Environmental Research Project
Skills and concepts that students must have mastered
How the activity is situated in the course
Content/concepts goals for this activity
Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Other skills goals for this activity
Description and Teaching Materials
In this project, students learn how to thoroughly research an environmental problem and to design a simple study to address it. This could be an experiment or project to: (1) evaluate possible mitigation methods, (2) quantify processes, rates, or reactions, (3) conceptually model a system, or (4) confirm whether not a perceived environmental threat is, in fact, real.
This project must be developed carefully, with several component due-dates as failsafes. These include:
(1) Submission of the project pitch/preproposal for instructor approval. This will prevent projects that are too broad in scope, projects that are off-topic, or projects that are insufficiently scientific in nature.
(2) Submission of a complete first draft of the proposal (either a paper, or poster, depending on the desired format), for instructor and peer review. Ideally, this will be 3-4 weeks after the pitch.
(3) Peer review sessions, scheduled either during laboratory or outside of class (i.e., through institutional writing centers), to be conducted immediately following draft submissions.
4)Submission of the final proposal, with presentation as desired. Ideally, this should follow at least 1 full week, preferably 2, after peer review has been completed and feedback returned.
(5)Submission of self-evaluations by each student with the final proposal, to ensure functional group dynamics and fair grade sharing. This should be part of the final grade.
Materials the instructor should prepare in advance include:
(1) An example proposal
(2) the rubric for peer review and instructor evaluation of the proposal
(3) Tips or resources to aid with literature searches and reviews, writing, or poster design (a PPT or Adobe Illustrator Poster template are both helpful).
Teaching Notes and Tips
In-class discussions and literature critiques, with instructor feedback, are important prerequisite assignments for this project. The proposal should not be assigned without prior feedback on hypothesis development, figure and table critiques, and student familiarity with the format of scientific reports/papers.
This project works best as a group assignment; it is riskier if students work individually. Strategies for handling students that do not work well with others are advisable, and the instructor should anticipate these problems by getting to know students well. There must be adequate protection in place for students in groups that have a falling-out, OR clear statements that all students in a group will share the same grade.
It is helpful to assign funding limits (a budget should be part of the proposal), and temporal constraints (i.e., the project must be completed within two years).
Common problems include:
(1) Untestable hypotheses; projects too broad to complete.
(2) Student ignorance of analytical methodology - the instructor must be prepared to point students towards particular methods or equipment (narrowing the topic is helpful in this regard).
(3) End-of-semester stress and conflicting due dates - courses with laboratories, weekly problem sets, etc., must relax those secondary assignments or forgo them for this project to be reasonable for students.
(4) Some students inevitably need reminding that this is a proposed experiment only, and that they do no need to actually do the experiment.