C o l l a b o r a t i v e    P r o j e c t (Inter-Active only through May 30, 1998)

Passport To Knowledge spring 1998 online Collaborative Activity—The LFRF “Backyard Biodiversity” Survey

DEBATE-LFRF is an online discussion group (via e-mail) for educators and others planning to use LFRF. This mailing list will be used to support the LFRF “Backyard Biodiversity Survey” online Collaborative Project and debate.


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One of the unique features of PTK is an online collaborative activity which parallels in significant ways the real-world research seen on camera and read about online. Students use the Internet to discuss the design of an experiment, reach consensus brokered by both PTK staff and expert mentors and then gather scientific data and share results online.

In past projects, students have debated which planets to target with 3 orbits of the Hubble Space Telescope, discussed how to fit a package of scientific instruments inside a shoe-box (a challenge similar to that faced by NASA’s designers of the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft), and then monitored weather in their own locations.

The Biological Dynamics of Forest Fragments Project (BDFFP), a bi-national research effort of Brazil’s National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA) and the Smithsonian Institution, measures ecosystem changes that occur as rainforest is transformed by human development. Researchers are trying to identify the factors that lead some species to extinction and permit others, often closely related, to survive. One team is investigating the physical and biological changes that occur along a newly created forest edge. Another group is studying the interactions between isolated forest ecosystems and the vegetation around the forest reserves as pasture gives way to scrubby, second-growth vegetation.

The Amazon may be the largest rainforest on Earth, with the greatest diversity of species, but the issues raised there in high relief most definitely connect “back home,” in urban playgrounds, suburban backyards, and in America’s rural areas. North America has aggressively developed its own natural resources throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, and many regions have changed dramatically in terms of land use and species diversity. It is that connection which we will explore in the LFRF “Backyard Biodiversity” Survey.

Students will build on what they have learned in the “One Square Meter,” “Sneaker Speciation” and “Edge Effects” activities to develop a protocol for conducting a Biodiversity Survey in their neighborhoods. A moderated debate will be conducted online to enable students interacting over the Internet to decide exactly how the survey will be carried out: Likely topics for student discussion are the size of the site to be surveyed, kinds of data which should be gathered, and the amount of time during which students will survey the site. Actual rainforest researchers will serve as mentors during this design phase to help the students come to a consensus. Students will debate whether classes should divide up into separate but cooperating teams (i.e. small groups for plants, insects, birds, etc.) so that they may become experts in one area, sharing the amount of research required, and in turn “teaching” their peers.

Once consensus has been reached on the project design, the student teams will go outside in their neighborhoods or other accessible sites in their regions to record data from their study sites.

They can now share their data online, where Live From The Rainforest will provide suggestions and forms for visualization and help students analyze their results.

LFRF will also provide a challenge activity related to the collective data gathered by students across the continent (and perhaps around the world) with winning entries recognized online and with science prizes!

February 3 Project announced online
February 3-28 Educators’ response/input via Discuss-LFRF
March 8 Survey Design Student Debate Debuts
March 30 A Week For Consensus and Decision
April 7 LFRF #1: Data gathering begins
April 21 LFRF #3: Continuing Data Gatherings showcased in Program 3
May 1 Data posted online
May 8 Backyard Biodiversity Challenge posted
May 22 Winners announced