National Teacher Enhancement Project

In the Classroom: A Teaching Example

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SIMply Prairie has all the characteristics of inquiry-based or problem-based learning. If you have not guided a problem-based learning experience before, check out the tutorial for classroom management ideas.

Beginning Research:

Having agreed to frame and answer a research question about the prairie, students are preparing to conduct a quadrat study of a nearby prairie. They realize that they will submit their data to the database established at Fermilab and use this data to prepare a comparative assessment of their data with data from other student reseach. Most of the students have never conducted such research before, and they are actively engaged in different aspects of the SIMply Prairie Website.

A few students are concerned about estimating percentages and are going through the SIMply Prairie tutorial. Several more are making certain that they can identify the plants by quizzing each other with entries from the photo database. One student research team decides that it might be a good idea to find out which plants will be in bloom in September, so they have accessed the virtual prairie segment of SIMply Prairie.

The students realize that their research is important because they will recommend improvements to their local prairie based on the results of their studies. The students eagerly begin the process by deciding on a preliminary problem statement, establishing an action plan, and researching the topic.

Research and Data Collection:
Armed with the skills and content information they gained, students embark on their trip to the prairie. Most of student research teams prepare for the quadrat study. Using a baseball cap as a random site generator, the teacher throws it over her shoulder and establishes several data collection sites. Students stake off their meter square and proceed to identify the plants in the quadrat.

Several plants look familiar but are not easily identified with the field guides and research notes that the students have with them. Specific characteristics are noted so those students can look them up in the SIMply Prairie plant database when they return to class. One team member counts from one side of the quadrat, while another student begins at the other side. One team member verifies species and a fourth student documents the information. If they finish early, they will ask the teacher to establish another quadrat for them to document, as they realize the importance of large data samples.

Meanwhile, several other students are monitoring the abiotic conditions of the prairie and noting evidence of any recent burning or disturbance. They collect all pertinent qualitative and quantitative information to compare the conditions during their study with normal conditions found in their research. When they complete their tasks, they join the quadrat study in progress.

Data Entry/Research Report:
Back at the school, designated students use their drawings and notes to identify the unknown plants. They find and document that several are prairie plants that have not matured. Several other plants simply cannot be identified using the database photographs, so they are documented according to their leaf shape. They organize all of the quantitative and qualitative data and enter the data in the database.

One person from each group enters data in the SIMply Prairie database while other students approach the original research question. Accessing existing information about the Fermilab Prairie, students begin their comparison. Surprisingly, some of the data is similar. The students discover that there is about the same ratio of grasses to forbs in both sites! However, there are many different forbs established in each prairie. Since the local prairie is about 100 miles from Fermilab, the students decide to access information from SIMply Prairie about a prairie parcel closer to home. Perhaps there will be a better correlation there. Students outline their research report noting what background information is needed and where they will use data to support their conclusions. They plan to submit an HTML version of the report to Fermilab so it can be served on the Web.