Teaching with BioScience


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“Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?”

Authors: Ciara Raudsepp-Hearne, Garry D. Peterson, Maria Tengö, Elena M. Bennett, Tim Holland, Karina Benessaiah, Graham K. MacDonald, Laura Pfeifer

Published in BioScience magazine: BioScience 60: 567

AVAILABLE OPEN ACCESS. Click here to access the article.


Natural ecosystems perform fundamental life-support services. Crowe Lake, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Oksana Hlodan.

Modern research is constantly evolving the way we think about biology and its socioeconomic connections to society. This September 2010 article, published in BioScience magazine, challenges scientific thinking about the environment, ecosystem services, and human-well being. The answers to the questions the scientists examine are not clear-cut, providing an excellent opportunity for educators to engage their students in the scientific process, and the importance of critical thinking when applying scientific information to make decisions with societal impact.

Here are some strategies to consider for using this article in the classroom.

Setting the stage:

  • Share with them that “Untangling the Environmentalist’s Paradox: Why Is Human Well-being Increasing as Ecosystem Services Degrade?” was just published in the September 2010 issue of BioScience and that it is likely to raise debate among scientists.

Discussion and exploration of issue:

  • Ask students to write their initial responses to the question: Should we be concerned about ecosystem degradation if human well-being is on the rise?
  • Have them read the article by Raudsepp-Hearne and colleagues (the article is available for free through the end of September 2010 — see links above) and discuss, either in small groups or as a class. Interpreting Figures and Graphs may be helpful as you guide them through understanding the information in the article.
  • Ask them to make a list of what additional information they will need to know to more fully develop their argument.
  • Based upon your intended student outcomes for exploring this issue, you can have students conduct independent research, engage in group discussions, or participate in activities which will help them understand the science behind the issue.
    • Guide them towards resources which will help them gather evidence:
    • Have them engage in activities that will help them understand ecosystem services, such as those found in the lesson “How Much Is an Ecosystem Worth?” by John Ausema.
    • Have them explore particular ecosystem services:

    • If you choose to have them discuss the issue with one another, form groups and have each become an “expert” in one of the four hypotheses proposed in the article. Next form new groups of four students - one from each of the “expert” groups and have them discuss which hypothesis is best supported by the evidence.
  • Now that they have had the opportunity to explore the issue, ask them to refine and further develop their response to the original question. They can do so through a short paper, a presentation to their peers, or in discussion groups.


Assessing student learning depends upon the goals you have for using the article with your class.

  • If you assign a short paper, you will want to let students know ahead of time what you will be looking for in their papers. Create a rubric based upon your learning goals for them, provide it to them ahead of time, and then use it to score their papers. SERC’s Developing Scoring Rubrics provides general information about creating rubrics and examples that you can use.
  • If you want to know the main points students learned from their participation in a class discussion, or from listening to their peers’ presentations, you can have students complete a brief but powerful assessment right before the end of class. Go to Classroom Assessment Techniques to learn how to Administer a Minute Paper.

For more information on assessment:

  • SERC’s On The Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geosciences Faculty has a terrific suite of resources on assessment. Go to Observing and Assessing Student Learning to learn about the different types of assessment and techniques for finding out what your students are learning as you use new teaching approaches.

Additional Resources

  • For more ideas about how to use socioscientific issues in the classroom, go to: Using Socioscientific Issues-Based Instruction - a free resource, providing the what, why, and how of this teaching approach, published by the Science Education Resource Center and reprinted by permission on the website.
  • Explore with your students to find more information about “how science really works”.


Understanding Science