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"The Five Life Zone Research Project"

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Keywords: pH Water, pH Soil, Environmental, Fieldstudy, Podcasting
Subject(s): Video, Technology, Podcasting, Life Science, Writing, Earth Science, Information Skills, Photography, English/Language Arts, Spelling, Grammar, Science, Journalism
Grades 7 through 8
School: Redeemer Lutheran School, Oakmont, PA
Planned By: Debra Terhune
Original Author: Debra Terhune, Oakmont
The goal of this project is to teach middle school students how to use the process of scientific research, taking them from the classroom to the field, using the latest technology to collect, record and present accurate data, observations and conclusions. This project will incorporate scientific research, field study, and literacy skills to complete a study of five of the seven Merriamʼs Life Zones found in North America; the Lower Sonoran or low hot desert; the Upper Sonoran or desert steppe; the Transition or open woodlands; the Canadian or fir forest; and the Hudsonian or spruce forest. Students will make the connection between geology and biology, as they learn how the distribution of plants and animals is affected by the climate and geology of a region. Along with field studies in their home state of Pennsylvania, students will travel to the Southwest, to camp in the Grand Canyon and study in the five life zones found throughout the canyon. Students will use the latest technology to observe and gather data in the field including netbooks, Labquests, and GPS units; the internet, reference and trade books to gather information and report it; and word processing skills and photography to present their findings to classmates, family members, school board members and community leaders. The instructional team will be made up of three teachers, and include objectives for science, social studies, math and language arts, ensuring a cross curricular experience. In addition, a volunteer biologist will join the team as a consultant. Students will learn scientific method and concepts as well as interpersonal skills and relationships as they work in teams of four from September through May. Students will develop scientific research skills, and learn how to properly use lab equipment and technology, and how to critique their work and the work of others through projects and presentations. Students will recognize that scientific research and technology are powerful tools to learn and communicate scientific information, and influence the minds and attitudes of people.

Students will:
•Film all experiments for placement on Teacher Tube
•Take pictures of experiment for placement on blog
•Summarize and record all data on netbook
•Measure the pH of soil samples.
•Determine the amount of water retained by soil samples.
•Compare soil samples.
•Use a Temperature Probe to measure water temperature.
•Use a Conductivity Probe to measure the conductivity of water.
•Use a pH Sensor to measure the pH of water.
•Make visual observations at the test sites.
•Compare water quality.

Step by Step Procedures: Soil Field Study (Vernier)
Part I: Soil pH
1.Obtain soil samples as directed by your teacher from each of the five life zones.
a.Write a description of each soil sample in your data table.
b.Put three tablespoons of soil and 100 mL of distilled water into a jar with a lid.
c.Repeat Step b for your other soil samples.
d.Close each jar and shake each one vigorously 50 times.
e.Let the soil samples settle for 5 minutes.
f.Repeat Steps d and e.
2.Plug the pH Sensor into Channel 1 of the LabQuest interface. Connect the handheld to the LabQuest using the interface cable. Firmly press in the cable ends.
3.Press the power button on the handheld to turn it on. To start Data Pro, tap the Data Pro icon on the Applications screen. Choose New from the Data Pro menu or tap to reset the program.
4.Set up the handheld and interface for a pH Sensor.
5.Remove the pH Sensor from its protective container and store the container safely.
6.Measure the pH.
7.Repeat Step 6 for each of your other soil samples.
8.Rinse the pH Sensor with distilled water. Return it to its protective container.

Part II: Water Absorption
9.Determine water absorption.
10.Repeat Step 9 for each of you soil samples.

Part I: Soil pH
1.Which samples were acidic?
2.Which samples were basic?

Part II: Water Absorption
3.Calculate the amount of water absorbed by each soil sample. Do this by subtracting the volume of water in the bottom container from 100 mL. Record your answers in the data table.
4.Which samples held the most water?
5.How does a soil’s ability to hold water relate to soil erosion?
6.What are the characteristics of a good soil?

1.Prepare one or more bar graphs from your data.
2.After other groups have tested soil samples from their life zones, compare these zones to the data collected at your zone. Are the results the same or different? Try to explain why.

