quality on cleaner fish time budgets; and crop raiding behaviour of macaques.

Ecological Assessment Techniques: mark release recapture of Hog Island Boas; analysis of bird point count data from a cloud forest; comparison of point count, transect and mist net data for assessing bird communities in lowland forests; camera trap data for estimating large mammal populations; and transect count versus helicopter surveys for large herbivores.

Coral Reef Ecosystems: comparison of fish communities on Indo-Pacific, Indian Ocean and Caribbean reefs; assessing coral cover from video transects; how light affects coral morphology; physiological adaptations of fish living in rock pools; and whether anemonefish vocalization is species specific.

Much of the research is novel, innovative and exciting and it will provide a real catalyst for learning within science education and really motivate 16-18 year old students. The data sets will also appeal to Geographers and Mathematicians and WRL should be considered as a genuine ‘cross-curricula’ resource for education. If anyone is interested in this new resource you can get further information from wrl@opwall.com.

Short data tasks

Based upon the above mentioned data sets, in January 2016, 45 short data tasks were produced in the style of examination questions (10+ marks worth) or short homework tasks (40 mins). These are standalone and have an accompanying answer resource sheet and additional explanatory notes.

Written by Dr Roger Poland – Head of Science (rtd) King’s College Taunton, UK.

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The data sets all originate directly from Operation Wallacea research sites around the world in 15 different countries