Place-based Science for Educators: Module 2




Part 1: Natural Communities

In this first part of module 2, we’ll ask the question: why do forests look the way they do?  That is, why do some have towering spruce and fir, while others are dominated by oaks and hophornbeam? And maybe more importantly, how is this relevant to the patches of woods near our schoolyards and backyards?
A central concept important to answering these questions: natural communities.  This term, most commonly used by naturalists and conservationists in the Northeastern United States, provides an important entry point into understanding the natural spaces near where we live.  It allows us to bring to life the old idiom: “see the forest for the trees,” helping us go beyond individual trees to see the larger picture.
To complete this first part of the module, watch the video and complete the reading below.

Step 1: Watch Natural Communities and the Factors that Affect Them

In this video I introduce the concept of natural communities: what they are, how they are useful, and what factors drive them to vary across the landscape. 

For more detail on this concept and a beautiful reference book of natural communities in Vermont, I would highly recommend the book, Wetland, Woodland, Wildland by Liz Thompson, Eric Sorenson, and Bob Zaino.  You can find an excerpt from an older version of that book that introduces Natural Communities HERE.  (This is recommended but not required reading.)  

Step 2: Read excerpt from Reading the Forested Landscape

Below you will find the introduction to Tom Wessels’ book, Reading the Forested Landscape.  This book is a tremendous resource for aspiring “nature detectives” of any age.   And importantly, it offers another way to build upon tree identification (and other skills) to see the big picture.  As you read, consider: 

  • What is your reaction to this approach?  How does it compare with your current method of engaging with nature?
  • Might aspects of Wessels’ method be applicable to your classroom?   If so, how?