Guiding Question for the Course
- How can teachers use digital resources, community resources and effective teaching methods, integrating Alaska Native ways of knowing with Western scientific methods to create greater student interest in, and understanding of, the geosciences?
Key Question for the Final Project
- Why do people make the decisions they do, even when they know that the effects will be negative, and what can be done to change this?
We have spent a lot of time in the class looking at the science of climate change. I recently finished up teaching a semester of Alaska Studies that looked at the over exploitation of natural resources in Alaska that continues on a daily basis. The question that keeps coming up in my mind (and the minds' of my students) is why? Why does this keep happening? This lesson will investigate that question.
This lesson is loosely designed to be used in a history class - such great places to integrate science!
At the end of the lesson students will be able to
- describe the tragedy of the commons.
- explain examples from the real-world that deal with tragedy of the commons.
- evaluate proposed solutions to real-world tragedy of the commons problems.
I will use this lesson next semester in my US History class. We will have just finished studying the changes in industry in the United States before and immediately following the Civil War. This lesson be used as an introduction to the upcoming unit on the rise of industrialism in the early 1900s. The text tackles a number of major changes that were happening in the United States. Among those were changes in how business was organized and what corporations' obligations were to the environment and to their employees. The theory of "tragedy of the commons" can help play an important role in understanding the decisions made at the time.
Introductory Activity - "Everybody Can Win"
The lesson will begin with a game designed by the textbook. The game deals with unionization - where students in the class are employees at a factory considering unionization, however, those connections come after the game.
The class is split into 4-6 teams. Each team is given an envelope with a green and a red card. The game takes place over six rounds, and in each round each team plays either their red or their green card. Scoring depends on the what cards other teams play. If all teams play green then each team earns points. However, if there is a mix (e.g. one red and three green) only the teams playing the red card earn points with the other teams losing points. The third option, with all teams playing red, results in all teams losing points.
I played this game last year and I was surprised with the results. If I remember correctly, only one team had positive points at the end. I was sure that they would have worked together, all playing green cards, but it only took one round of a team exploiting the situation before all trust was broken and it was each team for itself.
After the game is over, debrief with the following questions:
- What emotions did you experience while playing the game?
- For those of you who played a green card every time, why did you do that?
- For those of you who played a pink card even once, why did you do that?
- Why was (or wasn’t) the class able to play the game so that everyone won?
- Can you think of something from history or real life that has a similar dynamic to this game?
What's nice about this game is that it sets up discussion for the upcoming chapter on labor organizing, and also offers an explanation of a theory to help understand previous and upcoming chapters about environmental calamities.
Activity (Cultural Connections)
Independent investigation of historical events.
Students spend time searching for historical events in history that the theory of tragedy of the commons can be applied to help understand what happened.
Sources or ideas to look into...
- Alaska History Course
- Seal hunting
- Salmon fishing
- Other commercial fishing
- Oil drilling
- Gold and other precious metal mining
Activity (What can be done?)
After playing the game at the beginning of the lesson and investigating a number of examples from history, students will have the benefit of hindsight. How can this new knowledge be used to alter the future.
Students will listen to a podcast from NPR with an interview of Nobel laureate and political scientist, Elinor Ostrom. Ostrom discusses ways that populations have bucked the "tragedy" through working together on a local scale. She emphasizes that solutions to tragedies of the commons do not need the backing of a federal government, and in most cases, bottom-up solutions are preferable to large top-down solutions.
After listening to the podcast debrief with a series of discussion points.
- How does Ms. Ostrom recommend that such problems are solved?
- How realistic do you think her recommendations are in problems that plague Alaska (overfishing, mining)?
- Can you think of any other solutions to a tragedy of the commons problem? Can people work together, keeping everyone's best interests in mind?
Final look at history...
Salmon politics - how does this reflect a solution to tragedy of the commons?