Public Lab Research note

Workshop V: How do we study an environmental issue?

by mimiss , purl | May 16, 2019 18:38 16 May 18:38 | #19432 | #19432

This lesson is part of a series of lessons designed for educators to facilitate student-led inquiry around environmental topics. If there are time constraints, this lesson can be split into two at the Elaborate portion of the lesson. During Phase I of this series, students work towards identifying and learning about environmental topics.

You can learn more about this series here.

You can access this lesson plan as a Google Doc here.


Time: 75 minutes


Guiding Question: How do we design an environmental study? What makes an environmental study great?

Objective: Learn about study design and perform a critical analysis of study design.


Time: 20 minutes

The teacher will bring an object in a box to the classroom. The closed box should be on display as students enter the classroom. After students have settled, remove the object from the box and place it in an area where all the students can see it.

Ask the students how they would learn more about the item. What would they do and what would those actions tell them?

Students have now had a small, concrete example of how to study things. Now, they’ll explore the design of existing studies, and begin to consider the qualities of a strong environmental monitoring study.

Now, students will look an example of two environmental monitoring studies (Study examples provided here). Students are asked to give each of them a grade. After students give their grades, they’re asked what they evaluate the projects. Students should begin to identify criteria that they’re using to evaluate. These criteria should be noted by the teacher for revisiting later.


Time: 20 minutes Students will explore completed Environmental Monitoring Studies from Thriving Earth Exchange and Public Lab. Students can be split into groups to work together on the evaluation of a project or evaluate individually.

To do their initial evaluation of the projects, students are given example rubrics for grading STEM projects (links provided here). They are asked to grade the example studies using these rubrics.

  • If students are working in groups on a single study, have different students use different rubrics, so they can compare study performance based on how they fit into the confines of each rubric’s expectations.
  • If students are working individually on a study, here are some strategies:
    • Individual students can use one rubric and compare results with another student who has the same study but a different rubric.
    • Individual students can evaluate a study using more than one rubric and compare the results.


Time: 10 minutes Students should begin to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the study as well as the evaluation methods.

Teachers can help guide the discussion with this information on study design, which they can share with the class or use to direct discussion.


Time: 10 minutes

Students will create a list of qualities of an ideal environmental monitoring study. This list can be compiled on a shared Google Doc.

Goal is for students to make a checklist of qualities for great study design. They then could even create a rubric that they or the teacher can use to evaluate their work later on.


Time: 15 minutes

Split students into small groups, with each student group focusing on a different aspect of the project. These groups can be created by different project goals, research questions, or topics. Students should each think of a detailed way to study one aspect of their environmental issue.

This should include: - The question they are asking - the tools/methods they'll use - frequency of study - length of study - what type of data it will produce - how they'll interpret that data

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@liz has marked @purl as a co-author.

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My students enjoyed reviewing other projects and using the rubric.

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