Monitoring the Tree Research Grid
Minimal observations and recorded measurements using scientific tools should be done in the fall and spring. To incorporate weather, leaf drop, bud burst, and migration observations, monthly or weekly walking field trips to the planting site help students learn cycles in nature and change across time. Regular measurement also allows students to progress beyond knowledge and skill to learn understanding and the answer to the question, “why…?”
Planting in a standard tree research grid of 10” to 20” foot intervals allows observational data to be plotted on an array. The information is more easily shared with partners in this form. Consider use of Geographic Information Systems software (GIS) to provide students with a very marketable skill using three dimensional graphic programming and provide a much more visual display of data. State River Authorities, municipal water systems, parks departments, and many other organizations who can become partners of the project also make use of GIS allowing a method of communicating information other than tables or descriptive notes.
In the fall, students will learn how to use scientific tools, record results with protocols and observation data sheets, and enter the information into computer data bases. Despite the learning curve, students find science investigations naturally include structured instruction outdoors. Measurements taken at the start of the school year are useful when comparing and contrasting the measurements in the winter season when students become more skilled and can better recognize the change over time. It is during the fall when our school tree planting event takes place using trees planted by students in the spring of last year. This is also the time when seeds for the next cycle of growing trees are gathered.
Tree growth observations of deciduous trees during the winter are fairly minimal mostly consisting of soil temperatures, which can be correlated to air and water temperatures, and recording precipitation events. Hungry deer, rabbits, or squirrels may also provide observational data on wildlife predation of the trees. After winter solstice, seeds collected and cold stratified to simulate winter conditions can be planted. The warmth, light, and lengthening days all combine to trigger seeds breaking dormancy. However, it is spring observations of weather information, bud burst, invasive plant infestations, and the return of migratory pollinators when the greatest opportunity for measurement and recording data takes place.
An example of what might be collected on a weekly walking field trip to a nearby ecosystem by student teams working through stations could include GPS coordinates to provide the location of the study site, and temperature measurements of air, soil, and water. Metadata might include the wildlife predation mentioned above, sightings of animals such as spiders, squirrels, birds, or deer or other observations not specified on the data sheets. In addition to water temperature, hydrology observations could include pH levels, conductivity, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity.
Population counts of benthic macro organisms can provide reliable indicators of the water conditions based on pollution tolerance of the animals found in the samples. Atmospheric observations could include wind speed and direction, relative humidity, barometric pressure, and temperature.