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Hands On Biodiversity: Networking Students and Their Biomes

By Janis W. Lariviere


This activity uses telecommunication technology and the U.S. Mail to network students from five biomes in the United States. Students monitor water quality in their areas reporting the results regularly via modem, exchange boxes of materials representing themselves and their environment, and have electronic mail pals with a student from another area of the country.

Type of Activity:

This project is a hands-on activity. It can be done in groups or by individuals.

Target Audience:

Biology, AP Biology, Environmental Science


This unit was designed collaboratively with Dr. David Masterman, Seattle, WA using electronic mail to exchange drafts of the grant proposal. It was a year long environmental project which was funded by a Toyota Tapestry grant - 1993-94. The idea for exchanging 'biome boxes' came from Howard Waterman, Veradale, WA.


Biodiversity is crucial to the survival of life. Students have few chances to experience the amazing diversity among ecological regions, or biomes, on this planet. Ideally, we would bring students to each biome to experience the wonders of this planet. We are doing the next best thing -- bringing the biome to the students. This project has three phases: introduction, implementation, and dissemination. Each is described below.


Initially, students will represent the following biomes: taiga; cool, temperate rain forest; grassland; desert; and temperate deciduous forest. The sites will be in Seattle, WA; Austin, TX; Tempe, AZ; and Houston, TX. (Seattle, WA represents two biomes - taiga and temperate rain forest.)

Students from each biome will introduce themselves through Internet, a world-wide network interconnecting computers and people. Electronic mail accounts will be established for participating students whenever possible.

Students, under the supervision of instructors, will work together to determine the materials for inclusion in each biome box. This will cause students to inspect their own biome and decide what is representative of their locality. Thus, the materials will portray characteristics unique to each biome.

Students will also establish contacts to share information on a personal level. A student will have at least one student from another biome with whom to communicate.

Field experiments will be conducted at each site. The participants will agree upon the nature and design of those experiments.Typical experiments might include water quality, soil profiles, rainfall,temperature, and hours of daylight measurements.


  1. Students at each site will prepare a package of materials to send to each of the other sites. Typical contents might include specimens, soil samples, maps, photographs, videotapes, or cultural artifacts. Biome boxes will be mailed to other sites within a time frame of one week. No objects objectionable to the postal service or local agricultural agencies will be exchanged.

  2. Classes will analyze boxes received from other sites to compare and contrast the representative biomes.

  3. Students will conduct the experimental analyses of their biome. Each group will conduct the tests within a week of other groups. Experiments will use standard or equivalent measures, so that results from every biome may be compared easily.

  4. Students will transmit the results of their experimentation through the Internet. These results will be studied to investigate characteristics responsible for the uniqueness of each biome and to examine similarities and differences among biomes.

  5. Students will exchange personal correspondence such as letters, poetry, artwork to their contact. Thus, students might gain a better understanding of what it means to live in a different biome. This process will continue throughout the year to take into account seasonal changes. Materials and experimental results will be saved and used in future years for comparison and statistical analyses.


Once established, this pilot project will expand to include students from additional biomes throughout the world. After one year of implementation, we will do the following:

  • Maintain a list of actively participating sites. This will be supported by the Lakeside Internet node. Lakeside School (Seattle, WA) will also provide a gopher site for the exchange of information among participants.

  • An outreach workshop was presented at the NSTA convention in Anaheim, CA in March of 1994.


While it is widely recognized that students of all nations should be ecologically literate and knowledgeable of the importance of biological diversity, little exists in the standard science curriculumto provide an adequate understanding of the earth's environment. This project provides a model for a dynamic and self-sustaining program that can be integrated into general biology courses throughout the world. Specifically, the project will:

  • Motivate students to examine and characterize the environment each lives in.

  • Provide students with materials from other biomes, rather than just pictures in a textbook.

  • Allow students to compare and contrast measurements from their peers to obtain a scientific understanding of the differences and commonalties among biomes.

  • Enable individuals to communicate how they are personally affected and influenced by their environmental surroundings.

  • Empower students to participate directly with their own learning process.

These curricular changes break with traditional ways of teaching. Students are scientists, actively designing and personally involved in their work. They are encouraged to view data as a means to understand complex relationships. Students are asked to use this information to gain an understanding and appreciation of each other as individuals.

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