Exploring the World of Birds and the Ecological Principles They Fly By

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Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
July 26, 2021 - August 11, 20217/26 - 8/112 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineErik Donofrio

Course Description

One cannot become an environmental leader without understanding the environment; and one cannot understand the environment without understanding fundamental principles of Ecology. This course allows students to take flight, getting a closer look at the beautiful and fascinating birds that fly around their hometowns. In this course students will learn about birds and birding, while exploring principles of ecology that pertain not only to birds, but to all living creatures. This course guides students through the basics of ornithology (the study of birds) so they can learn about birding, an activity that requires minimal equipment and can be done by simply looking out of a window or walking through a park. Then we can dive into basic ecology and learn how birds can teach us about basic ecological concepts. The course will use primary and secondary source literature, videos, and scientific data collection/observation to drive home these lessons. The end goal will be to combine students’ previous experiences in science and outdoor learning and their newfound ecological knowledge with leadership skill development to become more effective environmental leaders.

The first section of the course will be an introduction to the world of ornithology, the study of birds. Students will learn about basic bird anatomy, from beak design to feathers, then investigate the fascinating world of bird reproduction. Students will look at species such as the Bird of Paradise that use elaborate colors and performances to attract mates, or the “Mafia Birds” that use their size to extort parental care from other birds. Students will learn about bird feeding ecology and examine how birds are designed and adapted to thrive in diverse environments. From here students will look at the phenomenon of bird migration, in which some birds travel thousands of miles at a time. Finally, students will build an understanding of the worldwide hobby of birding and learn how to bird and what resources there are to help you bird for no cost. Within this section there will be readings from primary and secondary sources, including the use of educational videos and phone applications that are often used in everyday citizen science. The students will also go birding and contribute to citizen science via the Cornell Lab of Ornithology eBird application.

The second section of this course will focus on the fundamentals of Ecology. This section starts with individual organisms adaptations,culminating with how organisms interact with their environments, and what we as humans can do to help. Throughout this section, students will have the opportunity to participate in a “sealed ecosphere” project that will require daily observational writing or a research proposal they can design on their own or with a small group. This section will consistently tie back to ornithology lessons, as birds are a great study organism to view ecological concepts in action. Students will engage with the course material through primary and secondary source readings, evaluation of case studies, video, and short essay discussions that allow the students to apply what they learned to real world scenarios/case studies.

The end goal of this course is for students to use what they learned about birds, ecology, and leadership, to come up with a practical and attainable action plan to bring change to their community. In order for students to be great environmental leaders, they need to understand the science behind the environment. This course will give them the foundational knowledge necessary to further their studies in ecology, ornithology, or environmental science/studies/leadership.

By the end of this course, students will be able to:
• Identify and strengthen leadership qualities that may lead to improved collaboration and problem solving.
• Acknowledge, understand and gain tools to process the large spectrum of impacts caused by climate change.
• Develop effective, feasible, and impactful Action Plan projects that use lessons from this course to create positive change in their communities.
• Learn the basics of ornithology and come away with an appreciation for an organism that many see daily.
• Learn principles of ecology and how they apply to environmental leadership.
• Understand how to apply scientific concepts to real-world issues through effective science communication
• Develop their observation and critical thinking skills.

Prerequisites: None

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEES0933

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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