Step by Step Procedures: Water Quality Field Study (Vernier)

Part I: Measuring Temperature
1.Plug the Temperature Probe into Channel 1 of the LabQuest interface. Connect the handheld to the LabQuest using the interface cable. Firmly press in the cable ends.
2.Press the power button on the handheld to turn it on. To start Data Pro, tap the Data Pro icon on the Applications screen. Choose New from the Data Pro menu or tap to reset the program.
3.Set up the handheld and interface for the Temperature Probe.
4.Fill the plastic bottle with water taken below the water surface at a point one meter from the shore. CAUTION: Take all necessary precautions to ensure your safety!
5.Measure the water temperature.

Part II: Measuring Conductivity
6.Plug the Conductivity Probe into Channel 1 of the LabQuest interface. Set the Conductivity Probe on the 0-2000 µS/cm position.
7.Set up the handheld and interface for the Conductivity Probe.
8.Measure the conductivity of the same water sample.

Part III: Measuring pH
9.Plug the pH Sensor into Channel 1 of the interface.
10.Set up the handheld and interface for the pH Sensor.
11.Measure the pH of the same water sample.
12.Note and record the clarity (clearness) of the water sample.
13.Make and record other observations (concerning algae, plants, water “critters,” animals, flow rate, etc.) related to water quality at the site.
14.Repeat Steps 1-13 at each life zone site.

1.How did the water quality at the different sites compare?
2.What differences did you find? Explain the differences.
3.What similarities did you find? Explain the similarities.
4.At which site was the water “best”? Explain why it was the best.
5.What new ideas for testing water quality did you come up with while doing this experiment?

1. After other groups have tested water samples from their life zones, compare these zones to the data collected at your zone. Are the results the same or different? Try to explain why.
2. Film and record all data onto the blog for viewing by other students.

•Completion of all data worksheets and questions.

•Assignment: Studentsʼ progress will be evaluated throughout the year based on the objectives in each area of the curriculum. Language Arts: Students will be expected to use various resources including trade books, encyclopedias, science journals and the internet to research five life zones. Using the writing process, they will include all of the elements of a science research paper including; the abstract, question and hypothesis, review of literature, materials and procedure, results, conclusion, acknowledgments, bibliography, and table and figures or photographs. Science: Students will demonstrate an understanding of each step of the scientific process as they make regular entries from the field into their online journals, and in their use of the equipment to gather and report data accurately. Tests and essays will also be used regularly to determine individual mastery of vocabulary, concepts and use of equipment. Social Studies: Geological, paleontological, archeological and biological research and study will be assessed at the completion of a teamʼs three-dimensional map, depicting each of the life zones found in North America. Individual assessments will include defining the life zones, identifying characteristics, and explaining the purpose of the classification. Math: Students will be required to use graphs and tables showing data, using mathematical calculations to draw conclusions. As a culminating project, each team will present a PowerPoint to classmates, faculty, family, board members and community leaders. PowerPoints will include photos and video from the field studies illustrating their findings on each of the five life zones. These presentations will be shared with students from other middle schools as well. Group presentations will be evaluated on how well they followed the process and documented their findings, the data they collected, the content, conclusions, and their creativity in presenting their information. Students will also be evaluated on their ability to work as a member of a team, and the contributions they made according to their gifts and abilities. Teachers will work together to evaluate progress, and use rubrics to give clear expectations.

Video Camera
LabQuest interface
LabQuest handheld
Data Pro program
Vernier pH Sensor
distilled water
3 or more soil samples at each life zone
3 or more jars with lids
filter paper
2 containers (one with holes in bottom)
100 mL graduated cylinder
rinse bottle with distilled water
Temperature Probe
Vernier Conductivity Probe
colorless plastic bottle
plastic cup or beaker

Anticipatory Set:
Students will study in depth the plant and animal life from each life zone prior to traveling to the Grand Canyon. A written summary of each life zone will precede the trip and be compared with results after their visit.

