Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Final Project: Snow Cover Inquiry

Visual from Unite Us illustrating snow cover beneath spruce trees and in the open.

Middle and High School Students in the Chugach Extension School Program

Many students in our program are very successful in learning science content; engaging in inquiry projects is more challenging.  Engaging in an inquiry project involves following the scientific process, learning how to ask questions, testing theories, gathering data using a consistent method, analyzing the data you've gathered, etc.  All of these steps involve much modeling and practice before students are able to engage in them successfully and independently.

Therefore, I'd like to engage in an inquiry project that is based on an idea from one of our program's middle school students about snow cover in Valdez.  This project is meant to model the inquiry process for a wide range of our local students so they can then begin inquiry projects of their own in the future.  My other goal is to help students see how this project connects with bigger ideas and concepts in science, see learning objectives below.  As I need modeling myself before designing my own lessons, this is taken largely from Unite Us with supplements from the resources gathered from our course modules.  This will be the first middle/high school lesson I've ever engaged in. 

Learning Objectives:
1. Learn CSD science process skills:
     A. Develop questions and formulate a testable hypothesis
     B. Design investigations: clarify hypothetical questions, methods, controls and variables
     C. Conduct Investigations
     D. Communicate Results
2.  CSD Culture and Communication standards that involve interviewing community members
2.  Observe and record temperature measurements and make observations about snow cover
3.  Learn GLOBE protocols for temperature measurements and observations
4.  Explain that energy can be transferred from one place to another
5.  Relate snow cover and the presence of trees to the condition of underlying ground.  We could extrapolate to permafrost conditions as well.

Alaska Grade Level Expectations:
[9] SA1.1 The student demonstrates an understanding of the processes of science by asking questions, predicting, observing, describing, measuring, classifying, making generalizations, inferring, and communicating.  This coincides with the CSD process skills listed above.
[10] SA1.1 The student demonstrates an understanding of the processes of science by asking questions, predicting, observing, describing, measuring, classifying, making generalizations, analyzing data, developing models, inferring, and communicating.
[9] SC3.1 The student demonstrates an understanding that all organisms are linked to each other and their physical environments through the transfer and transformation of matter and energy by describing the carbon and nitrogen cycle within an ecosystem and how the continual input of energy from sunlight keeps the process going.
[10] SC3.1 The student demonstrates an understanding that all organisms are linked to each other and their physical environments through the transfer and transformation of matter and energy by relating the carbon cycle to global climate change.
Activity Procedure:
1. Ask students what they know about energy transfer and in specific about that transfer in soil and snow.  Explain that we'll be observing snow conditions and taking temperature measurements in three locations: at the base of a tree and at a location away from trees at the surface and base of the the snow cover.  At this point, take time to craft a relevant testable question, about snow cover and temperature.  Each student predicts the temperature at each location and records their prediction and reasoning on a data recording sheet.  This sheet will have space for predictions, observations of the data collection site, snow depth and temperature readings. and reflections/analysis of data.  Discuss students' reasoning as a group and give time for students to add to or modify their predictions at this time.

We could use the TD video Observe Precipitation as an anticipatory set; it shows precipitation in various forms. 

2.  Before going out to take measurements, learn GLOBE protocols for: Precipitation (to learn how to measure snow depth), Automated Soil and Air Temperature (adapt to taking the temperature of different soil and snow depths), Land Cover Sample Site (adapt to learn about how to observe and describe our collection site).  In small groups, students will learn procedures for the protocols listed.  Each group will model their protocol by acting it out for the entire group.

3.  From Unite Us:  "In the book, Shadows on the Koyukuk, by Sidney Huntington (as told to Jim Rearden), Huntington tells the story of his grandmother Anna. In the winter of 1904 Anna was waylaid in Nome. No riverboats would run until breakup. Wanting desperately to return home to her children, she decided to travel more than 400 miles on foot to reach her home. Read students this story from the book (starting on page 17 and ending on page 22 in the sixth edition of the book, published in 2000). Ask students to listen for ways that Anna was able to survive when forced to camp out in the cold. (Examples in the book include burrowing into snow banks and getting in under the trunks of big spruce trees.) Discuss if/how this story supports or counters their predictions made above."

Other cultural resources that we could connect to our study:
Inuit Observations of Climate Change: this could be used to illustrate the importance of observations as well as data collection.  It could also be a motivator to do climate change interviews with community members later in the lesson.

From Students Measure Changes in Lake Ice and Snow
4. Go to a designated location, one with both evergreens and open space with no trees.  Ask students to use what they learned from the Land Cover Sample Site protocol to describe our field site and record those observations on their data recording sheets.  We'll be conducting research much like the ALISON project students, image at left, at this point.

