National Teacher Enhancement Project

Lewis and Clark in Washington
Shrub Steppe Habitat



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With the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial Commemoration coming in 2004-2006, many institutions (National Geographic, Smithsonian, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Washington State Chapter of Lewis & Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, etc.) are planning to commemorate this event.

Lewis and Clark traveled through our community along the Columbia and the Snake Rivers. The Franklin County Historical Society has asked our students to help them gather information about our local shrub steppe habitat and develop a "Then & Now" presentation about their findings in regards to the Corps of Discovery. Southgate second graders and Canyon View fifth graders will survey plants and animals currently found in their canyon areas. Amistad fourth and fifth graders and Canyon View fifth graders will also research how the area looked 200 years ago when Lewis and Clark came through our community.

Telecommunicating among Canyon View, Southgate and Amistad will enable students to compare their results and establish an outline of criteria for other "cyber-campsites" along the Lewis and Clark trail. Kennewick students will locate schools along the original trail in Washington and Oregon and ask them to contribute data to the cybertrail.

We did this inquiry-based engaged learning project in conjunction with the Fermilab Education Office in Batavia, Illinois.

Science Scenario on Which Online Project Is Based

Third and fifth grade students at Canyon View Elementary participated in a guided inquiry set of activities using the Four-Step Model (NCISE). Their task was to gather baseline data on the island of natural habitat near their school. Students shared their data with a PNNL scientist.

The Invitation: Students received a letter from a scientist at PNNL (Battelle) asking them to collect some baseline data about the plants, birds and animals that live in the natural habitat areas near Canyon View Elementary. This scientist also came to class to do a presentation about some of the small mammals that students might find. A volunteer from the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society came and did a presentation on birds of the local area. The scientists asked both third and fifth grade students to collect baseline data and to be prepared to share their information with our Battelle scientists at a later date.

Explore, Discover, Create: Each classroom accompanied by the classroom teacher, Mrs. Sauer, and on occasion a Battelle (PNNL) scientist, made several trips to our study site to explore and gather information. On each day, students learned techniques frequently used in the field by scientists. Students summarized each day's data and made comparisons between the two study sites.

Initially, we asked students to sketch the two study sites (one a "disturbed area" the other a more natural area). On a "walk-through trip" students wrote in their journals about some of the plants, insects, birds, mammals and evidence of man. Another day, students learned how to use the random hoop toss and hoop transect to gather data. They made bird observations on another day, along with collecting data using the Five-Minute Point count method. Both groups made sample herbariums. Students made several herbariums to use as reference for students conducting studies in the future.

Proposed Explanations and Solutions: The third graders organized their data in large folders having all the 'canyon' data on one side and all the "bench/disturbed" area data on the other side of the folder. The fifth graders also organized their data, however, they each wrote and typed a five-paragraph summary of their research using a format suggested by the scientist. This format includes: Introduction, Methods, Discussion, Results and Recommendations. The scientist was pleased to see each student's information summarized in a technique familiar to him, and the classroom teacher was delighted to have science, language arts and technology grades to record.

Take Action: The third graders used a Venn diagram to help them prepare for their meeting with the scientist. He asked them many questions about their findings in the canyon and bench areas. The scientist also participated in a discussion with the fifth grade class to determine what plant and animal life was found in our canyon area. The fifth graders recommended that the area be "preserved" for future classes to study.

Other classes have also participated in visits to the canyon at different times of the year to collect plant, bird and animal data.

Then vs. Now: We used numerous books on plants, mammals, animal tracks, trees etc. I don't believe any work was done on the Web. We did not use rubrics in these earlier studies, either. Whole classes took field trips; students did not select jobs. However, to date, students have shown great enthusiasm with our guided inquiry studies. I'll be anxious to see if the more "open inquiry" will be equally well received.

Information on Various Research Activities


An herbarium is an organized collection of vegetation samples.

