LTER Offers "Intellectual Infrastructure" to Local Schools

Network News Spring 1999, Vol. 12 No. 1

Recently, LTER sites had the opportunity to submit proposals to enhance Internet connectivity to their Schoolyard LTER sites. Wherever possible, LTER PIs worked with area K-12 educators to identify necessary hardware and software, and to secure funding for connecting LTER sites and Schoolyard LTER Sites via the Internet.

At Konza Prairie LTER, educators like to bring students onto the research site and involve them in the excitement. But they do understand that many opportunities exist for interacting with classrooms and educating students via the Internet. To facilitate these possibilities, researchers and educators at Konza designed "mobile Internet connectivity kits." The kits include notebook PCs, which are configured for use with an ethernet card, or a telephone-modem if no direct Internet connection is available. These kits will be available for K-12 teachers to demonstrate the capabilities of the Internet to their students, and in particular, to connect them with the research at Konza Prairie.

At Plum Island Sound LTER, based in Rowley Massachusetts, the connectivity supplement will allow students, teachers, community associations, and researchers to have access to near real-time data from monitoring stations throughout the watershed. The remote stations consist of a meteorological and atmospheric deposition station, three tidal multi-parameter water quality stations and five freshwater stream sampling stations. The meteorological station collects data on air temperature, precipitation, wind speed, wind direction, barometric pressure, relative humidity, photosynthetically active radiation and total solar radiation. The tidal water monitoring station collects data on temperature, salinity, oxygen, turbidity and water level. The stream monitoring station collects data on water level and discharge and can also collect water samples.

With access to the monitoring stations, students can observe the relationship between precipitation and run-off events as measured in the streams, or the relationship between freshwater discharge and salinity profiles in the estuary, or tide heights as affected by storms or phases of the moon. The increased Internet connectivity will minimize the time lag between data collection from the remote monitoring stations and the classroom. Students and teachers will be able to discuss environmental data resulting from a storm event while the event is either actively occurring or at least while it is still fresh in their minds.

The Jornada LTER (JRN), has established permanent plots on sites at two schools, including one upland and one arroyo bottom. Students are preparing site vegetation maps using aerial photos. An automated weather station has been installed at each site and linked directly to computers in the classrooms. The connectivity supplement will provide resources for linking a third Schoolyard LTER site to this network.

Students will monitor climate, net primary production (NPP) and associated variables at each site. These parameters were selected because they can be easily:

  1. Related to other ecosystem processes (conceptually, at least)
  2. Related to each other
  3. Compared between the two sites
  4. Compared with data from other LTER sites on the web

Students will also participate in data analysis, interpretation and presentation. The students will work together on the project, allowing mentoring relationships to develop between the older and younger students. These relationships will be facilitated through a joint visit to the Jornada LTER site at the beginning of the academic year, through reciprocal site visits between schools, and through email contact coordinated by the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park (CDNP), a non-profit informal science education facility associated with JRN.

Each class will post a biweekly progress report and data to a list-server. In the future, this will be done using a web page. CDNP educators will contact or visit each school at least once per month and will arrange LTER scientist visits as required.