Are you looking for some ideas for a classroom research project or science fair? Wildlife and ecosystems provide a great opportunity to do some original research.
Below are some general ideas that you may consider. Please be aware that these are just simple descriptions. They will have to be modified and expanded according to the specific project requirements and the skill level of the students involved. For more information about any of these (or other ideas), please feel free to contact Eric Proctor.
When doing research in the outdoors, every effort should be made to "leave no trace." Try to leave the environment the same as it was when you left. Do not leave trash behind. Stay on trails. If possible, try not to study the animals directly (i.e., picking them up). Most animals make their presence known from visible or auditory signs. Look for tracks, scat, nests, webs, etc. Listen for howls or bird calls. These are all good indicators of wildlife.
If it is necessary to use animals in your project, please be aware that every precaution should be taken to ensure the safety and well-being of the animals. Check out the official position statements on using animals in education from the National Association of Biology Teachers and the National Science Teachers Association. Finally, be sure to check the requirements for your specific project. Some teachers and organizations will not let you use animals.
Birds make great subjects for projects because they can be seen everywhere. Please be aware, however, that projects which cause harm to birds or other animals should be avoided! Possible investigations:
- Do the number/type of birds change depending on the habitat (i.e., school, stream, park, desert, etc.)?
- Does bird behaviors change when it is particularly hot or cold outside?
- How does wing shape affect flight (i.e., are some designs better suited for speed, quick moves, hovering, etc.)?
Insect Diversity Using Pan Traps
A simple modification of the common pitfall traps, this activity uses plastic popcorn bowls, water, and a drop of dish soap to capture flying insects. Possible investigations:
- Does the color of the bowl affect the type of insects caught?
- Do the types of insects captured change depending on the type of habitat (i.e., near a house, at the park, near a lake, in the forest, etc.)?
- Do the types of insects captured change depending on the time of day or season?
There are a variety of transect methods that can be used to study plants, including plots and lines. The simplest is to randomly throw out a hula hoop and record all of the plants that are found inside the hoop. Possible investigations:
- Does plant diversity change depending on the amount of human disturbance (i.e., next to a road, in the forest, in a park, next to a trail, etc.)?
- Are some ecosystems (i.e., desert, forest, riparian) more diverse than others?
- Does plant diversity change as you move uphill or on different sides of a hill?
- Is plant diversity affected by the introduction of a non-native plant species?
Miscellaneous Project Ideas
- What are different methods that seeds use to travel?
- How has the ecosystem around my house changed over time? What effect does this have for humans and wildlife? Use historical and current aerial photos and land use maps.
- Use online data sources to track animals over time. Can you explain why the animal is moving to where it is?