2018 Syllabus and Resources

2018 Investigating Ecosystems Through Fieldwork Syllabus and Resources


Cat Chamberlain in Kent Field

Cat Chamberlain (far right) explains how to use transects and create study plots in Kent Field.

This institute focused on teaching the methodologies of fieldwork to primarily middle and high school teachers. Educators then used these techniques to examine and come to understand two distinct ecosystems. An important goal of the institute was to highlight simple procedures to collect data over time, and find ways to consolidate this information into a culminating presentation.

Specific goals were as follows:

  1. Introduce teachers to fieldwork techniques that will enable them to investigate and understand two ecosystems – NE forest (Central Woods) and meadow/flood plain (Kent Field).
  2. Understand the term “ecosystem” and explore both biotic and abiotic factors that are at play in such systems. This includes nutrient cycling, carbon sequestration, and water availability.
  3. Identify plants and animals that interact in each of these ecosystems and learn more about some of these specimens and how they relate to the ecosystem.
  4. Learn about plant growth with respect to photosynthesis, respiration, and use of abiotic components.

The institute content addressed the following Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Essential Questions and engaged teachers in all the Practices of Science.

  1. Matter and Energy in Organisms and Ecosystems: How do organisms obtain and use energy they need to live and grow? How do matter and energy move through ecosystems?
  2. Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems: How do organisms interact with the living and non-living environment to obtain matter and energy?
  3. Structure and Function: How do the structures of organisms enable life’s functions?

Overall Structure

Teachers spent each day learning from guest speakers and then going to self-designated study plots to practice fieldwork techniques, sometimes alongside the guest speakers. Working in teams of three or four, teachers collaborated when collecting data and helped each other identify plants and animals within their study plots.

Day 1: Fieldwork Techniques

Catherine Chamberlain, Arnold Arboretum Fellow, gave an introductory talk describing commonly used techniques for surveying plant or animal life in the field. Teachers learned how to set up transect lines, how to determine the size and location of plots, and how to obtain data from them. Teachers created Berlese funnels in the classroom, and set up pitfall traps in their plots.

Supplemental resources:

Dr. Templer helps with DBH tape

Dr. Templer (front, right) teaches how to use DBH tape to measure trunk diameter.

Day 2: Abiotic Components of an Ecosystem

Dr. Pamela Templer, biology professor at Boston University, shared her talk “Role of Forest Ecosystems in Carbon Sequestration and Climate.” Templer is particularly interested in the relationship between abiotic components and carbon uptake by trees. In the field, Templer helped institute participants use DBH tape to measure tree diameter at breast height, use allometric equations to convert DBH to total biomass and then convert biomass into total carbon uptake in an effort to quantify how much carbon is being sequestered by the trees in their study plots. She also shared her own lab’s study plot in the Central Woods, describing each instrument and its purpose.

Supplemental resources:

Brendan Keegan in Kent Field

Brendan Keegan explains the animal-plant interactions in various study plots on Kent Field.

Day 3: Plant ID

Irina Kadis, Arnold Arboretum curatorial assistant, and Brendan Keegan, Arboretum Gardener, were available for a walk and talk in the field. They helped teachers identify specific plants within their plots, and learn more about individual specimens and their relationships within ecosystems. Teachers used plant identification charts specifically created for this Institute to begin the process of determining the vegetation that was most common in each plot.

Supplemental resources:

teacher presentation

Angela (right) and Katie share how fieldwork can be used in elementary classrooms to promote environmental justice..

Day 4: Photosynthesis and Respiration

Marjorie Lundgren, a Visiting Fellow and Postdoctoral Associate at MIT, shared her area of expertise in plant growth as it relates to photosynthesis, respiration and water uptake. Her lecture deepened teacher’s understanding of different strategies used by plants for photosynthesis that came about through evolution as a response to environmental conditions. The final afternoon was dedicated to consolidating learned information in the form of documentation boards, and giving presentations about aspects of fieldwork that were most impactful for the teams.

Supplemental resources: