In this lesson, students will collect data as part of their two week study of the role of fire on the prairie ecosystem. On day 2, data has been collected, students will return to the classroom and examine peer reviewed research. On days 3-14, students will continue to collect data in the field followed by data analysis. It is important to chunk the data analysis as much as possible as that students are not overwhelmed by the amount of data being generated. On day 15, students will complete the data analysis and compare what they have learned with peer reviewed research. This is a multi-day lesson that is explained as one lessons due to its interrelatedness. Here is what students will learn during the remainder of this student-led inquiry study. This part two of a multi-day lesson. The other lessons can be found at these links (Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4).
After taking roll, have students immediately gather their tools and move to the research site. While walking to the research site, remind to students the importance of recording their data in both their lab notebooks and the classroom spreadsheet.
Using the field work protocols from yesterday, students should collect data within their quadrats. Students should record data in their lab notebooks. They should also take an aerial picture of their quadrat, a side view of their quadrat to determine shoot height, a picture of the sky directly above their quadrat. A picture of the entire field site should be taken from photo stands located on the far corners of the site.
Students will explore a ground breaking study that examines if the time of year the prairie is burned affects ecosystem productivity. First students will read an summary of the study. They will complete a current events summary sheet. (Here is an example of one student's work).
Following a brief discussion, students will look the data from the study as reported in the PLOS One article using this guided reading. Following the instruction on the handout, students will then discuss why burning time might be of importance and the evidence presented to support the claim of the study. They will also give their opinion of what further evidence should be presented to determine the increased validity of the claim that it would be better to burn in the autumn and/or winter, instead of early spring.
Finally, students will explore an online tool that has been developed to aid farmers in determining the best time to burn to limit atmospheric impact. Students will discuss the potential caveats of incorporating such a tool in a rancher's burning plan.
Using the field work protocols from day one, students should collect data within their quadrats. Students should record data in their lab notebooks. They should also take an aerial picture of their quadrat, a side view of their quadrat to determine shoot height, a picture of the sky above their quadrat. A picture of the entire field site should be taken from both photo stands.
(Note: it is important to collect data at the same time every day. If students are unable to take data over a holiday break or weekend, have them note this in their research and extend the study as necessary.)
Upon returning to the classroom, students should input their data into the class spreadsheet.
Students should complete albedo analysis using the open source application, Image J. After processing the picture of their quadrat with Image J, they will receive a readout like this image. Remind students that albedo measures the amount of reflectivity.
Students should also analyzed the amount of cloud cover using the cloud cover protocol from the GLOBE Program and the picture taken from the site.
Using descriptive statistics and a student t-test, students should analyze the rest of the data collected in the student spreadsheet. (Note: If limited on time, assign each student group one aspect of the study (i.e.: soil temperature or air temperature). Then have student groups share their findings with the entire class. Because of my class size this year, we did all the analysis as one group. In years that I have larger classes, I assign each group on aspect.)
Students should summarize the findings from the two week study in a report and submit it.
Ask student groups to summarize the role of fire in maintaining diversity in the prairie. Students should use both their findings and the findings of professionals as evidence to support their argument.
(Note: One of the best way to do this is with a presentation containing the image they took throughout the study. Here are two student groups' work: Is All This Burning Necessary? and Field Study. Both of these reports failed to incorporate the findings of professionals into their argument. This is something I will have my students work on more next year. Also, despite all of the time we took analyzing data, none of the student groups incorporated their data into their presentation.)
Then ask students if fire is the only factor that would drive prairie diversity. Have them consider what other factors might affect the types of plants seen in the prairie ecosystem. Have students brainstorm possible factors and list them in their lab notebook. Ask students to design a field study that would test one of those factors. Students should write a brief proposal in their lab notebook.
Homework: Remind students to bring a lunch for tomorrow's field trip and discuss the guidelines for visiting the LTER site.