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EnviroQuest: A Statistical Study of Three Biomes

By Marilyn Fry

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on
  • inquiry lab
  • group/cooperative learning
  • community outreach/off-site activity
  • review/reinforcement

Target Audience:

  • Biology
  • Algebra 1

Notes to Teacher:


EnviroQuest : A Statistical Study of Three Biomes is a student-centered research-based project in which students from Algebra 1 classes are cooperatively grouped with students from Biology 1 classes. Students collect data from one of three selected biomes. Data are then organized and statistically analyzed. This project engages students of different backgrounds grouped cooperatively in a relevant outdoor hands-on learning experience. It responds to the "why do I need math" and "what does math have to do with biology?" questions students frequently ask. It also fosters greater proficiency and confidence with problem solving and critical thinking. Presently 125 ninth and tenth grade students are involved with this investigation. The local Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) is working with us on this project.


This project helps students recognize that connections exist between biology and mathematics. It enables students to gather, organize, and mathematically analyze data collected in field studies of three biomes. As the project progresses, students recognize that while differences certainly exist among biomes, there are also many similarities.

The teachers involved need time together to plan and coordinate activities. It is necessary to provide resources. We enlisted the help of experts from the local Soil and Water Conservation District. We also provided resource materials within the classroom and we did preliminary experimentation prior to going to the Black Swamp Nature Center.

Students were introduced to the three available biomes so they could make informed decisions about which biome they wished to investigate. Students were cooperatively grouped. Each group was expected to learn about sampling methods appropriate to the biome they had selected for their study. Students collected those materials necessary for their particular investigation. Students spent a day at the Nature Center in the fall collecting data which could be used to estimate population sizes of different organisms. Students will spend time at the land lab this spring. Students are expected to record data regarding abiotic factors and make other observations which they believe could be important in their study. Students are expected to statistically analyze the data collected using graphing calculators and a computer data visualization program. Following the final outdoor investigation, students will be regrouped so they may compare data from three different biomes. Each new group is expected to compare the three biomes, especially focusing on similarities. Each group must prepare and present a multimedia presentation.

Approximately six weeks of class time is needed in order to prepare the students for the study and to do the field work, the statistical analysis of the data, the comparison of the three biomes, and to bring meaningful closure to the project.


Prior to the outdoor investigation targeted students learned ways in which data is collected and analyzed. We discussed basic ecology and studied the principles and importance of random sampling. With the help of the SWCD we brought speakers into the classroom to inform the students about each biome they might be investigating and to demonstrate some acceptable sampling methods. Students were taken to the outdoor land lab where they had the opportunity to observe the biomes as well as some additional sampling techniques. Each student group then selected the biome which was of most interest to them. Students could choose to investigate the wetland, stream, or woodland as all of these exist in the Black Swamp Nature Center. The Nature Center is located only a short distance from our school. It encompasses 51 acres and constitutes nearly all of Paulding County's protected environments. Paulding's SWCD is responsible for maintaining and reclaiming the Nature Center as a land lab site. EnviroQuest is relevant to the students in several ways. Most specifically, they are involved with collecting data which will be useful to the SWCD in developing the land site as an outdoor laboratory for use by the entire community.

Having studied numerous biologically acceptable sampling methods, students made decisions as to which methods were most applicable to their particular study. They were encouraged to develop methods of their own as well. In September the students spent a full day at the Nature Center collecting data which could be used to estimate sizes of populations of different organisms within a biome. Students recorded data regarding abiotic factors and made other observations which they believed could become important to their study. Data, particularly data concerning population size, that had been collected in the field was then statistically analyzed using TI-82 graphing calculators and a Sunburst's Data Visualization computer program.

Students will collect data at the Nature Center at least two more times during this school year. In most instances students will modify their investigations to correct errors or deficiencies reflected by their data analysis. Students will ultimately compare the data collected from the three different biomes and they will recognize that similar relationships and patterns exist among the biomes studied. They will be able to infer that such similarities exist among all biomes. Students will be able to use their data to predict the effect of change of one population on the other populations of the ecosystem. Thus, conceptualized learning is inherent in this project.

Each student group keeps a portfolio of their findings of their selected biome. Students will be regrouped in May so that each group includes some student investigators from all three biomes studied. Portfolios will be shared. This regrouping and sharing of information will foster more cooperative learning and synthesis. Each new group will be expected to compare ways in which the unity and diversity of life can be mathematically demonstrated in this study. Each group will be responsible for creating a presentation using multimedia computer technology. Evaluation will be based on the portfolio and the multimedia presentation.

Throughout the year this project has been a consideration when selecting laboratory investigations for various topics. For example, when biological variation was the subject, students measured 100 living organisms. They could use 100 crabapples, maple leaves, buckeyes or any other living organism or its product so long as samples were randomly collected. Students could make measurements in any manner they elected: mass, circumference, volume, etc. They did have to use metric measurement. Students presented graphed results using ClarisWorks spreadsheet. The resulting graph was a bell curve in nearly every investigation. In one instance this was not so. The involved students recognized that most likely their sample had not been randomly collected. This lab helped students develop concepts of random sampling and prediction of population characteristics. The investigation also involved using measurement as well as technology skills for graphing and reporting results.

When respiration was the subject, students studied the production of carbon dioxide by a viable yeast population over a period of time. Each group considered factors which could affect population growth and devised experiments to test their hypotheses. Students analyzed their data using graphing calculators and ClarisWorks spreadsheet. This investigation obviously dovetailed nicely with our study of respiration. It also served as a basic lesson in experimental design. Most investigators got exponential growth curves for the viable cultures. The curves varied with the experimental factor selected. Students learned that measurement of a product could be an indicator of activity, in this case the activity of the living yeast. Most recognized that the greater the activity, the greater the size of the yeast population. Students validated this by doing cell counts at intervals simultaneous with measurement of carbon dioxide production. While the emphasis of this particular experiment was the relationship between population size and quantity of carbon dioxide produced, it did serve as a basis for developing a concept relative to the outdoor investigation of biomes: living organisms tend to multiply exponentially, and population increase is influenced by numerous factors.

When we study insects, students will sample a mixed mealworm population. Students will count the number of larva, pupa, and adult beetles in five randomly collected samples and use these data to predict the total number of larva, pupa, and adult beetles in the total population at onset. Students will continue sampling at intervals over a period of time to determine the rate of maturation of mealworms maintained at both 25C. and 35C. Thus, students use sampling to study the effect of temperature on the development of a cold-blooded organism. The emphasis of this experiment is the effect of temperature on the rate of the development of mealworms. This will also serve to reinforce concepts regarding collection, organization, and analysis of data.

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