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March/April 2002
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Probing Questions
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress

[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows.]

On a brisk, overcast day a busload of budding scientists from Old Orchard Elementary and Monroe Middle schools in Columbus, Ohio, embarked on a field trip to Spruce Run Environmental Education Center. Spruce Run is located on 50 acres of land donated to Columbus Public Schools by Robert and Dorothy Patton in 1974. It is well suited for outdoor education, with a variety of geologic features including a succession plot, woodland, meadow, shale creek bed, flood plain, and ridge. A portable classroom equipped with electricity and running water serves as a shelter and area for indoor activities.

As the students emerged from the bus, the air was filled with excitement and anticipation. This was no ordinary field trip. These urban scientists were going to collect data with science probes that would help them find the answers to questions posed about the differences in the ecosystems of a stream, forest, and meadow. Which type of soil supports more plant life? Why do you think the habitats have different pH levels in the soil? Are there different temperature readings among the ecosystems? After being divided into groups, students were given worksheets (see "Soil Sample Worksheet" at right) and rotated through stations where they learned about the characteristics of ecosystems, soil pH, difference between air and ground temperatures, and how to use probes. Laptop computers were set up in the shelter house to manipulate the information. Prior to this scientific expedition, students were prepped with background information on habitats, pH, making predictions, and soil composition. Web sites provided valuable background information and contributed to the prior knowledge necessary for scientific inquiry.
 

ECOSYSTEMS

Biomes of the World
Basic concepts about biomes and ecosystems around the world are presented along with photographs and illustrations. You can find facts and definitions about deserts, forests, grasslands, streams, wetlands, and oceans. The site is easy to navigate and suitable for elementary and middle school students.

Fantastic Forest
Take a virtual walk through the forest, complete with sights, sounds, and panoramic views. Find hidden creatures and features and learn about plants and animals in the woods. Build your own forest by selecting from objects and placing them in the picture. This activity produced by National Geographic will be a big hit with elementary students.

Forest Conservation Portal
Links and news to hundreds of sites can be found by visiting this portal. The mission of the organization is to help end deforestation, preserve old-growth forests, and foster ecological restoration. The site is updated frequently with new articles and conservation alerts.

Water Quality Program: Streams
Why is the temperature of a stream important? How does pollution affect the pH in water? These and other questions are answered. Nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and suspended solids and turbidity are also presented.
 
Soil Sample Worksheet
Soil Samples Forest Stream Meadow
Specific - - -
Location - - -
General Appearance - - -
Color - - -
Smell - - -
Texture - - -
Temperature (air) Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Temperature (topsoil) Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Temperature (4 in. deep) Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Run#____   F
Predicted pH
(topsoil)
Acid or Alkaline? Acid or Alkaline? Acid or Alkaline?
Actual pH
(topsoil)
Acid or Alkaline?
pH ____
Acid or Alkaline?
pH ____
Acid or Alkaline?
pH ____
Where to Buy Science Probes

Although the students in this article used the Pasco Datalogger and sensors, there are several companies that manufacture probeware for schools. Many of the products are sold in bundles targeted to specific grade levels and subject areas.

Pasco
http://www.pasco.com/
In the classroom or out in the field, the Passport Xplorer Datalogger allows you to plug in sensors and record over 100 sets of data and store 50,000 measurements. DataStudio lite and Ezscreen software are included in the bundles. Passport Xplorer Datalogger and sensors are compatible with Windows and Macintosh operating systems and connect via a USB connection.

Team Labs
http://www.teamlabs.com/
The ThinkStation probeware system connects to the computer via the serial port. ThinkStation has a battery module to collect up to 90,000 measurements in the field. Excelerator software opens and sets up your experiment automatically, with Microsoft Excel running in the background. The minimum computer requirements are a 133 MHz Pentium computer (Pentium I, II, or III), Windows 95/98 (64 MB RAM) or Windows NT/2000 (128 MB RAM), and Microsoft Excel 97/2000. A Macintosh version is being developed.

Texas Instruments
http://education.ti.com/product/tech/cbl/features/features.html
CBL 2 and LabPro are the results of a collaborative effort between Texas Instruments and Vernier Software. The CBL 2 is a low-cost way for anyone who wants to collect and analyze real-time data with a TI Graphing Calculator. Collect up to 12,000 samples and store experiment files along with data sets in the Flash memory. The built-in program DataMate allows the user to transfer the program to the calculator with the push of a button. The CBL 2 is compatible with the following Texas Instrument calculators :TI-73, TI-82, TI-83, TI-83 Plus, TI-83 Plus Silver Edition, TI-86, TI-89, TI-92, and TI-92 Plus.

