10-Day Curriculum: Population change over time

This 10-day Vital Signs curriculum focuses on how species and populations change over time in response to invasive species introductions. Students use simple graphs to visualize, interpret, make predictions, and tell stories about data based on evidence. By interacting with graphs that depict change over time in three different ways, students gain comfort and mastery of this skill and learning result.

Includes a slick student hand-out and fancy examples for Day 9 predictions and graphing!

Project Information
Grade Level: 
Middle school (grades 6-8)
How should others reference your work?: 
vitalteach, 10-day Curriculum: Change Over Time, Vital Signs Program, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, 2010


Looking forward to using these activities while covering multiple standards and learning targets. I think students will love setting up quadrants, using sampling methods, and keeping field journals. I am excited to have ideas on how to have students set up and keep science journals.

What did you do between the first and second investigations? What happened as a result?
Let's see...between round 1 and round 2, the first thing I did was: BREATHE! :) Oh my! What an event! It was invigorating, exhausting and everything in-between! I think every day after that, the kids asked, "Are we going outside today?" ;) So, they loved it!

However, they weren't ready for round 2. Part of me wanted to talk and talk and talk and talk... well, you get the picture. We did discuss it briefly; however, I didn't want to lead their thinking too much before they got to debrief it for themselves.

So, we did a quick write. One of my favorite things to do! I asked them to basically tell me in about 15 minutes: In our first VS adventure-what went well and what didn't? Explain. And, how would you fix it?

With that said, it was mostly about the groups being too large. We had groups of 4 or 5 the first time, making the sharing of tools difficult. Therefore, on our next outing, the groups were no larger than 3. It worked much better. They also had a little say in who they were grouped with when I had to alter the groups a bit.

Also, since our research question was very broad (due to our lack of knowledge of what was out there to begin with), the first time we looked for native species and fairly well known items and the second time we looked for invasive species with some less known (to them) species. Other than that, we still just had one or two person/people do the GPS due to time and tools-and that worked very well. And, I bought back up batteries!!!

As a side note, I had some of these students in 7th grade and we briefly tried to do this last year...we barely made it out of the building with one of the groups. Students were running, jumping, rolling on the ground, etc... Needless to say, this year was a much better experience. Many of them have grown up. I had only 1 or 2 behavior problems out of 40 students as opposed to several last year. Go Team!

What did you do between the first and second investigations? What happened as a result? We spent a lot of time peer editing our work and making sure that the quality was there. Each group took time to self assess what they had produced and then met with other teams to find out what suggestions they had. Then we set some goals in journals both as individuals and as groups. Students were asked to reflect on what went well and what needed work. They were then asked to put down specific goals that could be measured when the worked on the second investigation. This was helpful in realizing that some groups had trouble with figuring out what to write while others just struggled with behavior.

I realized after reading these, that for most, giving them three minutes to place the quadrat was helpful. More time led to indecisiveness and chaos. Each person in the group also needed a specific job to attend to. Even though we had 25 children in the class we kept to the formula of four groups due to the material. Sharing is not a strong point for these guys.

Once we set the goals, I went through and met with each group and discussed time considerations and how things should look. What they anticipated would happen and how that would be different. Who they should stay away from and all of that. How to make the best product.

In the end, they worked through the process and having these goals set and discussing the issues proved to be very helpful. I think it made everything run smoothly the second time around.

In preparation for the field, we learned to use the camera. We took pictures and decided what was good, what needed improvement, and what other things could we do to make it better. We then formed a 'picture criteria' and then practiced taking pictures (Macro setting on v off, using a paper for background, using a ruler of object for scale, etc).

Using these new skills, we did a mock species investigation within the classroom using house plants and even plastic ones, making sure we matched pictures with species characteristics.

We then introduced the GPS and quadrat, and did a mock field investigation in our school yard. This let me see how the groups were working, how long it took, what tweaking needed to be done before we did our real field investigation as we need to go off campus and time will be of the essence.

After this, we brainstormed how things could be better, what worked well, etc. We made a list of jobs, and what each job was responsible for (Leader, Photographer, Equipment person). We designed a check-off list to make sure all the bags had the proper equipment (camera - charged, ruler, field books, clipboards, pencils, extra paper, spare copies of species identification sheets, quadrat, etc). The materials person check all the material by initialing the appropriate box. Before we left the field, they checked the 'list' again to make sure nothing was left behind, and if any batteries would need recharging. At the end of the field investigation, I checked the list to see what was done and what needed to be done.