Pennsylvania Standards:

3.1.7.B Describe the use of models as an application of scientific or technological concepts.
3.1.7.B.2 Apply models to predict specific results and observations
3.2.7.A Explain and apply scientific and technological knowledge.
3.2.7.A.2 Answer "What if" questions based on observation, inference or prior knowledge or experience.
3.2.7.A.4 Explain how new information may change existing theories and practice.
3.2.7.B Apply process knowledge to make and interpret observations.
3.2.7.B.1 Measure materials using a variety of scales.
3.2.7.B.2 Describe relationships by making inferences and predictions.
3.2.7.B.3 Communicate, use space / time relationships, define operationally, raise questions, formulate hypotheses, test and experiment.
3.2.7.B.4 Design controlled experiments, recognize variables, and manipulate variables.
3.2.7.B.5 Interpret data, formulate models, design models, and produce solutions.
3.2.7.C.4 Conduct a two-part experiment.
3.2.7.C.6 Communicate appropriate conclusions from the experiment.
3.4.7.A.3 Describe and conduct experiments that identify chemical and physical properties.
3.5.7.D.4 Compare the effect of water type (e.g., polluted, fresh, salt water) and the life contained in them.
3.7.7.A Describe the safe and appropriate use of tools, materials and techniques to answer questions and solve problems.
3.7.7.A.2 Describe safe procedures for using tools and materials.
3.7.7.B Use appropriate instruments and apparatus to study materials.
3.7.7.B.1 Select appropriate instruments to measure the size, weight, shape and temperature of living and non-living objects.
3.7.7.B.2 Apply knowledge of different measurement systems to measure and record objects' properties.
3.7.7.D.4 Demonstrate a basic knowledge of desktop publishing applications.
3.7.7.D.5 Apply intermediate skills in utilizing word processing, database and spreadsheet software.
3.7.7.D.6 Apply basic graphic manipulation techniques.
3.7.7.E Explain basic computer communications systems.
3.7.7.E.1 Describe the organization and functions of the basic parts that make up the World Wide Web.
4.6.A.9 Identify the major characteristics of a biome.
4.6.A.10 Compare and contrast different biomes and their characteristics.
4.6.A.11 Identify the relationship of abiotic and biotic components and explain their interaction in an ecosystem.
4.6.A.12 Explain how different soil types determine the characteristics of ecosystems
4.7.A Describe diversity of plants and animals in ecosystems.
4.7.A.1 Select an ecosystem and describe different plants and animals that live there.
Students will pay for their travel expenses through fundraising efforts on their part.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
This lesson is part of a year-long project beginning at the start of the 2009 school year and concluding in May of 2010. In September, the students will be divided into five research teams to study five of the seven life zones to determine how the distribution of plants and animals is affected by the climate and geology of a region. Once their team is formed, the students will begin the task of researching the assigned life zone. Students will be required to use several sources to acquire the information, including trade books, reference books, periodicals, and the internet. All components of a scientific research paper will be required; abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, acknowledgments, and literature cited. In September, students will complete a water study with a visit to Pittsburgh’s RiverQuest, “Environmental Science on the Three Rivers” participating in activities and lessons in biology, chemistry, ecology and watersheds. A soil field study will take place in Dark Hollow (local) to test the pH levels and analyze how well soil samples absorb water in a coniferous and deciduous forest. They will also identify the plant and animal life located in each area. These early studies will enable students to learn how to use the equipment, and how to gather, record and report data accurately. In the spring, as part of their annual class trip, they will visit the Grand Canyon and conduct experiments, complete observations, and gather data in each of the life zones. Students will use data collected from water and soil analysis, observations of plant and animal life, and information on the climate of each zone.
Teams will present their findings to each other and compare their data. Students will record observations and experiments on net books, and include digital photos and videos of the entire process.. In addition, students will journal their experience regularly on a blog, giving both family members and school students an opportunity to watch the study unfold. In May, the students will conclude the project with a presentation to classmates, family, school board members and members of the local community.
Links: "Link to Redeemer Lutheran School"
Materials: Whiteboards, Mobile Labs, Video Cameras, Flash Memory Camcorders, Digital Cameras, Point and Shoot, Projectors, Networked Projectors, Digital Voice Recorders, Calculators, Middle School, Scientific, Wacom Tablets, Video Tools, Animation, Camera Bags, Flash/USB Drives, Batteries, Headsets, Bags and Cases, Writing, Middle, Word Processor, Spreadsheet, Database, Podcasting, Web Page, Slideshow, Screen Capture, Student Resources, Assessment, Integrating Technology, Autism, Speech and Language
Other Items: 5 LabQuest Replacement Battery, $19.00 each, total of $95.00
5 Vernier Lanyard, $5.00 each, total of $25.00
1 LabQuest Stylus, $5.00 each, total of $5.00
5 Vernier GPS Sensor, $64.00 each, total of $320.00