Is All This Burning Necessary? (Part 3/4)

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Students will compare their data with data from a Long-term Ecological Research Site.

Big Idea

It's a field trip day. See how we compare our data with scientific professionals.

What Students will Learn in this Lesson

1 minutes

In today's lesson, students will visit a local Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) site as a culmination of a two week student led study. We organize our visit through their KEEP education director. Following a tour of the facility, students will conduct a study of several treatments of burn plots. They will observe a spring burn of several plots as well as visit with one of the primary investigator of the site. After eating a picnic lunch at headquarters, students will take a short hike so they can compare the LTER site with our local native prairie. Here is what students will learn today. This part three of a multi-day lesson. The other lessons can be found at these links (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 4).

Preparing for the Field Trip

10 minutes

Before any field trip, the teacher needs to check with his or her principal for approval and determine the necessary arrangements that need to be made for transportation. (Note: it is our school policy for the teacher to arrange for transportation and get student emergency contact information.) A letter should be sent home that students will explain the purpose of the field trip as well as the requirement for the field trip. Students should bring a sack lunch as the class will be eating at Headquarters. They will also need to wear closed toed shoes and long pants.

Note: I bring my students' emergency contact information as well as a first aid kit, sunscreen, and bug spray. I also send an email to parents the night before reminding them when we will leave and what they need to bring. Since we will be in the field, students are required to have closed toed sturdy shoes (i.e. tennis shoes or boots) and long pants. Since we will be eating at the LTER site, I always bring extra food in my lunch in case someone forgets their lunch. We will stop for ice cream at the end of the day (if they are well-behaved). I have a small class this year so it is my treat. My students also convinced me to bring the staff at headquarters kolaches (which means they get them, too)

On-site Field Study

30 minutes

Equipment needed for the field study (per student pair):


Upon arrival, students need to report to headquarters when to meet the guide for the day. After a brief history of the LTER site, students will depart with their guide for a field study of the Hulbert burn plots.  Student pairs are randomly assigned plots that have different burn treatments  so they can compare these plots to the annual burn of the local site. Students record air temperature, soil temperature, and percentage of shrubs/trees, forbs, and grasses in a quadrat. They collect data from three locations within the burn treatment.  

Using the survey flag, one student will toss it over his or her shoulder, while his or her partner watches. Next, they will place the quadrat in the proper location. Students will collect their data. Then they will repeat the procedure again two more times.  

After student pairs have collected the data and shared it with the entire class, the guide give a tour of the entire demostration area. Students are able to  see not only the effects of different burn treatments on plant diversity, but also the effects of slope (amount of precipitation due to runoff) on plant diversity.  

Facility Tour

60 minutes

Students will continue the walking tour of the facility.  Note: I requested a special focus on how the weather/climate data is collected. We also wanted to see their drought enclosure which is an area that is sheltered from precipitation. Rain water is collected and applied a certain number of days after the last rainfall. This is supposed to model the predictions of future weather patterns in our area made by certain climate models.  t is always an interesting part of the tour for students.)  

During the tour, ask students the following questions:

  • Compare the methods of researchers with the methods that they used in class.  
  • How does their instrumentation differ from our instrumentation?
  • How long do they conduct their experiments before they report their findings?


Students should notice that reporting occurs both a small, short-term experiment and large, long-term experiments. Students should also notice that results from many, short-term experiments are summarized and combined into decadal reports. They should also notice that the most reliable patterns are seen over periods of decades (i.e. 40-50 years or more).

Visiting with Researchers

15 minutes

With careful planning, students may be able to meet with some of the primary investigators at the LTER site. Typically, researchers are more than happy to visit with students about their research and answer students' questions.

At the beginning of this unit, students wrote questions about the role of fire and other questions they had about ecological research. They should bring their lab notebooks and use this opportunity to get their questions answered by an expert. (Note: I vet the questions beforehand to make sure that students are taking this exercise seriously.)

Allow the discussion to be organic and trust students to ask the pressing, important questions they have. (Note: I find if I allow my students a little freedom in this discussion, they ask really great questions.  Their natural curiosity about the site lead to some really rich interaction between the researchers.)

If students are timid, ask some questions of the researchers to help get the discussion started. 

Putting It All Together: Summarizing the Day

5 minutes

To complete the visit, students will take a nature walk on one of the watershed that is near headquarters. Students can enjoy the LTER site and compare the types of plants seen at the site with plants from the local native prairie. They should also journal about the differences between the local native prairie and the LTER site.  

(Note: Upon returning to the bus, we travel to a local restaurant to get ice cream and more water. Students never seem to drink enough in the field. While at the restaurant, we reflect on their findings in the Hulbert Plots.)