Earth Science Research Project
Department of Geosciences
A personal plot is an area outside which students monitor, collect data from, and explore their local environment. It is usually 3m x 3m and located in a reasonably wild area within walking or cycling distance from the student's home or school. Students will visit their personal plots regularly to observe and collect data. A personal plot is a tool to use when teaching students various aspects of research, including:
It will also familiarize students with their local flora and fauna, and other aspects of the natural history of their community. It is hoped that by using personal plots as a tool to teach research, students will also come to a deeper understanding of the natural environment and the place of humans within it.
Students in the New York State Modified Regents Earth Science Curriculum need to develop research skills in order to complete a long-term experimental research project of their choosing. Conversations with current Regents Earth Science teachers indicate that students are ill prepared for this challenge when entering ninth grade. This creates a dilemma for the instructor: the local Regents projects are supposed to be relatively independently developed by the students themselves, however, students have not had any rigorous research experience and are unable to develop projects on their own. Having all students work on a personal plot may be a way to solve this dilemma in a constructivist way for students, without overburdening the instructor or violating the spirit of the Regents local project.
Teachers who have used personal plot projects with their student also report:
Identify an area within a five-minute walk from your classroom. This will require some time during the summer. Ideally, this plot should be 3m x 3m, and in an area that is not landscaped or will otherwise be disturbed. This 'class plot' is an example, but depending on your school's location, some students may have to use it as their personal plot. You, or you and your students, should monitor this plot as the ones the students select. Make a map of this plot, and collect any data you will want the students to gather themselves. Be sure to set up your field notebook in the same way you want the students to prepare and keep theirs (see Starting The Process, below)
Identify five (absolute barest minimum) or more areas near the school (certainly within the district) where students may want to choose the own 3m x 3m personal plots. These areas must be accessible to the public, have no entrance fee, and be 'open' on weekends. Do not underestimate the educational value of vacant land and lots. Many students will have favorite places that they may choose, but other students will not have been exposed to 'wild' areas and will need your guidance in selecting a locality. Having a couple of handfuls of localities on hand will be a great help for these students. Use a Hagstrom to mark the locations of the areas to distribute copies of these maps at the start of the project. Inform students they are not limited to these areas (unless you want to check the plots as the year goes on yourself, in which case you will have to limit the students to the localities you select).
For example, if you have students measure soil temperatures, you will want to encourage the students who are correlating air and soil temperatures for their Regents project to use data from their personal plot and at least one other area.
Students will need a field notebook. Some schools buy marble notebooks in bulk then sell them to students for about $1 when the review books are sold.
Tell students this notebook is for their science project(s) only (or whatever you have decided).
Let students know that every two weeks they will be required to spend at least an hour at their personal plot site, taking measurements and performing observations.
Students should number the pages in their notebooks (up to 20 is OK for the first visit). Their name should appear on the outside of the notebook and inside, as well as on the spine or outside pages.
Show students how you would like them to record data and observations. This is when your summer work serves as an example. Some suggestions:
Date every page. Record samples taken as follows:
|Initials||Date||Page Number||Sample Letter|
So, if this were a soil sample, the tag on the bag would say "JAK 7-2-97 2A" This makes it possible to trace the sample back to a specific page, 50 students can readily find other information pertaining to the sample (e.g., depth take from, weather conditions, etc.)
Data tables should be created in the notebook for data that will be collected on site. For example, if you want students to record the soil and air temperatures for their plots over the year, show them a chart to make to collect this data. For example:
|Date||Time||Weather||Air Temp. (0C)||Soil Temp. (0C)|
Students should visit their personal plots to collect data and record observations at least every two weeks.
This allows enough time for changes to be observable. However, some students who use the data they collect in their personal plots for their Regents project will need to return more frequently for some data collecting.
Collect the journals after their first observation of their personal plots to determine what students are observing and the data they are collecting.
This will give you an opportunity to provide early feedback and determine the student's understanding of the project and what it involves. Collect the journals a month later (after two more visits) to keep students on track and suggest questions the student may want to answer.
For example, I notice you mention a half-dead oak. Will this tree loose its leaves before the other oaks? Your soils has a low pH. Does this have anything to do with the fact you have only been able to find three species of trees in your plot?
These questions can be important, as often asking the right questions is what leads scientists down meaningful research paths.
Depending on your focus (is the personal plots and exercise in some aspects of research, or the beginnings of a Regents project?) you will either want to continue collecting journals every few visits (stagger journal collection so you are not swamped, perhaps so you read each journal once every 4-6 weeks) or allow students to work toward their final project report.
Even if the final report is the main student product that will be assessed, you may want to have intermediate deadlines where students will either hand in their journals or minireports so you can be assured of their progress and valid data collection. On the other hand, even if the personal plots is mainly an exercise to teach students some aspects of research, you may want to have your students complete a small summary report, to bring closure to the project.
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