Small groups of students will establish their own phenology plots for long term study. Students will make a field sketch of a sample plot and turn it into a scale map. The map will accurately place plants the students have identified for tracking phenophases, so that the plots can be monitored long term. Phenology is a vital part of the climate change issue, and is one important portion of the Tundra Nutrient Seasonality project at Toolik Field Station. While working with Research Assistant Carolyn Livensperger, I kept thinking how fun it would be for our students to string little beads on wires, wrap them around plant stems so they can be found again in the future, and track the phenology of those plants over the years. I know some students would want to keep checking on "their" plants during their entire time at our school.
Student teams will each establish their own 1m squared plots in an area of the schoolyard that can be relatively easy to reach, and easy to leave undisturbed. There should be several perennial plants included in the plot, native or cultivated, depending on what you've got to work with. A combination of spring and fall bloomers would be helpful; and any kind of small tree seedling or shrub would be great!
The idea of this lesson is to establish long term phenology plots that students can track through the year, and other students can follow through ensuing years, as well as establish their own plots. Ideally, this works best if you have a place at the schoolyard that can remain undisturbed. Students also learn a few basic ecological research skills involving plot layout and data collection. Students can learn about science that is not necessarily experimental in nature; science that involves monitoring conditions and correlating them to other factors. Phenology has to do with how abiotic factors, such as temperature, affect biotic factors, such as plant flowering. The students will lay out their own plots, map them, identify key plants to track, mark those plants, and collect data about them and the plot on a regular basis. Skills they will learn include field sketching, landmark identification, scale mapping, compass use, plant identification (using field guides or dichotomous keys), the concept of phenology, and data collection and management skills. Students can work in small groups of two or three. The lesson is introduced with a "map your seat" activity. After the students master that concept, they will go outside into your schoolyard. Student groups will choose their plots, with your help. You the teacher will need to scout out likely looking spots prior to bringing the students out.
Phenophases to track for different groups of plants, such as wildflowers, grasses, or deciduous trees can be found on the Project Budburst Home Page. A really good lesson to do prior to this one would be the Project Budburst phenology lesson posted on the PolarTREC Resources page, contributed by Nancy Bigelow: http://www.polartrec.com/resources/lesson/project-budburst-citizen-science. Even if you don't have time to set up that activity, reading through the Project Budburst (http://budburst.org/) webpages is very helpful in helping students understand phenology.
Make a rough sketch map of the room that includes where you sit, or where you have placed something of yours, maybe your water bottle; add in as much detail as necessary so that someone else can pick out the landmarks and find where your seat or item is located. When everyone is done, turn in sketches to teacher, who then redistributes them to students for them to try and identify whose seat is whose by their map. What was the most helpful part of the sketch? What were some of the things that made your sketch useful? Were any of the sketches impossible to use and you were unable to find the item? What made the map difficult or unreliable?
Present the concept of mapping for ecological fieldwork purposes. Show a few slides from Toolik Field Station showing established long term plots with photographs and field maps. (attached). Show how to make a field map, discussing landmarks, cardinal orientation, and noting detailed features such as hills, slopes, valleys, trees, shrubs, Explain and demonstrate the project: In small groups of two or three:
Identify at least two different plants in your plot that there are at least three specimens of, and that are healthy enough that you feel you can track them for at least a school year. It's okay if you are on a semester schedule; the next semesters' students can follow your plots and also establish new ones of their own. Use field guides, take pictures, use I-phone apps; whatever it takes to properly identify your plants to at least genus level. Identification to species is desired, but may take some time to wait for bloom or leaf to fully identify a particular plant. This could be a good time to teach dichotomous keys.
Student teams will each establish their own 1m squared plots in an area of the schoolyard that can be relatively easy to reach, and easy to leave undisturbed. There should be several perennial plants included in the plot, native or cultivated, depending on what you've got to work with. A combination of spring and fall bloomers would be helpful; small tree or shrub seedlings are also fine.
For each plot:
The information you are going to record about your plant could include : First Leaf Bud: FLB First Flower Bud: FFB Full Leaf Expansion: FLE First Flower Open: FFO Fruit: F First Color Change: FCC 50% Color: HC (Half Color) 50% Leaf Fall: HLF (half Leaf Fall)
Make sure you have a way to show "none of the above" such as a dash. It's best to agree upon an explanation for each phenophases. Write up a key that includes your phenophases and their codes, and the agreed upon explanation for what each phenophase includes. The information from the Project Budburst webpage includes key phenophases and explanations for wildflowers, grasses, deciduous trees, and others.
Check your plots as often as you can during very active times of growth. Check them at least once a week, even if not a lot of growth is occurring. You can always make notes about other plot characters, such as air temperature, soil temperature, most recent rainfall and amount. Once an observable phenophase is occurring, daily checks might be in order.
Enter data regularly, share on class spreadsheet such as Google Docs or in Dropbox. Research effects of climate change on plant life, and relationship between a selected plant and its pollinator, animal that relies on it for food or cover, etc. What problems could occur? Compile your class data seasonally. These plots can be used for multiple seasons for comparison of phenology patterns. New student groups could establish new plots nearby, and other plants could be added to the mix to look at as needed. Contribute to a national phenology database such as Project Budburst, National Phenology Network, or others.
Students can monitor several key plants for project Budburst, GLOBE phenology; either at home or elsewhere in the schoolyard. A great way to get started with Project Budburst is to follow the lesson plan in the PolarTREC Resources, submitted by Nancy Bigelow: http://www.polartrec.com/resources/lesson/project-budburst-citizen-science.
Check that each team has a readable field map, transferred to a to scale plot map on their graph paper. Each team needs a written description of their plot to include:
As time progresses ensure:
Susan Steiner at: ssteiner76 [at] hotmail.com. Mapping lesson adapted from: Creating a Scale Map, copyright 2006 by Judith A. and Gary Robert Muschla. Many thanks to Research Assistant Carolyn Livensperger with the Tundra Nutrient Seasonality Project at Toolik Field Station. Carolyn's phenology work inspired this lesson plan, and her assistance with the details was much appreciated!
North Carolina Standards
Bio.2.1 Analyze the interdependence of living organisms within their environments.
Bio.2.2.1 Infer how human activities (including population growth, pollution, global warming, burning of fossil fuels, habitat destruction and introduction of nonnative species) may impact the environment.
EEn.2.6.1 Differentiate between weather and climate.
EEn.2.6.2 Explain changes in global climate due to natural processes.