During the field investigation, I would give 'time reminders' and do check-ins on progress. When all were done, we did a quick peer review to make sure data was recorded and not just rely on pictures. GPS numbers recorded correctly. Pictures were focused, clearly indicating species characteristics and data, etc.

Once back in the classroom, the students pooled their data investigation to write a group field investigation. This was then swapped with another group for a peer review. The 'new' group would offer comments, suggestions and even questions for further investigation/information. The leader of the 'new' group then presented the peer edited field book back to the original group, which made the revisions. They then submitted their 'final draft' field book to me for review. After my review, they put their work onto the computer in a word processing document, which will then be pasted into the Vital Signs dields ready for uploading/publishing.

SInce we don't have laptops or unlimited access to the computer lab, we do a lot of hand-written work.

I also keep all copies of the field books/notes so if a team member is absent, the remaining group can still work. I clip all copies of their field notes/books together so the students (and I) can see the progression and progress that was made.... from start to finish they will have a running record of their work.

What did you do between the first and second investigations? What happened as a result? We spent several class sessions organizing and loading our data. First, we had to organize each group into some jobs to help keep everyone focused. Even then, it was sometimes chaotic with a little too much downtime. We also found it confusing to have more than one person in the team logged in to the form so we did a bit more collaboration using google docs and then just logged one person in each time to put their piece into place. When groups finished, we projected their saved product and critiqued it and corrected it before hitting the publish button. A drum roll made it fun to send off the final piece.

What activities did you do? collages of their products, collaborated field notes documents

What discussions did you and your students have? we talked about our research question which is "Are there invasive species at Reeds Brook Middle School?" and started to form a tentative conclusion. We also talked about what evidence we had that the invasive species were affecting the native species.

What skills did you refresh? photography, population counting as we were going to use the more extensive species and habitat survey, what makes good evidence, what makes good field notes...

What activities did you create? collages, field notes on google docs

What did you do between the first and second investigations? What happened as a result?
What activities did you do?
What discussions did you and your students have?
What skills did you refresh?
What activities did you create? Post them in the Shared Curriculum Resources!

Well our first run of the outdoor field experience seemed to go smoothly. I had a few groups that needed to have some extra attention, but otherwise they seemed to be working fine. For the first run I handed out species cards (for the appropriate area) and had the groups decide if they thought they would find that species. From there I told them that they wouldn't get a camera until they had their quadrat all set up. Well apparently I didn't make it clear that they needed to write their notes outside(I must have only said it four times, not five). So the next day when we started getting all of their field notes in order they immediately requested their pictures. It turns out that 2/3 of the class didn't bother to write anything down outside. They figured that they could just figure everything out by their pictures. I had them work it all out from memory before they got their pictures back. From there I put together a NoteShare that had the survey in it so that their entire entry would be ready for upload.
Before we went out for our second investigation we had a class discussion about what went well and what needed improvement. I do find it interesting that they found lots of things to improve, but very little good. After determining what job each group member had we got everything together for a second run. This time around I had everyone bring out a survey and everyone had to fill it in, no group got a camera until I saw all of their written evidence. The second time went far better, there were still some groups who would not work together (I picked their groups based on the skills that they demonstrated) without some form of bickering. Other than that they were far better organized when it came to the written evidence. A big issue we had the first time was that if a group member was missing, naturally it was the member who had all of their written notes, this time around no excuses.

As of this time in mid November I am somewhat chagrined to say that we have not posted any data.

However, that does not mean we don't have data- so patience is required. We have been putting our field notes and photos together on the computer- and will upload from that.

We are still between the first and second investigations.

We had a MAJOR problem with the lack of activity when it came to uploading data/ getting it on the computer. The next time we have an upload- there will be structured activity for anyone not directly on their laptop.

I have been reading the experiences of others- and am very inspired about techniques of classroom management. I will NOT have groups of 4-5 again- too unwieldy!

We are going out again this Friday- and the kids will be in groups of 2. We will share the cameras and probably dispense with the gps (we know where we are). The students will each have a particular species to look for- and if they want to document more than one, that will be possible.

