Lesson Plan Template: General Lesson Plan
Learning Objectives: What will students know and be able to do as a result of this lesson?
From this lesson, students will be able to:
- identify an ecology-related research question
- develop a replicable sensor-based method for gathering data useful in answering the question
- collect data
- analyze data
- report results publicly to the class using data visualization methods as needed (e.g. charts, plots)
- draw inferences from their findings to make data-supported predictions related to their research topic
Prior Knowledge: What prior knowledge should students have for this lesson?
Students should be familiar with variables, formulating scientific questions, maintaining a science journal, and gathering, recording, and summarizing tabular data. This lesson is applicable to multiple grade levels, so prior knowledge will vary, but students may also be expected to know about bivariate data, basic descriptive statistics, plotting lines of best fit, or other simple analytical methods deemed appropriate by the teacher.
Note: Prior knowledge will vary with grade level and should be taken into consideration as students are formulating their research questions and methods.
Guiding Questions: What are the guiding questions for this lesson?
- How can technology, such as sensors, be used to gather data important in answering scientific questions related to ecology (or other sciences)?
- How can mathematics be used to make sense of data?
- How can mathematics techniques help us to make predictions?
Introduction: How will the teacher inform students of the intent of the lesson? How will students understand or develop an investigable question?
Note: This lesson is intended to be open with regard to student research questions and methods. One or more sensors should be made available to the students and instruction should be provided for their use prior to this activity. Sensors may be from any manufacturer and may include any technology capable of relatively easy use and applicability toward ecological questions. Commonly available sensors are capable of reporting the following: internal temperature, ambient air temperature, soil moisture, light intensity, relative humidity, conductivity, pH, turbidity, and position (GPS). Any of these are appropriate for the purposes of this activity.
On the first day, tell the students they will be conducting scientific research outdoors over several days. At the teacher's discretion, data collection periods may be less than a full class period after the students have begun their tests. This lesson may be done on school grounds or nearby. The students may be introduced to a variety of sensors (teacher's discretion) so they are aware of the capabilities available to them.
Each student should bring either a clipboard with blank paper or their science journal outdoors and individually observe their environment for about 10 minutes. Instruct students to record their observations and any questions they might have about what they are observing. Bring the class inside and explain that they just participated in the first part of the scientific method: observing and asking questions about what they observe. Give students 5-10 minutes to review their observations and develop one of their questions into a testable explanation. If there is time, ask a few students to share the hypothesis they just developed.
Divide students into groups of 3 or 4. For the rest of the class period, give students time to share their ideas within their groups, narrow their focus, and decide on a research question. Students should write their agreed-upon research question (in the form of a hypothesis) in their science journals as well as the procedure or methodology they will be using to test their hypothesis. During this time, walk around the classroom and check in with the groups to ensure they have a testable explanation and that their methodology will help answer their question. Before moving on to the actual research, ensure that each group's questions are testable research questions and capable of being addressed with sensors and simple observations. Depending on time and objectives, this can be done informally while walking around the classroom, by having each group share their hypothesis and methodology to the class and having a discussion, or by instructing each group to turn in a worksheet that includes their Hypothesis and Methodology.
Sample questions could be shared before or after the groups have time to brainstorm. For example:
- To what extent does light intensity affect insect or plant species richness? (would require measuring light intensity and counting the number of insect or plant species in multiple places to achieve sufficient repetition)
- To what extent does sun exposure relate to leaf area? (would require measuring leaf area from samples in sunny and shaded areas)
- How does grass blade length compare in sunny versus shady areas? (would require measurement of multiple uncut grass samples in sunny and shaded areas)
- How does the temperature of the exposed leaves of a tree differ from the temperature of the shaded leaves? (would require remote temperature measurement of multiple areas of a tree using a non-contact IR thermometer)
Investigate: What will the teacher do to give students an opportunity to develop, try, revise, and implement their own methods to gather data?
On Days 2 and 3, provide time for the students to go outdoors and collect data according to their team protocols. Students should pay attention to their written method so they do not deviate from the plan.
The data gathered during Days 2 and 3 can be discussed during the week so the students form some concept of how they might treat them for analysis and presentation. Depending on the mathematical background of the class, have the students include their analysis as a plot of some kind and/or an appropriate statistical test.
