Biome Exchange -
Send the "Stuff" Not The Kids

Howard Waterman
1991 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


  • to help better understand their own environment and,
  • to better appreciate contrasting environments.


Have students from different geographic biomes exchange ecological information. The task is for students to box up the "unique ecologically significant features" of their area, to share with other students, and to receive a similar presentations from them.

How it worked? Classes from Eastern Washington's rain shadow grassland steppe were teamed up with classes from Western Washington's temperate rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula. The project commenced after the semester break to maintain classroom structure.

A loosely organized amalgamation attempted to provide maximum flexibility within the schools and classes, although classes were matched where possible by ability (advanced classes were matched). The rules were simple and specific:

  1. All materials for the class must fit in a standard ditto paper box.
  2. No live animals will be permitted.
  3. No violations of local material transportation quarantines, i.e. apple maggot, med-fly.
  4. No personally identifiable materials (although this was not strictly adhered to and may actually be better to link student-to-student).
  5. All materials to be mailed on or before the first Monday in May.

Each class developed their own form and content for presentations. Part of the fun was developing the students' creativity as they planned the kinds of materials to include and developed the committee tasks to carry them out. Some projects lent themselves better to individual efforts (reports on local animals, clear cutting conflicts, solid waste burning plant proposals) while other projects were committee based (making a newspaper scrapbook of environmental articles, developing a collage of post cards showing various areas, and narrated video tapes of local points of ecological interest).

Although started during the ecology unit, the project actually spanned several units. Students worked on their individual and group projects through the early spring. Bulletin boards became scrapbook locales for newspaper articles, pictures, and postcards. Each class was provided bulletin board space and a brightly colored box where materials could be added throughout the project. During spring vacation, several class committees scheduled field trips to make their ecological videos. Most of the committee work occurred after school since class time was scheduled into other units. The week before project completion, each student and each committee shared their contribution with the class as they added their materials to the "biome exchange box". They answered questions, passed around artifacts, showed pictures and videos, gave reports, etc.; in this way their efforts and background became shared knowledge even though much exchange of information had already occurred before the due dates.

The students waited with eager anticipation to see what the exchange would bring. The Western Washington biology classes had organized differently, but the contributions were very similar. The contents were distributed. Each student became familiar with one or more of the box's contents and shared that with the class. Artifacts, specimens, and pictures were passed around then placed on the counters for later perusal.

The project provided a local focus for the ecology unit and gave students opportunities to research our local area. There were opportunities for widely varying abilities, from bringing in a sample of lava rock to collating and graphing air quality index readings throughout the semester. Fortunately there was plenty of room in the ditto box and all contributions were included. It was certainly easier to send and receive student materials than to send students across the state to learn about a different biome. So, link up with another biology teacher in a contrasting biome and send the "stuff" not the kids on a reverse ecological field trip!

Eastern Washington Biome Swap Box Student Instructions

The individual contribution.

Your contribution should represent some aspect of the shrub-steppe or grassland-steppe ecosystem of Eastern Washington. The contribution should be unique to Eastern Washington and tell a story about the region. Size is a consideration - the box is limited in size - artifacts, specimens, photographs, articles, maps, etc. Must be accompanied with a complete explanation of the contribution's significance to our local ecology written neatly on 4 X 6 cards. Reports on phenomena, areas, processes, conditions, etc. need to be limited relative to available space. (Remember, what goes into the box will not be returned, so take photocopies if you want to retain the information for future use.) You will be expected to share your contribution with our class (April 27-29) - We want to learn too.

Individual Project Suggestions

  • Soil Samples - Include information on its uniqueness
  • Flower and Weed Samples - Preserved samples, unique
  • Pictures of Kaiser - Major industrial development is important
  • Pictures of Riverfront Park - Parks are an important part of our environment
  • Pollution Information - Air quality index, air, water reports D.O.E.
  • Pictures - School, McNeil, Kaiser, zoo, game animals, rodents
  • Tree Samples - special to the area
  • Samples of Fresh Air - special to our area
  • Map of Area - U.S. Geological survey
  • Dirt Samples - remember to provide information about the sample - its uniqueness
  • Pictures of Wild Flowers - color - name
  • Pictures of Trees - are they unique, shy? what is special about the trees?
  • Pictures of Lakes - area lakes are a special resource
  • Fishes - what and where?
  • Water Samples - where, why, how is it special?
  • Ash Samples - Mt. St. Helens
  • Bug Samples - How are they unique?
  • Field Weed Samples - We have many unique plants - pressed specimens are fun
  • Mica Peak - Mt. Spokane - Pictures

Group Project Suggestions:

  • Fisheries Information - what and where of area fish?
  • Ash - samples and information of Mt. St. Helens
  • Newspaper Articles - environmental awareness through the media good and bad
  • Weather Information - weather bureau - airport data
  • Pictures of the Area - enlist friends and relatives in other Eastern Washington towns to help
  • Collage - Pictures - Postcards - Photos - Magazines
  • Video of Surrounding Regions - Mt. Spokane, Steptoe Butte, Channel Scablands
  • Newspaper Article Notebook - Articles of surrounding area - ask parents and friends from other towns to help, not all articles need be about damage to the environment, there are good things happening to the environment too.
  • Waste to Energy Plant - Information from newspapers, interviews, etc.
  • Wild Animals - Pictures

Extra Credit and Additional Suggestions

An open ended extra credit potential is available for making specific additional contributions to the class project. These will be valued based on time involved, effort invested, creativity, instructive value, and appropriateness. Space may limit inclusion into the biome box, but will not limit extra credit potential. Be sure to check with the teacher to remove potential for spending too much time for nothing. Make your effort count. Extra credit will be provided only when your presentation is shared with the class. We all should learn something special about Eastern Washington ecology from your extra credit effort and contributions. These topics are general and intended only to pique interest. Your own imagination and creativity is your only limit.

  • steppe loess soils basalt alluvium
  • lichens Spokane flood pocket mouse
  • foliose pallouse crustose
  • mica hesseltine soils coulee monocline
  • Butte cocollala soils Mt. St. Helens ash
  • lava primary succession Lake Missoula (glacial)
  • columnar joined basalt precipitation variance
  • "rain shadow"effect temperature variance
  • Dry Falls Dam (Coulee City Area)
  • soil profiles
  • interviews with governmental agencies
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • U.S. Geological Survey
  • U.S. Department of Natural Resources
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlike
  • Washington State Department of Ecology
  • Washington State University Extension Agency
  • Spokane County Extension Agency
  • Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority
  • Turnbull National Wildlife Sanctuary

Specimens for Preparations and Reports:

  • Bluebunch Wheatgrass - Agropyron spicatum
  • Cheat Grass -- Bromus tectorum
  • Scabland Sagebrush - Artemesia rigida
  • Sagebrush - Artemesia tridentata
  • Deer Mouse - Peromyscus maniculatus
  • Pocket Mouse - Perognathus parvus
  • Bitterrroot Rock Rose - Lewisa rediviva
  • Harvest Mouse - Reithrodentomys megalotis
  • Camas - Camasa quamish
  • Ponderosa Pine - Pinus ponderosa

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