Materials: 5" X 8" plain index cards, lots of clear scotch tape, plant presses or newspapers and student texts or encyclopedias, clear contact paper cut in 6" X 9" pieces information labels (labels can be copied onto index cards), ziplock bags and plastic sacks for collecting specimens, work gloves and pruning shears

Field Procedure: Conduct a field trip of the study site and have students or teams gather samples of the various plant species. You may wish to set minimum or maximum number of specimens to collect. A "good sample" includes a specimen with leaves, stem and flowers or seeds, if possible.

If you do a walking tour with a plant expert, students may tape samples to an index card and label them immediately. To aid in spelling the various plant names, give students a list of "expected" finds. Organize the list by grasses, forbs, shrubs and trees; alphabetize species within those groups. Having correctly spelled plant names can aid in research to determine scientific name and if plants are native or non-native.

Drying Procedure: Another option is to gather all the samples and place specimens in sheets of newspaper to dry. Stack textbooks/encyclopedias on top of the plant samples as they dry. After several days or a weekend, the plant samples can be mounted and taped onto the 5" X 8" index cards. Use the same drying procedure for the taped/labeled index card specimens. Dispose of unused samples.

Labeling Process: Label each specimen with the date, location, county, etc. Students may cover the specimen with clear contact paper to help preserve the specimen.

Final Products: Students may organize their herbarium on a ring, on index cards stored in a perforated veggie bag or in a manila folder. Gather herbariums several times throughout the year as the vegetation changes in the study site.

Other Important Details: Students can take photographs or digital pictures of each plant species. This aids in later plant identification, and the photos can be unsed for presentatons. When collecting samples from trees, it's helpful to have a sketch of the shape of the tree. Students may separate their specimens by species, ie., grasses, shrubs, forbs, trees etc. Identifying native plants and non-native species is another challenge.

Assessment: Students need to see samples of properly labeled specimens so they have a good model of what an acceptable herbarium looks like. Your rubric criteria should be developed from that good specimen sample card.

Bird Identification

An organized format for gathering bird data. Key terms may vary depending on study needs, ie, birds found in a tree vs. canopy layer, ground cover, etc.

Visit the study site prior to the field trip with students. You may wish to invite a wildlife biologist or local Audubon Society birder. Try to identify as many birds as possible within the study site or within 500 ft. of the study site. Note if birds are flying over, in the trees, on the ground or heard in the vicinity. Also, look for feathers, nests, eggs, etc.

Help students with some background information so they can be familiar with birds they might see. Peterson's Bird Coloring Cook and The Audubon Bird Coloring Book are good sources for pictures. Silhouettes of the birds are also useful. We used the accompanying bird identification sheet. We added a list and pictures of birds students might see.

Study Site Sketch

Provides an organized format for getting the "big picture" of the study site.

Materials: Cardboard clipboard with bullclip or butterfly clip, drawing paper or online form, pencil on a string attached to the clipboard, jeweler's loupe or hand lens on a string

Prior to going out in the field, you should briefly explain what a scientist's sketch might look like; a sketch, not an artist's drawing. Have students do a center fold on the paper. When you arrive at the study site, set the parameters for the drawing: what should be on the left side, where center is for the sketch, and what should be on the right side of the sketch. Label any known vegetation or objects. Depending on the size of the site, your students can do several drawings or one panoramic sketch. Be sure to have students label each sketch with the location, the time, weather conditions and date on the sketch. Be sure to ask students why scientists find it important to sketch sites when collecting data in the field.

Authors: Gail Wintczak, Amistad Elementary School; Sue Hevland and Nancy Sauer, Canyon View Elementary School; and Vicki Mitchell, Southgate Elementary School, Kennewick, WA
Created for the NTEP II Fermilab LInC program sponsored by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Education Office and Friends of Fermilab, and funded by United States Department of Energy, Illinois State Board of Education, North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium which is operated by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL), and the National Science Foundation.
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Created: November 7, 1998 - Updated: October 14, 1999