During these class periods, other instruction for different activities may be presented if data collection does not occupy the entire class period.
Analyze: How will the teacher help students determine a way to represent, analyze, and interpret the data they collect?
Day 4 is to be used for data analysis. Students should work together to determine the best method and the teacher should work with each group to ensure their method is appropriate and capable of being completed.
The complexity of the data analysis will depend on the students' capabilities, but some examples of analyses that might work well for a broad set of studies include the following:
- Basic descriptive statistics such as maximum, minimum, mean, and standard deviation for a variety of variables (average leaf area in cm2)
- T-tests to assess differences in means for two populations (e.g. comparison of leaf areas from a sunny area vs a shaded area)
- Scatter plots for bivariate data (e.g. average leaf area vs distance from main tree trunk)
- Frequency distribution (histograms) for main variables (leaf area distribution)
Students may also find box-and-whisker plots or dot plots to be useful in their research. These and other common methods of analysis are appropriate.
For review or analysis ideas prior to data collection, students may wish to view videos related to a variety of common analyses in the "Descriptive Statistics" series from Khan Academy.
On Day 4, after data analysis is complete, the teacher should discuss with each group of students how the findings are to be presented on Day 5. The level of detail for this is at the discretion of the teacher.
Students will be asked to present their findings with a poster. Poster paper and markers should be provided. Remind the students that they are trying to clearly communicate the results of their work, but should also be informative with regard to the research question, the methods used, and the overall conclusions.
Teachers should press the students to draw a conclusion that can be made given their findings.
Students should also make a prediction using the information on their poster. The student responses could be elicited using questions of the form: "Okay, so you just said that you found variable X to increase with variable Y. What do you think might happen if variable Y were increased beyond what you observed?" Be sure to have them support any prediction with their results. For example, if leaf area were to be found to decrease with increased distance from the main trunk, or conversely, to increase with reduced distance to the trunk, you might ask the students how large leaves might be on a very long branch versus a very short branch. They might associate the area effect with light, but age of the leaf would be related as well. They might consider that leaves would eventually be very very small as new leaves at the tip of the branch, but they might also conclude that leaves would grow impossibly large near the trunk on a very long branch. It is not important that they accurately make a prediction with these answers, but it is important for them to use their data to support "the next question," which is often what real scientists pose at the conclusion of their research articles. They always want to know what's next! See if the students can come up with a "what's next" prediction or question based on their findings!
Closure: What will the teacher do to bring the lesson to a close? How will the students make sense of the investigation?
Closing discussions will vary greatly depending on the specific questions being addressed by the students. However, the teacher should guide the students to consider the entire process of asking questions, devising appropriate methods of data gathering and analysis, selecting the best method for presentation, and communicating results as all part of a larger concept of a scientific investigation. Focus may lie on how observations lead to an understanding of a phenomenon and that this understanding can lead to an understanding of relationships in nature.
Students may be assessed using the following or similar questions:
- Was a testable question generated?
- Were appropriate sensors and observations used to answer the question?
- Were data gathered and recorded successfully?
- Were analyses conducted appropriately?
- Were conclusions drawn using the results?
- Were presentations clear, concise, and able to address the research study in a coherent way?
- Were predictions supported by data?
Pay close attention to the questions posed by the students and approve them before the students begin their data collection.
During the data collection, walk around with the students to assess how closely they are following their plans. Ask probing questions to inquire about methodological fidelity.
As the students record data, perform spot checks to ensure the data are being recorded accurately and legibly.
As analysis proceeds, have students explain their methods and reasoning behind their analytical choices.
During the communication phase, where students gather their thoughts about their research, ask how they decided what information to share to better understand their thought process.
Feedback to Students
During each phase of the activity, the teacher should not directly guide the students, but should encourage them to think for themselves. Ask questions to have the students explain their choices. Should students have trouble, use probing questions to guide them back to a good research course. Questions may include:
- Why did you choose to sample these [organisms]* specifically?
- What is it about this [area] that is important to your study?
- How are you planning to analyze [these data]?
- What kinds of [graphs] will you use to show your results? Why is that the best choice?
*bracketed terms are variable