Flows of Energy and matter cycles in the ecosystems: a conceptual tool to deal with issues of global sustainability

Laura Colucci-Gray, Elena Camino Elena, Daniela Marchetti, Marta Camino Elena

Research output: Working paper

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This paper looks at one of the central concepts in biology and biology education – energy flows and matter cycles – as a tool for addressing issues of environmental sustainability. Such issues are by nature trans-disciplinary and they call for a reformulation of traditional knowledge categories in the sciences. Equally, sustainability issues arise from a complex interrelation between facts and values and the interplay of different types of knowledge: both scientific and global and local and experiential, which are constituted by people’s experience of everyday life settings.
As never before, concepts of energy and matter have become key pointers in the debates surrounding the representation of nature and the complex interactions between human societies and nature’s services. Arguably, recovering the cultural role of biology education and bringing school science learning to contribute to important matters of personal and public life is an important aim for science education. In this paper, we report the learning experience of a course on energy flows and matter cycles offered to post-graduate students from different scientific backgrounds enrolled in a teacher education programme in Italy. Interdisciplinary and participatory activities were used to stimulate students to think across levels and across boundaries in order to acquire the competence of using the concept of energy flows and matter cycles as a tool for understanding the critical interface between human beings and nature. Data were collected in the course of classroom observations and from students’ own products. The analysis illustrates a process of reconfiguration of established meanings and terms which is sustained by the dual processes of discussion and explicit use of conceptual tools which the students experience for the entire duration of the course. Such data suggest that energy flows and mater cycles can be proposed as a tool for reading socio-ecosystems’ dynamic transformations. The data describe a shift of perception, from looking at objects to appreciating relationships which can occur within a learning environment that stimulates engagement with alternative interpretations and multiple knowledge perspectives.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010


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