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The Upper Palouse Restoration Project

Introducing the Scientific Method Using Techniques for Field Data Collection and Analysis

Tom Stralser

Type of entry:

  • Lesson/ class activity
  • Preparation of a project

Type of activity:

  • Hands on
  • Inquiry lab
  • Group / cooperative learning
  • Community outreach / off site activity

Target audience:

  • Biology
  • Environmental studies
  • Life Science
  • How does the scientific method fit into different methods of data collection and analysis

Background information:

Notes for teachers:

One of the main problems that I have encountered using students to conduct native habitat enhancement and restoration activities is the amount of time necessary to train the students to collect data. The data needs to be scientifically credible, especially when it comes to the potential use by regulatory agencies. These concerns make student competence in data collection very important.

In the past I would spend from one to three days in the fall and spring preparing our students for field work. This approach presented a number of problems.

  1. The curriculum progression with our other biology classes would become out of sync when a class was taken into the field.
  2. One or two days of classroom preparation was not sufficient to allow students to develop the skills needed to become competent in data collection and sampling techniques.
  3. Due to the questionable nature of the data, our students are not able to fully utilize these data when we returned to the classroom. Thus, one of the most important aspect of field biology is lost.

Starting this fall, we will spend two-three weeks introducing our students to field monitoring and data collection and analysis techniques. The lesson will be designed for two weeks. However, it is very possible that it may take three weeks to fully implement. Normally, one spends the first few of weeks of the school year introducing the scientific method, developing measurement techniques, learning how to record and analyze data, and the nature of science to our students. This is the perfect time to teach the scientific method using field monitoring and data analysis techniques. One word of warning! This Fall will be the first test for this unit, and likely, there will be a few bugs to work out.

Required of Students:

The students will be spending time in and out of the classroom. They should dress in clothing that is appropriate for the area immediately surrounding the school.

Preparation time needed:

No particular time is needed for the students. The instructor does need to become familiar and competent with the different habitat restoration methods, and data collection techniques. Which methods and techniques used will be dependent on your particular project(s) for the year.

Class time needed: Two-three weeks

Lesson/ Activity


In science, problem solving is based upon the data collected, which is then interpreted. The data collected and information gathered are based upon certain observations, measurements, and experimentation. Scientific problem solving is most often used to poise a particular question and determine how these questions enter into one's life. The scientific method is used by scientists to answer, address, or solve a particular question or problem.

By learning the different techniques for field data collection and analysis, the students will become competent, to collect, record, and interpret information about the particular project they are undertaking. They will then be able to apply these data, and interpret them to analyze the physical, social, and possible economic impacts of their restoration project on the environment. Thus, they are actively using the scientific method to identify and solve an ecological problem.

Materials needed:

  • Soil and water testing kits
  • Seechi disc
  • Vegetative microplot measuring apparatus (.1m2)
  • Meter stick, measuring tapes (100')
  • Soil and water testing kits ( Hach or Lamonte)
  • Shovels and potted native plant species
  • Aquatic dip nets
  • Soil profile sampling tubes or metal soil cutter
  • Plastic dishes for aquatic macro-invertebrates
  • Stopwatches, clipboards, data sheets, and graph paper
  • Plant, insect, and aquatic macro-invertebrate keys
  • Instruction manuals such as "Adopt a Stream"; "project GREEN" ; Wildlife management techniques manual 1980, The Wildlife Society; Wildlife and Fisheries Habitat Improvement Handbook, U.S. Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture.

Description of activity:

Most of our restoration/enhancement projects involve the re-vegetation of degraded uplands and riparian zones, and the enhancement and modification of stream channels and the associated habitat. The following time lines and activities described will focus on these two aspects of habitat restoration.

Week One:

Upland and Riparian Zone restoration and enhancement.

Monday: (Classroom) Introduce the scientific method, and how data collection and analysis is important to this process. Introduce the different methods of data collection and what they measure.

Tuesday: (Classroom) Introduce vegetation sampling: What vegetation was historically present? What is present now? How do we answer these questions? Introduce the line intercept method and the use of a micro plot to determine presence and coverage of shrubs and the herbaceous vegetation.

Wednesday:(Outside) Demonstration of the line intercept and micro plot method for vegetation analysis. Students should practice and become proficient at these techniques. It is important to note that these techniques are used for estimation of vegetation coverage.

Thursday: (Classroom and Outside) Introduction to soils and native plants. Soils and plants are interdependent, both are basic to natural systems, how are they interdependent? What is a soil profile? What is a soil micomonolith. How does the soil profile help determine the possible success of a habitat planting. Demonstrate and allow students to collect a soil sample. Supply the e students with two different soil samples for comparison.

Friday: (Classroom and Outside) How does the soil profile help determine the possible success of a habitat planting. Introduction to native plants. Why use them? How are they important. How are they important components to native systems. How do you design a micro-habitat plot. Demonstrate the techniques used in planting potted and bare root nursery stock. Allow students to practice the proper planting techniques.

Week Two:

Stream monitoring and enhancement techniques

Monday: (Classroom) Introduce the concepts of freshwater aquatic ecology, using turbidity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, vertebrates and aquatic invertebrate(macro-invertebrates). Demonstrate the techniques for sampling and analysis for water chemistry and vertebrate and macro-invertebrate populations.

Tuesday: (Classroom) Divide the students into groups and assign each group a particular water chemistry parameter for measurement and analysis. Supply different water samples, allowing the students to become comfortable with each test.

Wednesday:(Classroom) Demonstrate the use of a macro-invertebrate key. Allow students to key out a variety of macro-invertebrates to the classification of Order (keying to Family for most high school students is quite difficult).

Thursday: (Classroom and Outside) Introduce the methods for measuring the physical features of a stream. These include: channel profile, volume, flow, substrate, stream bank condition, riparian component. Demonstrate and allow the students to practice the techniques by dry lab these methods outside of the classroom, Friday: (Classroom) Introduce analysis techniques for collected data, using any data collected during the past two weeks of the unit. Allow the students to practice these analysis and data interpretation techniques.

Method of Evaluation:

The instructor may use two different evaluation techniques:
  1. Use the traditional testing method for concept recall.
  2. How successful are the students in gathering and generating replicible and defensible data from the field. This is certainly the litmus test for the unit.

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