Activity 2.2 One Square Meter Teacher Background
This is a standard ecology activity for studying various ecosystems using scientifically rigorous inquiry and methodology. The method can be adapted for any level of investigator, from elementary student to research scientist. At its simplest, this is a basic survey assessing the essential characteristics and conditions in a local area. Ideally, there should be a number of “square meters” surveyed in any one study site. It is the sum of the findings from a group of samples that gives most value to this Activity. Results from within the local area can be summarized, either by averaging data or coming up with a "consensus" report. Afterwards, results obtained by the different groups can be compared and developed into a class summary of the whole area. As in the Smithsonian BDFF project, scientific investigators can see how their surveys compare to and augment the work of others, both at different times within the same ecosystem and by comparison with other ecosystems. Results from tropical and temperate rainforest studies can be obtained online so that students who wish to compare their home ecosystem to those found in rainforests will be able to do so on the basis of data they have personally gathered.
Students will conduct a One Square Meter survey of a typical area where they live. They will report their findings by preparing an ecological survey map and data sheet.

Students will study the organisms found in their site using standard laboratory methods, including microscopic examination and the use of taxonomic keys.

Students will then (if connectivity and online access permits) compare their results with student and researcher results from other and different ecosystems and draw comparisons and conclusions.

  • Biodiversity
  • Ecosystem
  • Variation
  • Competition
  • String or colored yarn and wooden stakes
  • Poster board or colored sheets of paper (for map making)
  • Small hand shovel (trowel), metal tray (for collecting soil)
  • Small vials of alcohol with snap or screw-on covers
  • Forceps or tweezers, single-edged razor blades
  • Hand lenses or magnifiers (optional: stereo and compound microscopes)
  • Clear contact paper (for mounting plants), plant presses
  • Insect blocks (balsa wood) and insect pins
  • Insect trap equipment (funnels, jars, test tubes, stoppers)
Ask students to define Ecosystem, Biodiversity, Variation, Competition and Population Density. Ask them why these concepts are important. Explain that they will be able to observe these principles at work in this Activity as they simulate the field research of scientists in the Amazon. If time permits, view sequences with BDFF scientists in the Amazon on the Teacher Resource video or go online to read researcher Journals. Discuss the importance of individual effort as part of a collaborative enterprise that is more powerful and revealing because of it.
Explore: Procedure
Have students select an area which is as undisturbed by human activity as is possible. Select areas where small groups of students (2-5 per group) can lay out their square meters. Try to have different groups located in different types of areas. Students should use meter sticks or previously measured one meter long pieces of string to mark out and stake their plots. Different colored yarns can be used as distinguishing marks for the plots.

Have the groups construct a map of everything in their plot. Surface organisms such as small plants, insects, fallen leaves, etc. can be marked on the plot.

After this initial survey, small samples of the materials in the plot may be collected. Leaves from plants, small samples of decaying matter from the soil, and soil samples can all be collected with the trowel or even a spoon and placed into vials, jars, or paper bags. This material can then be transported to the lab for further analysis. The amount of sampling, if any, should be small. There is no need to attempt to transport the entire ecosystem back into the classroom. To encourage this frugality, have the students use very small collecting containers. Baby food jars or small plastic or glass vials should be sufficient for soil and plant samples. If teachers wish, students may collect several types of insects or other small animals which are found. They can be studied in the lab and then returned to the area. Or small numbers of specimens could be collected and preserved (see methods below).

A survey of the surroundings should be taken on the day of the initial survey. This survey should include air temperature and weather observations (i.e., sky conditions, wind speed, precipitation, etc.). Students may be encouraged to write a description of the area as they perceive it.

Extend/Adapt/Connect: Laboratory Activities
After surveying and mapping their plots, students can study the materials they bring back into the lab. The insect specimens can be dried, mounted on insect boards and identified using insect identification guides which are readily available, or insect samples can be placed into vials containing ordinary rubbing alcohol.

Students should be encouraged to use magnifiers of various kinds to help with their investigation of the insects. Other organisms may be found in the soil samples. Dissecting microscopes are ideal for this, but hand lenses can also be used. Small soil samples can be mixed with a small amount of water and studied under compound microscopes for the presence of smaller insect larvae, nematodes, protozoan or other organisms. Students should be encouraged to make sketches of the organisms and to use identification keys to identify the organisms.

A funnel trap can be used to collect samples of insects from the soil being analyzed.

Insects displays can be constructed using pinning blocks and insect pins (very fine sewing pins can be substituted).

Leaves can be pressed between newspapers and boards, weighed down with rocks or heavy books. These leaves can then be mounted onto poster board and their names added using identification keys.

Students can be organized into different groups to report on different aspects of the study. Results can be displayed on poster board, listed in computer spreadsheets, written out in standard laboratory format, or reported orally to the class.

Questions to be answered by students while comparing their local study area with those from other ecosystems include the following:

  • What similarities are there between my local area and another location?
  • What are the most significant differences?
  • Which area has the highest biodiversity?
  • What effect did weather conditions have on the results of our study?
  • Does soil type seem to affect the number of insects found?
  • Would the results of our study be different on different days during the year?