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"Prairie Restoration and Prairie Ecology"

By Gloria D. Latta



Type of Entry:

  • Unit Outline

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on activity
  • Inquiry Lab
  • Authentic Assessment
  • Group/cooperative learning
  • Community outreach/off-site activity
  • Other: Field Study

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Environmental Studies
  • Special Education/Special Needs

Notes to Teacher:

Check with your local natural resource management agencies (ie: forest preserves, DNR, etc.) to confirm the pre-settlement conditions of your area. You will also need to find a native/natural landscaping greenhouse or architect to supply seeds and plugs .

Required of Students:

  1. The introduction of various sampling techniques.

  2. Population density and statistics

  3. Library research project of local land history and various plant propagation methods.

  4. Outside field work

Class Time Needed:

During the fall ecology unit, approximately 1 week is needed for population sampling and soil profiles. This is followed by a library research project which takes 2 days for presentation. I give them 2 days of in class library time as well.

Readings and journal entries from "A Sand County Almanac" can be incorporated throughout the unit in many different areas of interest as classroom enhancement of ecological concepts.

The winter/spring botany unit consisting of plant propagation techniques will take 1 day to set up with outside student research time investigating the various methods of native plant propagation. This is followed-up towards the end of the semester with 2 outside days planting and dispersing seeds, and plugs, and weeding.


Background

What question does this activity help students to answer?

  1. The value of native ecosystems.

  2. The role of students in community education regarding native/natural landscaping.

  3. The importance of native plants in erosion prevention, flood control, and water quality.

  4. How native plants reduce or eliminate the need for fertilizing and pesticide application.

  5. Biodiversity as an integral part of nature.

  6. The history of the land and land-use practices.

  7. Various population sampling techniques.

  8. Applied botany/plant propagation.


Project

During the fall ecology unit, students collect real data as they identify and classify native prairie plants and insects. This is followed by each student designing their own population study using various sampling techniques such as a transect lines and quadrants to determine the population density of various species. A soil profile is then done in which students identify the various layers of soil, identify and classify soil microbes and macro invertebrates, and run chemical tests on the soil to determ ine the texture and composition, pH, nitrogen levels, and potassium levels. Through these outdoor learning experiences, students recognize the importance of biodiversity in the stability of ecosystems. This ecological data collection takes 6 days to compl ete.

These outdoor ecological studies are followed by a library research project on the history of Illinois land use and development (past, present, and future). This is a three part project which includes a paper, oral presentation, and visual display and whi ch must emphasize the disappearance of the prairie. Also included in the project are the benefits that prairie restoration has on our environment. These projects are done in groups of three with 2 in class library days. Students have 7 school days to comp lete this research project.

In the classroom, selected chapters from Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac are read which relate to the student's areas of study and research. Students keep a writing journal in which they respond to the writings and teachings of Aldo Leopold in relatio nship to the concepts and content which they have learned.

During the winter botany unit, students research the various methods of prairie propagation in order to design their own experiments to determine which method serves which plant the best. They must set up various seed bed preparations and experiment wi th at least 3 various planting methods and transplanting techniques.

In the spring, during Earthweek, the students are outside restoring the prairie by scattering prairie seeds and planting prairie plugs from the previous year. They also use the library resources in order to create a professional quality pamphlet which is distributed to the public to educate them on the benefits of prairie restoration and landscaping. The pamphlets must include information on the prairie's role in promoting sustainable development and conservation through the elimination of pesticides and fertilizers, erosion and flood control, air and ground water quality, and the possible economic advantage of restoration.

This integrated learning experience on prairie study and restoration has proved successful to all students regardless of backgrounds, ability, or motivational level! This is due to the hands-on research approach, the collecting of real biological data and the many areas of content it covers. Students recognize that all living organisms are dependent upon one another, affected by one another, and along with the abiotic factors, shape our environment. They acquire an ethical viewpoint towards the land (so il, water, plants, and animals) through the restoration and study of natural areas and field activities.


Method of Assessment/Evaluation

  1. Laboratory write-ups/experiment designs on various population studies and soil composition/chemical analysis.

  2. Drawings of soil profiles including stratification layers and soil macro-invertebrates.
  3. A library research project resulting in an oral presentation, and production of visual aids, and a paper.

  4. In class journals

  5. A professional quality pamphlet on the value of native landscaping.


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