The Lichen-GIS Project, Teaching Students How to Use Bioindicator Species to Assess Environmental Quality

Stephen Wagner, Stephen F. Austin State University Department of Biology
Darrel McDonald, Stephen F Austin State University, Arthur Temple College of Forestry and Agriculture
Trey Watson, Stephen F Austin State University, Department of Biology
Josephine Taylor, Stephen F Austin State University, Department of Biology
Alan B. Sowards, Stephen F Austin State University, Department of Elementary Education

JOURNAL OF MICROBIOLOGY & BIOLOGY EDUCATION, May 2009, p. 9-18 Copyright © 2009, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved


A content-driven biology course for preservice K-8 teachers has been developed. This course uses the constructivist approach, where instructors engage students by organizing information around concept-based problems. To this end, a semester-long, inquiry-based project was introduced where students studied lichen populations on trees located on their campus to monitor air quality. Data were incorporated into a geographical information systems (GIS) database to demonstrate how it can be used to map communities. Student teams counted the number of each lichen type within a grid placed on each tree trunk sampled and entered this information into a GIS database. The students constructed maps of lichen populations at each sample site and wrote abstracts about their research. Student performance was assessed by the preparation of these abstracts as well as by scores on pre- and posttests of key content measures. Students also completed a survey to determine whether the project aided in their comprehension as well as their interest in incorporating this activity into their own curricula. The students’ pre- and posttest results showed an eightfold improvement in the total score after the semester project. Additionally, correct responses to each individual content measure increased by at least 35%. Total scores for the abstract ranged from 12 to 20 points out of 20 total points possible (60% to 100%), with a mean score of 15.8 points (78%). These results indicate that this exercise provided an excellent vehicle to teach students about lichens and their use as bioindicators and the application of geospatial technologies to map environmental data.