Field work planning & investigation

    Students will plan and execute a field study in which they will collect sensory data using a data collection protocol they have previously created.

    Context for Use fieldap

    Now that students have some experience developing data collection protocols, this part of the unit guides students through the process of developing and executing a plan for the collection of field data aimed at exploring a specific guiding question. Students will need to record data that can be analyzed and displayed, and record field conditions. The sensory data collected will be scents or sounds because they are easily collected but challenging to characterize, they move through the environment subject to local conditions much like contaminants do (and can be indicators of contamination), and they can have a direct and immediate impact on a local population.

    Researchers (such as geoscientists) need to have a plan before going into the field. The plan ensures that the necessary equipment and personnel are available and that relevant data is collected and recorded. As with the data collection protocols, the field investigation plan will help to ensure that fieldwork occurs in a systematic manner and that information gathered is scientifically valid. Environmental fieldwork typically crosses disciplinary and sub-disciplinary boundaries, and a successful field investigation plan will describe and assign specific roles to group members in consideration of abilities.

    Prior to this unit, students will:

    • be familiar with the difference between qualitative and quantitative data (Unit 1 of this module)
    • be familiar with objective and subjective observations (Unit 1 and Unit 2 of this module)
    • be familiar with collecting and recording data (Unit 2 of this module)
    • be familiar with using maps to determine and record their location
    • have completed a unit in which they develop a sensory data collection protocol (Part 1 of this unit)

    In this unit, students will prepare a base map on which to record their locations. Map use and development are also topics in Units 4 and 5 in this module. Students should be familiar with maps and their use; however, cartography is not a topic covered in detail in this module. The selection and preparation of the base map will depend on prior instruction and experience, and appropriate base maps will vary from class to class. Some options for base maps are discussed in the Teaching Notes and Tips section below. In addition, sources of more information on mapmaking are provided in the References and Resources section below.

    If students are using a GPS device to record their locations, they will need to be familiar with the operation of that equipment.

    In addition to collecting sensory data, students will need to observe and keep a record of their physical surroundings. It is especially important that they keep a record of geophysical and biological systems conditions (inputs) that will impact the movement of smells and sounds and, ultimately, the reception of the sensory outputs. The environmental conditions (systems inputs) include wind speed and direction, air temperature, surface topography, and vegetation. An accurate record of these conditions will be necessary when analyzing the data in order to determine the source(s) as well as the receptors likely to be impacted. Because the inputs can vary significantly from day to day, this record will also be important for comparison with the results of other field data collected.

    Fieldwork requires time outside of class, ideally over a weekend to allow students some flexibility for meeting times based on their schedules and the weather.

    Within one to two weeks of completing this unit, students will prepare maps to display the collected data and characterize the study area and write a short reflection paper that will include a discussion of field conditions and data collection methods (Unit 5 of this module). Students may also use the collected data to compare and contrast field locations, analyze how scents and sounds move through the environment and trace them to their sources, and analyze the potential impact of scents and sounds on the people that live within the area of investigation.

    Description and Teaching Materials


    Students will need writing materials and their natural senses (nose, ears). It is possible that some students may have sensory limitations; such limitations should be incorporated into the discussion and the development of the field investigation plan.

    To facilitate the gallery walk, instructors may wish to provide either large sheets of paper and tape, or sheets from self-stick wall pads of paper.

    It is helpful to provide students with access to aerial imagery of the field area from which they will develop their own maps (Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, and Google Earth are all good options). Students may use GPS units or their cell phones to record their locations; if so, they will need to be familiar with the operation of the equipment. Some groups may choose to collect sound data using a freely available smart phone app; if so, they will need to have a device that meets the app’s specifications and they will need to develop working knowledge of the app. In addition, they will need to collect data on additional aspects of sounds that cannot be logged by the app. Students will adapt their previously developed data collection protocols (from Part 1 of this unit) for their mapping project.

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