to commute longer distances to collect data, might choose to forgo
this preliminary step. In the absence of establishing a primary grid,
instructors are strongly encouraged to stress the importance of collecting random samples throughout each habitat. Based on the success of this method using K–12 students, we are confident it can be
scaled appropriately to challenge college-level students as well.
What Might Your Students
Students may pose any number of suitable questions and hypotheses regarding the family Lycosidae. To an instructor with limited
knowledge of spider biology, this may sound potentially daunting.
We stress, however, that none of the authors had previously
worked with wolf spiders or arthropods in general. By acknowledging the use of this family as model organisms, we can explore a
multitude of possibilities. For example, students could conduct a
simple inventory to assess species diversity. Their sampling protocol may involve sampling spiders at night, as previously described,
and later properly identifying each by genus. Several of the websites
listed in Box 2 provide user-friendly resources for this purpose.
Other students may instead compare the density of spiders found
in different microhabitats within the same backyard or field using
similar protocols we have adopted. They could easily determine
whether spider density differs in proximity to a fence or driveway
compared to a grassy area. Clearly, there are far more lines of
potential inquiry and sampling methodologies that students may
propose and implement than can be adequately summarized here.
Considerations about Equipment,
Supervision & Expectations
Depending on the question and scope, students could require a combination of sampling methods to properly implement their study.
Instructors should familiarize themselves with some of the more common field techniques that support a wide range of student-driven
projects (summarized in Pacific Education Institute, 2015). Students
can also consult various online resources that outline inexpensive
yet effective protocols (see Box 2). While labor intensive, these techniques require relatively inexpensive supplies and materials. Our meter
wheel, surveyor flags, and the materials for our homemade quadrat
were purchased for under $40. These items are reusable and could
easily be shared by the class members to minimize overall costs. Additionally, many universities and K–12 classrooms have modest budgets
that can be used to purchase the basic sampling equipment outlined
in this exercise. Instructors and students are encouraged to brainstorm
and develop ways to use existing classroom equipment and/or more
inexpensive alternatives as their gear if budgeting is an issue. Assuming that students have access to field-friendly clothes and basic supplies (rain apparel, boots, insect repellent, field journals, flashlights,
etc.), they should be able to conduct their projects with little out-of-pocket expense.
This exercise involves nighttime sampling, which may be a con-
cern. We feel that it is reasonable for university instructors, espe-
cially at residential campuses, to facilitate and/or lead this guided
inquiry at night. Nighttime activities are commonplace for many
university courses, particularly astronomy, but also for biology
and geography. In a K–12 setting, we also feel it is reasonable for
teachers to organize and supervise a twilight or after-dark activity
on school grounds for students who may not have access to a yard.
It is customary for schools to organize club meets, sporting events,
and field trips for students after dark. All activities should be con-
ducted within established institutional safety guidelines. Also,
urban settings, such as a college campus or K–12 schoolyard, are
highly effective environments for teaching basic tenets of habitat
ecology and guided inquiry of ecological concepts using NGSS
templates (Hodgson et al., 2016; also see Lundholm & Richardson,
2010). Therefore, students will be able to successfully satisfy the
goals of this exercise, without compromise, in a variety of locations.
Overall, it is important to note that even the best-laid plans to
collect field data are often met with unexpected hurdles. Many
student groups will realize that their original sampling protocol
or research focus was simply not practical. Although frustrating,
this trial-and-error approach may help students better appreciate
that the scientific method is anything but a simple linear process
(Pacific Education Institute, 2015).
For this exercise, SLOs 1–4 are front-loaded and provide the instructor with early feedback regarding student progress. Collectively,
each group of students should demonstrate a baseline level of information literacy as they review the natural history of their study
organism. Early success will be measured by their ability to formulate one or more investigative questions and demonstrate systems-level thinking. Students should submit a short (one- to two-page)
research proposal that summarizes their particular question or
hypothesis and clearly identifies the variable(s) that will be measured
or observed. This will serve as an early evaluative tool to assess their
overall progress and can be used to help them select the sampling
protocol best suited for their project.
Throughout this process, students should keep a detailed field
journal that tracks the development of their project and documents
their sampling efforts in the field. The instructor will need to provide guidance and set clear standards regarding how these data
entries are to be organized. With the appropriate rubric, these journals will serve as documents for future assessment.
In addition, we suggest that each group be required to present
their findings in the form of a scientific poster or triptych during a
future class or laboratory session. Individual students could also demonstrate their level of proficiency by explaining a different part of their
group’s project to the class. Students will describe their research methods, data collection, analysis, and interpretations as stressed in SLOs
5–6. At the advanced student level, a written research report summarizing the project provides a capstone experience. These options provide the instructor with flexibility to assign some mixture of potential
assignments while still gaining a wealth of material to evaluate
whether students have begun to develop deeper learning strategies.
Instructors also have the option to develop pre- and post-assessment
questions that could provide additional feedback to track the effectiveness of such projects as they pertain to long-term goals and expectations. We have included a representative rubric that matches the
SLOs we outlined (Table 1).