Trading cards are small 2.5″ x 3.5″ pieces of paper about a specific subject that were created to be traded with others (think baseball cards and artist trading cards). The only difference between artist trading cards (ATCs) and baseball cards are that ATCs are decorated by each individual before they are traded.
Biology graduate student, Jay M. Fitzsimmons, put the trading card concept to good use recently during a presentation he made to a group of young naturalists. Invited to speak about his dissertation research, Fitzsimmons designed a creative learning activity to replace his standard PowerPoint presentation. He describes this activity in Local Species Trading Cards: An Activity to Encourage Scientific Creativity and Ecological Predictions from Species’ Traits.
Fitzsimmons’ Challenge: Explain Ph.D. research to children ages 8-18.
Fitzsimmons’ Solution: Engage young naturalists in an activity that is enjoyable, sparks creativity and encourages critical thinking.
Fitzsimmons’ current research focus is about how Canadian butterflies respond to climate change. As Fitzsimmons (2012) explains in his paper, his primary research question is, Can a butterfly species’ response to climate change be predicted based on a species’ traits?
To explain this concept to members of a young naturalists club, Fitzsimmons (2012) created stacks of butterfly trading cards. On one side of a card was a photograph of a species of butterfly and the other side contained a summary of this species’ traits. He chose 12 species local to his location in Ottawa, Canada and created a stack of 12 trading cards for each member (Fitzsimmons, 2012).
After introducing members to his research, he distributed the stacks of cards he prepared. He then instructed members to sort the cards into two piles — one for butterfly species “likely to shift north rapidly” in response to climate change and the other for butterfly species “unlikely to shift north rapidly” in response to climate change (Fitzsimmons, 2012).
Each member paired up with another member and together they sorted through their decks of cards, discussed the traits of each species, and made predictions about how a given species might respond to climate change. Club members were given 20 minutes to sort through their cards and then shared their predictions and justified their thinking during a group discussion (Fitzsimmons, 2012).
In his review, Fitzsimmons (2012) states the activity was well-received by both the young naturalists and participating adults. He also mentions that during this activity, club members were able to justify their predictions the same way professional biologists would, but “with less jargon” (Fitzsimmons, 2012). In light of this positive outcome, he encourages educators to modify his activity when teaching other natural history subjects.
Fitzsimmons’ activity can be adapted easily to encourage an interest in plants, and even a bit of botanical art along the way, especially if art-specific papers that can handle different media are used.
How can we use ATCs to teach about plants? Let’s toss around some ideas.
How about trait-based studies of plant adaptations?
What about plant-pollinator relationships?
Life history patterns? Resource allocation? Plant communities?
What else comes to mind? Share your ideas below.
Fitzsimmons, Jay M. 2012. Local species trading cards: An activity to encourage scientific creativity and ecological predictions from species’ traits. Journal of Natural History Education and Experience. 6:10-15.Web. <http://naturalhistorynetwork.org/journal/articles/local-species-trading-cards-an-activity-to-encourage-scientific-creativity-and-ecological-predictions-from-species-traits> [accessed 24 January 2013]