We have, in the first investigation and in associated activities, worked on camera skills, field note skills and identification skills.

As I've mentioned before- the larger classes are hard for me (26 kids) and there are behavioral issues that are difficult.

I am considering this as a year long effort which will also include invasive species control so it is far from a '10 day' curriculum.. We will work more on graphing- but right now we have more of a presence/ absence question. With the dropping of leaves, and the red ants hiding, it will be easier to get stem counts and I anticipate some good comparisons of plant density between different plots. In particular, Japanese knotweed and Norway maple.

I also plan on constructing a winter key. I will certainly post them in the shared resources.

The grade that I teach this with meets three times a week in a full week but due to a variety of circumstances, our schedule has been quite episodic. However, I do have the kids all year and we will continue to peck away.
Thanks to all for sharing their experiences. This is a learning experience for me as well as the kids!

I am so glad I am not the only one who needs to look at this as a year long activity. My students have done a lot to prepare for data collection and going out in the field, but I am now planning on waiting until spring. Everyone's suggestions about how to keep all students actively engaged, how to use Noteshare and how to bring parents in have been very helpful! BTW - I did look at some of your postings, so I know you have posted at this point. You are being a great role model for me.

Hey Megan (did I go to COA with you?!?),

Your persistence is wonderful. Have you had any additional adults working with you? Could you recruit some? Twenty-six kids with one person, doing this sort of work, is bound to be onerous (and certainly crazy-making!). Might there be parents or local college students (either in the sciences or in education) that might be able to come in help?

Immediately after returning, students read over the tutorial for uploading data onto the Vital Signs website, logged on for the first time, and began the process of uploading their work. That gave them an idea of where they were headed, once their data qualified as "ready."

After looking over students' field notes from the first investigation, I felt it important that kids consider what makes for good "evidence." The activity we followed up with involved combing the Vital Signs website for exemplary evidence and evidence that "needed improvement." The structure of this activity turned out to be quite inspired: I created a noteshare page for each category of evidence quality, then had student pairs copy and paste the evidence they found from Vital Signs websites right onto the page, along with their reasoning for the evidence being designated exemplary or rotten. After a class of student research, pair discussion and "sharing the pen" to upload their findings on this common document, we looked over their findings and used the most on-target of them to highlight how to write good evidence. If I had had my thinking cap on while planning this latter part of the activity, I would have created a "quality evidence" rubric out of the criteria they used to justify their judgment on the quality of the quotes they found. This part was great; we had good fun looking over the "needs improvement" examples, sharing a laugh over the vagueness of statements like, "it has all the stuff it should."

Next, I had students review their original field notes sheets and as a team, decide what needed doing to proceed. Was there a need for revisiting the original site, or could they spend the time searching out a different species of their choosing? Deciding this was a "ticket out the door" for that day.

Next day, we simple went back outside and had another crack at it. Most kids revisited their original site just briefly, but went on to try for another species.

What a great idea. I think I want to try something like that with Moodle. It's exciting, I can hope to get it done with less classtime- they could do it during study halls or as homework. You also made me think about making photo copies of the notes groups brought back from their outdoor exploration, (which tend to be incomplete, unfortunately) and letting each student upload group's photo evidence, refer to the species ID card on the website (after first locating it and saving it in science folder!) revise/finish written evidence, record it both on the photocopy (to share with group) and on moodle (for grade), then let groups pair up and compare/conference. I have been wondering how to better capture/measure progress from each student, rather than allow one 'leader' to cover all the bases while others play around. This way, if time management is an issue, I could upload the student evidence myself without feeling totally like a fraud.