Vernier
http://www.vernier.com/
Not only can you use LabPro with a computer, but you can also use it with a Texas Instruments Graphing Calculator, or as a stand-alone data collector. The Vernier LabPro stores 12,000 data points. It includes the DataMate calculator program, but Logger Pro software for computers is sold separately. You have a choice of using LabPro with Windows or Macintosh computers, connected to a serial port or USB port.

pH SCALE

BrainPop
Need a multimedia explanation of the pH scale with lab activities? Drop by Brainpop and view a movie clip on the pH scale that defines acids and bases and gives a technical explanation of hydrogen's role. This highly interactive site is a barrel of fun. Content is based on the needs of its users and the National Science Education Standards. At present, BrainPOP.com has over 80 original animated movies covering health, science, and technology topics. To play more than three movies per day, you need to purchase a subscription. More information about school pricing can be found on the site.

pH Factor
What do cabbage water and litmus paper have in common? Paper strips dipped in cabbage water and dried can be can be used as an indicator of pH. Predict the pH of substances, and then click on the item to see where it falls on the pH scale. In addition to activities and lessons, there is a clear explanation of water and pH. This is a great starting point for elementary and middle school students to learn about pH.
 

SOIL

S.K. Worm Answers Your Questions About Soil and Stuff
Have you ever wondered how many years it takes to form 1 inch of soil? S.K. Worm answers frequently asked questions about soil in a humorous way. This site is brought to you by the United States Department of Agriculture and is geared to elementary students.

Soil Climate Analysis Network
Compare the air and soil temperatures your students gather with other areas of the country in real time. Sorting out relevant information may be a bit challenging at first because so much other data is included in the tables. However, once you understand the column codes, you will be able to find the information for your comparison study. All temperatures are reported in Celsius. High school students can take this a step further by comparing other soil data like moisture and salinity.
 

LESSON PLANS AND PROJECTS

The Sensational Soil Sampling Project
Want to participate in a project after you have investigated soil samples? Then join The Sensational Sampling Project sponsored by TEAMS Distance Learning. In this activity, you will share and compare your soil samples with those of other students across the U.S. What predictions do you think you can make about the data?

Soil Investigation
GLOBE is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based science and education program. The program offers students the opportunity to take measurements and report their data through the Internet. Teachers can take advantage of the many teaching guides, Web chats, and videos on scientific topics. All GLOBE texts and other materials can be downloaded or copied without charge. The materials on soil investigation are comprehensive and include activities that teachers can implement readily into the curriculum. From Bricks to Mud Pies, A Field View of Soil—Digging Around, and Soil—The Great Decomposer are a sample of the activities covered. Teachers and other educators who wish to lead students in GLOBE need to attend special workshops in order to fully participate in the program.

Soil Science Education Page
Wow! NASA and the Soil Science Society of America have produced a tremendous site rich in content and detail. If there is anything you want to know about soil, you will probably find it on these pages. Features include soil songs, a pH chart of forest trees and plants, soil in the news, five soil-forming factors, soil characteristics, a soil cake recipe, and much more.
 

ABSORBING ANSWERS
Our young scientists expertly created an Excel spreadsheet of the data collected from pH and temperature samples. They constructed graphs and charts of temperatures from the woodland, meadow, and stream so they could compare the results and draw conclusions. Another chart compared the different pH readings from each of the ecosystems. They found that air temperatures were very similar for each location and the difference between the surface temperature and the ground temperature ranged between 4 and 5 degrees. The study that captivated students the most was pH. They discovered that pH was more acidic under trees in the woodland than in the open meadow, and the stream was somewhat acidic due to leaves falling into it. Each student kept a folder and disk of the results to compare with those of the next excursion in the winter. Who knows what science treasures students will discover on their next outing?


Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.

ECOSYSTEMS

Biomes of the World
http://mbgnet.mobot.org/

Fantastic Forest
http://www.nationalgeographic.com/features/96/forest/

Forest Conservation Portal
http://forests.org/

Water Quality Program: Streams
http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/plants/management/joysmanual/streamph.html

pH SCALE

BrainPop
http://www.brainpop.com

pH Factor
http://www.miamisci.org/ph/
 

SOIL

S.K. Worm Answers Your Questions About Soil and Stuff
http://www.nhq.nrcs.usda.gov/CCS/squirm/skworm.html

Soil Climate Analysis Network
http://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/scan/
 

LESSON PLANS AND PROJECTS

The Sensational Soil Sampling Project
http://teams.lacoe.edu/documentation/classrooms/gary/earth/projects/soil/soil.html

Soil Investigation
http://www.globe.gov/sda-bin/wt/ghp/tg+L(en)+UP(soil/Contents)

Soil Science Education Page
http://ltpwww.gsfc.nasa.gov/globe/index.htm
 

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator’s Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; 614/365-5277; ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 

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