Posted by: Phil DeLong | April 4, 2014

Fishing for Candy

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It is a widely-accepted fact that candy is an effective motivator. Well aware of this fact, science teacher Andy Milbauer, adapting the work of a colleague, created a lab for his Advanced Placement Environmental Science (APES) course that uses candy as a way to facilitate learning. The lab, which Andy entitled “Tragedy of the Commons Fishing Contest,” allows students to experience the concepts espoused in Garrett Hardin’s famous essay, Tragedy of the Commons

Hardin’s essay asserts that the sharing of a common resource, such as global fisheries, leads to exploitation of the resource as individuals seek to optimize their personal gains. In the lab activity, students, in groups of three or four, commercially “fish” for different species (Swedish fish, sour worms, gum drops, and M&Ms), using the tools of the trade (straws — no hands allowed!). As Andy observes, Hardin’s concepts remain abstract “until the students explore it with a finite amount of shared candy, and experience how values shift as the abundance of the resource changes over time.” Plus, the students sure do enjoy eating the candy they’ve “harvested”.

This lab also injects an experiential element into the only class at Conserve School that is primarily lecture-based. Unlike the core science class, Applied Ecology and Sustainable Systems, which is heavily experiential, the APES elective relies primarily on lecture, reading, and study to introduce students to the content that they will need to succeed in this college-level course. Like all Advanced Placement courses, APES challenges students to adapt to the pace and style of a college-level course as they prepare for next month’s APES exam. Sounds kind of “fishy” to me . . .

Phil DeLong
Director of Admissions

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