What did you do between the first and second investigations? What happened as a result?-----My classes all worked for two 80 minute blocks to get the data entered. each group was looking for same two species in first outing: japanese knotweed and red osier dogwood. Even though they all knew had same species, they sure took a long time. The first day it went rough, not enough for everyone to do, only one person could login. Second day of entering data I ran it like this: there were groups of three or four. Each group split into knotweed and dogwood teams. The knotweed team entered data for knotweed, the dogwood team entered it for dogwood. While knotweed team worked, the dogwood team had the quality checklist and went over the dogwood written notes, and then used it to check their partners' work. When knotweed team was finished, dogwood started entering data. Knotweed became quality checkers for other some other group. It was a solemn moment with big eyes all around when the first group hit 'publish'. Word spread like wildfire through our little middle school, everyone knew we had published! The next thing we did was talk about graphing. So far our graph was 14 - 0, dogwood was skunking japanese knotweed. Yet we knew japanese knotweed was classified as invasive and we knew it grew in our town. Most of my students had predicted there would be japanese knotweed and were surprised they didn't find it.
What activities did you do?-------We talked about graphs, how they thought it would look if knotweed spread to our area. Then we tackled the team challenge activity. We scrutinized the work we published and found some areas to work on.
What discussions did you and your students have?-----Discussion included how did japanese knotweed and dogwood spread? Because if knotweed spreads by seeds, then they thought it would soon appear in the area we checked, because we know of some growing nearby, right on an ATV trail, and there's also an ATV trail in our study site. If it doesn't appear, it might mean it cannot spread easily by seeds. Both species have flowers. We know that dogwood spreads easily vegetatively, by low-growing branches forming roots, and I had read about knotweed growing from the roots. So....we are interested in monitoring our site in the future. It seems to be quite invasive-free at this time.
What skills did you refresh?---- Mostly photography.
What activities did you create? Post them in the Shared Curriculum Resources!----My students wanted to make their own species ID cards, so we made leaf collections, used dichotomous keys to ID our leaves, then they picked one tree species and created species ID cards with Pages. I posted the rather hasty-rough writeup as "Leafing Out" in the curriculum resources.

We took Alexis's suggestion and set up quadrats in Kathy's classroom and brought in buckets of various plant parts. Previous to this, we had made the posters out of the deconstructed field notes, had kids reflect on their posters (what was missing, what could be improved) and then go around and add sticky notes to the posters of their class mates with something the team had done well, and something they needed to improve upon for next time.

The quadrat in the classroom seemed to do the trick, especially in combination with the poster of the field notes and the peer review and self reflection. The species notes from the classroom were much better, so were the pictures.

So we headed out again... each team got just one species to identify, and we beatfooted it to the woods bordering the soccer field, where we had seen sweet fern and knot weed. The students were great. The evidence was clear, concise and there were no teams identifying bunchberry as multiflora. They were willing to say they could/could not find the species and why.

We gave them a homework assignment to look for a species (they could pick) at home over the long weekend, fill out the field notes, come in with digital images as evidence. We got this homework from the majority of students. There were some camera issues, but we told the students they would need to figure that piece out, and they did. Most seemed to really like this assignment. Now we are adding the geolocation off Google Earth. Not sure how much of this data will get uploaded onto the Vital Signs site. We are still trying to get the successful second round of data uploaded.

Dear GinnyB,

Great work. I'm so glad to hear that you and Kathy managed to so deftly transform your experience during your first investigation. And the homework assignment sounds great (I didn't quite catch it all on the webinar). It's remarkable that you gave your students the challenge to figure out their own digital picture strategy and they all did! And almost all completed the homework! That's a great testament to what a positive experience you have made this be for your students.

3 cheers!

I am so happy to read what other people are experiencing! Since our school year starts early I felt like I was starting way ahead of others and fumbling around in the dark. I love the ideas about putting material on pages to show different groups. I found it hard to avoid pockets of time when some students were disengaged mainly because they have to log on one computer at a time. This gives me the idea that the ones who aren't actually doing the data entry on the website, can be creating a species ID card on a powerpoint slide to share with different groups.

I am kind of pleased with my Team Challenge. I took a lot of time and got each of my classes to critique our school's data, recorded all their comments, then compiled them and passed this document out before we went out for the second time. It was powerful when I passed it out to them and informed them that we found all these challenges by examining our published work, and even though I was thrilled with what a great job they did, the biggest lesson is to understand why real scientists know there is always room for improvement. I feel like I have something students collaborated on, to use for grading and am excited about working on a rubric with kids, from the Team Challenge.

The Mystery Graph activity went well, but I need to get the kids to actually write some graph stories for me. What I did was call on kids and facilitate a large group session on graph stories. It seemed like the students were pretty comfortable with it but haven't actually looked at how each student is doing. I can bring it back when we talk about how will we grade our work. Gretchen mentioned in the webinar that the knotweed video was cool. But she wanted to give them a more challenging graph. It reminded me of the graph I saw on the surveys, those graphs looked more difficult than the knotweed mystery graph. I hadn't even checked the purple loosetrife graph and now I will.