5.  Students also record their observations of the snow in the area with evergreens and the snow in the open area.  Students record differences in the amount and appearance of snow in each area.  Students can also modify their temperature predictions at this time.

6.  In groups, students follow the Precipitation and Soil and Air temperature protocols to measure the snow depth and to take temperature readings at our data collection points: under evergreens, in the open both on top of the snow and at the base of snow cover.  Students enter readings into the laptop and/or on their snow observation forms.

7.   Back in the classroom, share and record temperature and snow depth readings from the data collection site as well as observations of the site.  Ask students to use their observation forms to discuss any patterns they noticed in snow depth and where we found the highest/lowest snow temperature readings (and soil temperature readings if we're able to take those).  Discuss students' thinking behind the patterns they observed.  Make predictions about temperature readings we might see at different sites, i.e. places with even greater snow depth, closer to the seashore, at higher elevations, etc.

Some visual aids from Unite Us to help in our data analysis and discussion:

Other resources to aid us in linking snow cover to overall climate and earth systems learning:

Unite Us has many multimedia resources we could use, two good examples are their Ecosystems and Permafrost and How Ground Freezes interactives.  The first shows heat transfer in the summer vs. the winter in tundra, tussocks and black spruce.  There's a lecture from Kenji Yoshikawa of UAF called Journey to Permafrost which also may be of interest to some of our students as he's drilled for permafrost at some of our school district sites. 

Students Measure Changes in Lake Ice and Snow and Alaska Native Teens Help Researchers can be used to promote further interest in becoming involved in data collection, inquiry and using the GLOBE program to share data with actual scientists.  We could use the "Alaska Native Teens" video as an anticipatory set at the outset of the lesson as well.

Also from Teachers' Domain:
The Hydrologic Cycle interactive is a review of the water cycle, if needed.
Earth's Cryosphere: The Arctic could introduce students to the cryosphere in general and snow's place in it.
Earth's Albedo and Global Warming could help us connect what we've learned about heat transfer and snow cover to climate change.

The National Snow and Ice Data Center has many good resource we could use:
Their All About the Cryosphere page can connect our study to a broader climate study while their All About Snow page has many historical connections that could help with our community interviews, see step 8.

NASA had some great lessons about heat transfer, one example is Heat: An Agent of Change.  

From YouTube:
Bill Nye the Science Guy on Heat is a great explanation of the heat energy found in cold things.  Conduction, Convection and Radiation is a great rap on the subject.

8.  Discuss interview questions we could use in gathering local snow stories. Then ask students to gather stories from elders in the community.  Possible topics could be major snow events community members have experienced, snow survival stories similar to the one from Shadows on the Koyukuk, heavy and light snowfall years and their impact on people's homes, jobs, plants and animals, etc.  See related images from NSIDC's All About Snow page at right and below.

9.  Share interviews at a later date.  We could film these for a short video or book, the museum in Valdez is very receptive to sharing student work as is the Civic Center.  If we made a video, the latter could show it as a movie preview as they've done for other student videos in the past.

Last but not least, I found a great unit called Observing Snow from the Alaska Native Knowledge Network.  It has a wealth of information we can use.  Before interviewing community members, we could tap into their section on eliciting elder input.   Before describing our data collection site, we could use their section on meshing native and western scientific observations to help us make better observations.  Their section about native language terms for snow in its many different forms would also be a good one to read before observing the snow at our site.

1. Continue the study by gathering data at different locations around Valdez.   

2.  Use this lesson as an introduction to permafrost, it's importance in the Alaskan landscape and it's role in climate change.  We could use any of the resources in our last module for this.  The Exploratorium has a good Tundra and Permafrost page that could also help.

2. Check out the TD interactive Snowflake Physics to learn more about snowflake morphology.

3.  Igloo 101 is a fun interactive on the best kind of snow to build igloos.  This could be a fun cultural connection and jumping off point for making our own snow structures.

4.  Learn more about life in the subnivean zone.

5.  Learn about wilderness survival, avalanche safety, etc.  Avalanche Town from Teacher's Domain would be fun for Valdez kids to see.

Final Thought
I am thankful to be able to tap into such a variety of resources in designing a lesson like this.  Before taking this class, I would not have used resources such as Teachers' Domain, YouTube, Unite Us, etc.  I would have looked into background information sources but would not have had access to the video, audio, and interactive resources I've been exposed to through this course.  The other big take away for me will be the connection to the bigger climate and earth systems picture.  I now have some valuable background information and resources to help my students make this connection.

Thanks to all for sharing resources throughout each of our course modules!

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