National Teacher Enhancement Project - Fermilab Data in the Classroom

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This multidisciplinary, inquiry-based project is based on a research problem related to prairie grasses and forbs. The open-ended problem lends itself to a variety of investigatory directions and is appropriate for students at all ability levels.

Introduction to Research:

SIMply Praire is a student research project that has the potential to link classrooms in areas where the prairie once flourished. Students develop research questions with a special focus on the prairie plant population. To answer these questions students conduct a research study collecting data from a prairie plot and comparing their data with data from other native and/or reconstructed prairie plots. Students publish their data and their research study on the SIMply Prairie Website. As the project matures we expect classes will collaborate with other classes on joint research studies. The student data will be available to research scientists who encourage students to take an active interest in preserving and recreating native North American prairies.

Teachers guide the student research study using the SIMply Prairie Website as the organizing structure. The student homepage includes a letter from Fermilab researchers (the hook or invitation to learn) and links that support the research.

(SIMply Prairie is based on our experiences with an instructional unit created by midlevel teachers so that students can conduct field studies in the Fermilab prairie. An online sampler of these materials contain general information about Fermilab's prairie and five student activities including quadrat studies.)

Learner Outcomes: Students will know and be able to:

Research Questions:

Fermilab is interested in a student research study on plant populations in native and restored prairies. Students will conduct quadrat studies, counting the number and kind of plants in a square meter, at a nearby prairie site, and we will serve the data on the World Wide Web as part of this study. Students can compare their data with data contributed by other groups to answer interesting research questions about the prairie. As part of their study, students might also want to look at Fermilab (and other) data on birds and insects (coming soon). Also, some Fermilab students collect abiotic data--soil temperature and moisture, air temperature and humidity, and wind and light conditions--when they collect the quadrat data. It is also interesting to learn what the prairie meant to the Native Americans and the settlers. And Fermilab maintains a bison herd.


The product of the student research study includes publication of their data and a description of their study on the SIMply Prairie Website. Teachers may opt for additional local reports or presentations.


We provide a prairie rubric to assess the learner outcomes above. NTEP provides other research rubrics that you may use with any of the projects. In addition, at the beginning of the unit you may set guidelines for assessing daily work, for example, through a student journal.