We completed Oh, Deer - twice :). Students loved this activity. They introduced different scenarios, then hypothesized what would happen, then we tested it out. This really helped them 'see' what was happening. Their reflective writing pieces were very intriguing and on point.

Then we did the Mystery Graphs #1 and #2 (loosestrife and beetle). For graph one, some introduced out-side factors (humans, natural disasters, etc), but with graph 2, their analysis was great. All types of analysis was displayed – story graph, chart, on the graph and even pictures. They liked that they could illustrate what was happening in a variety of formats. A few students ‘switched’ the loosestrife and beetle line graphs, but their reasoning was interesting and thought provoking. A lively discussion took place among the students at to the how’s and why’s. We practiced camera work – I just had them go out and take pictures of plant life (I did show the macro setting). Then we came in and analyzed their pictures and came up with criteria as to what makes a good picture, and then we went out again and used our new criteria. What a difference!

We did a mini-field trip in our classroom due to all the rain. I had some plants and students used them to identify (or not) the species using the field cards, to practice sketching, photographing, and three points for identification – basically filling out a field note sheet.

Early this week I plan to go out in the schoolyard to do a mock field investigation, checking time frame as our actually field investigations will be off campus and I’ll need to ‘dip’ into other classes. So I’ll need to have an idea as to time to allot for the trip. We might need to make two trips.

I was part of Ginny's and Kathy's group in that I helped during three of the periods. We were able to take seventh-grade all 7th grade students out. There were three groups and each had a total time of 80 minutes in the field. As a result of their experiences, I have adjusted my plans and I am going to the students set up the quadrats in my room tomorrow. Students will then work with the species ID cards to gathering evidence used in identifying a plant. Our day in the field was wild and we were all discouraged. Ginny wrote at length about it in her post so I would only add that I am going to spend more time on taking the pictures and making sure they show the evidence. Also, if I can, I hope to enlist some parents or friends to help with the groups.

HI Gang,
Like my colleagues, my class went through Oh Deer! -did well, but too competitive and their lack of listening led us to some interesting learning when we graphed out data. They would like the chance to "try again" which may come after other lessons that we need to get to.

My students were part of the round-robin with Guy, Joelle, and Sandy. It was great in that they experienced several things and gave valued feedback to their teachers.
1) they got to see "the stuff". We dragged in a trunk load of plant material.
2) they got to feel successful for activities that had clear precise goals. (compared to analysis of cards where they were not always able to find a species) Next time I would have cards and species that were there -even though we don't care to find invasive species!
3) they got excited about camera and gps equipment. They are looking forward to using the tools.
4) the interest was varied. For kids to "sophisticated" for environmental stuff, they wanted to chat and avoid... the excitement of peers and their teachers may have given them something to think about!
5) kids enjoyed up and around the rooms -moving is good, new teachers good
6) they felt pressed for time and stated clearly that they needed more time with all of the activities. Round robin or not being introductory, I hope this enlists them to focus and stay interested when we actually get into it! joan

I have been working hard to get the kids out in the field and am hoping to get things ready. I am not nervous about this as all of my students are very used to field work. I am wondering about how many of the mystery graphs we should have done. I was under the thought that we should have picked one to do and run with that. So, that is what we did. I brought in some knot weed today and the kids were excited to finally see some of this "stuff". They were wondering if we could market it as bamboo. I told them that was an excellent question for them to research, but we would work on it next week. Unfortunately, it is difficult because we have a 1/2 day today and then we have a workshop tomorrow. I hate missing time with them especially when the field time is dwindling.

Like Sandy my class has done the 'Oh Deer!' activity and has gone through two rounds of training. I recently started the Mystery Graph activity as they are also studying the 'story' that graphs tell in math class. The biggest road block for that activity is how literal they are, instead of giving me some ideas about what was happening in the graph they seemed to get stuck on parts of the graph, i.e. it stayed the same to start with, or it went up in other parts. They also had a hard time with the missing data section, they were sure that it meant that the HWAs were eradicated and that's why there were none, even though the graph for the following year was higher than any of the others. I'm not overly surprised, but this is definitely something to focus on.

At this time my two classes have gone outside to play "Oh, Deer!" Things went as well as could be expected on a beautiful day early on in the school year. Most all students got the jist of what was going on. When we came in the students made some very nice graphs.....just what they wanted to do after doing hundreds of graphs in math class using Variables & Patterns. HAHA!!

The students have also participated in a round robin format to hone their observation skills. They rotated through four classrooms on two separate occasions engaged in current events, species identification and the usage of scientific equipment. While the idea is great and I still would do it this way again, I would allow more time. It was a quick sampling but a very valuable experience. It was definitely what they need prior to doing actual field research. The students made some awesome drawings as a result of the Looking Closely activity. The quantity of cameras does seem to be an issue to contend with having large classes.

We are about to investigate the environment outside very soon - weather permitting.

Kathy and I took our students out on Monday for an extended period (periods for Kathy) of sampling... total time 84 minutes per group, three groups. The day itself was somewhat chaotic. We did not have enough cameras, thus groups had to share. And there was just not enough of us (three teachers per group of 35 or so students) to get them all started and keep them on track. Students were pretty determined to find the plants, even when they were not there. We had been out three times previously practicing with the id, the field notes, the evidence, taking pictures, and we had spent some time in class critiquing the trial runs, talking about what made a good picture, what made evidence. We had students do the peer review sheets (paper and pencil) for each others field notes.. We really thought the students knew what they were doing.

Yeah.. not so much. We still have no computers, so we ended up printing out all the pictures, and having students cut up their field notes and paste them on a big piece of paper, and then place the correct pictures in the correct locations. This was a great idea. Really hands on, really visual for students. The gaps in missing data was obvious.

Also obvious was the complete lack of quality of the evidence. One student insisted he was looking for leaves, not a plant. Other students had used two different plants as evidence that they found an invasive. (Neither were invasive). They were pretty determined to find that correct plant, despite all evidence to the contrary.

We are really at a loss here. What did we do wrong? We may have one or two groups with useable data. Out of 35! Did we look for the wrong plants (we were looking for Multiflora, garlic mustard, hemlock and meadow rose)? did we look in the wrong area? (We used a walking trail that is somewhat forested). How come the kids are clueless about this process?

Please help us. We must take the kids out two more times (one to finish this disaster, the other for our second round of sampling). Should we stick to an area where we can find knotweed and sweet fern, and just use those plants?

We had hoped to be able to compare the edge of the paths of the trail to deeper in the forested area, so kids would see there was invasive plants where people were walking. Now what?

I am just starting the ecosystems unit of which vital signs lessons will be a part. I will be giving the pre-survey and showing how to play Oh Deer. I think I am going to use "Resources Game" or some wittier thing I might come up with when describing it to the kids. I don't want to start straight away with confusion (i.e, teaching about animal requirements and then looking for specific plant species).

I have one of the most difficult groups of students I've had in a long time, so am a bit anxious about the project. The tutorials are going to be very useful when kids get to the point of posting their observations. I also really liked the ideas of others in the Wednesday group, especially preparing field bags for each group and having a batch of extra supplies on hand.

Wish me luck.

BTW - has anyone modified Oh Deer so that it could be played more safely inside. It seems as though we are in for rain the rest of the week.


Indoor Oh Deer worked really well when I had students walk slowly (those who walked too fast automatically became habitat). The predators could not move - I gave each predator 2 or 3 soft balls (socks!) to throw (and not retrieve). If things heated up and started moving too quickly for (my) comfort, I rewarded the slowest student with "immunity" from predators or a resource of their choosing.

My two classes have finished loading in the data from our first data gathering trip. We had made one trip earlier to use the quadrats and just do a general population count, practice getting to our site and practice working in a group on a specific task. The data is loaded but not saved to the web and we will look at each group's pages as a class to be sure that they have made a worthy attempt at the task and that they have "proven" their claim.

I had all of the groups put all of their photos, written evidence, sketches, and GPS information on a Pages collage which they printed. Then a different group critiqued the collages for accuracy and gave feedback to the group ahead of the actual online data entry. This gave the whole group a chance to see it as well. This did show some groups that their site photos were not very good or that their GPS locations were incorrect as well and will hopefully eliminate problems before they got to the online site.

We will hopefully get out at least one more time and will do the more extensive Species and Habitat Survey.