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Lesson Plan
Lesson Plans

Extra Credit
Instructional Guide

Extra Credit
Extra Credit


A Field Study of an Integral Species

Based on the Black-Legged Kittiwake Population
Study designed by the Whittier Community
School Youth Area Watch Students


Grade Level: 7th-12th, Cross age involvement with K-6.

Subject: Science

Time Needed for Completion: Two class periods per week over the course of the selected observation period.

Objectives for Students

  • To compile baseline population information on a local species.
  • To design and conduct a scientific investigation of a local species.
  • To interpret, analyze, and communicate results based on sound scientific and mathematical reasoning.
  • To build teamwork skills through problem solving techniques.


Correlates to the National Science Education Standards.

Scientific Inquiry:
  • Students will identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
  • Students will design and conduct scientific investigations.
  • Students will use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • Students will formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
  • Students will recognize and analyze alternative explanations and models.
  • Students will communicate and defend a scientific argument. (Content Standard A)

Life Science:

  • Students will develop an understanding of the interdependence of organisms.
  • Students will develop an understanding of the behavior of organisms. (Content Standard C)

Science and Technology:

  • Students will develop abilities of technological design.
  • Students will develop understanding about science and technology. (Content Standard E)


  • Class sets of graph paper and data collection sheets.
  • Tape measure and flagging.
  • Binoculars to share -- a class of thirty should have five.
  • Computer with Internet connection.
  • Optional: digital camera and web design program.
  • If necessary: transportation to observation site.

Most of the materials are tools that enhance various aspects of the project. The study can be accomplished with little more than pencil, paper and careful observation on the part of the team.



The following lesson plan is based on an environmental impact research project in Prince William Sound, Alaska. This project, an ongoing species count, was designed by students in cooperation with scientists and local agencies involved in environmental affairs. The species selected for observation is the Black-legged Kittiwake, an integral part of the Sound's ecosystem. Teachers and students in other parts of the country can use this project to carry on a field study count of an integral species in their own area.

Classroom Activities Prior to Field Work:

Review Essays. Read essays on this Web site including Science Aboard the Elder and the biographies of the Original Participants. Discuss how the 1899 scientists designed and carried out their studies, then review the scientific process as it relates to the design, conduct and dissemination of research.

Select a Research Area. This area could be a delineated section of a playground or playing field, a nearby street corner, a backyard, or an accessible park or nature preserve. Almost any outdoor environment is suitable for study.

Create Research Teams. Have students meet in research teams to gather information on an appropriate species for study in the designated area. This research should include review of appropriate literature and contact with local agencies (e.g. Department of Fish & Game, the U.S. Forest Service, local parks and recreation agencies). Teleconference or web chats are appropriate and convenient methods of contact with these agencies, if classroom visits are not feasible.

Develop a Statement of Purpose. The student teams should develop a statement of purpose for their population study. Facilitate whole group discussion to come up with a final statement of purpose. Following is the statement of purpose developed by the Whittier students.

Kittiwakes are an integral part of the Prince William Sound Ecosystem. The second largest Kittiwake rookery in the Sound, is located right across the bay from Whittier. Our concern is that when the new road is built connecting Anchorage to Whittier and Prince William Sound, the increased tourism will have a negative effect on the thriving Kittiwake population. The purpose of this project is to collect information regarding current Kittiwake population numbers. In doing this we will establish a population figure prior to the increase in tourism the road will bring. By comparing current numbers of Kittiwakes to future population data, we hope to find whether or not the Kittiwake population is being impacted.

Prepare Research Design. Based on the purpose statements, students should prepare a research design that incorporates the following:

  • Prior knowledge of the species, including behaviors and dynamics;
  • Prior knowledge of the field area;
  • Methods for observation and recording findings, and;
  • Methods for communicating results.

Review by Biologist. Have the final investigation design reviewed by the collaborating biologist and have students make any necessary adjustments prior to implementation.

Field Work Activities:

The steps below were carried out by the Whittier Community School Youth Area Watch Students. These steps can be adapted to any field study.

  1. Hire a charter service to provide weekly trips to observe the Kittiwake rookery.
  2. Before the birds arrive in the spring, visit the rookery to select a suitable plot.
  3. Measure out a 10 meter area by placing flagging in an unobtrusive location.
  4. During the first Kittiwake count, students should take a digital photo of the rookery.
  5. Overlay a grid on the picture taken of the rookery. Use the flagging as a point of reference to determine the plot size. Using the grid, estimate the size of the rookery.
  6. On a given day each week, students will go out by boat to the rookery and count the birds in the plot using the attached data collection sheet.
  7. Each observer will perform three counts of the plot. The individual counts will be collected and averaged to determine a final count number for the colony.
  8. Use the simple formula of: (Number of birds in plot/size of plot = number of birds in colony/size of the colony) to estimate how many birds are in the colony during the collection period.
  9. Other observations to make include: mating behaviors, nesting behaviors, and whether or not any predators are present.
  10. Create a spreadsheet combining all of the data collected during year.
  11. Design a Web page in order to enable scientists and other interested parties to use this research data.

Kittiwake Survey Data Sheet:
(Copy this sheet or create an on-line notepad for data recording).

Observer Name: ______________________

Date: ________________________________

Plot ID: ______________________________

Time: ________________________________

Species: ______________________________

Atmospheric Condition (circle one):

Partly Cloudy
Heavy Rain

Visibility (circle one):

Fair (> 1 mi.)
Marginal (0.5 -1 mi.)
Poor (< 1 mi.)

Wind Velocity (circle one):

Gentle Breeze (<12 mph)
Strong Breeze (13-30 mph)
Gale (> 30 mph)

Number of birds on the plot: ____________

Number of birds in the air
surrounding the plot: _________

Predators present (e.g. Bald Eagles, Crows,
Magpies, Ravens, Gulls, Bears,
Wolverines, etc.): ______________________


Questions to Explore:

  1. What are the factors that affect a population's size? Consider biological factors and environmental factors among others.

  2. How might these factors be monitored?

  3. What are the elements of your investigation that may result in a margin of error in your data? Realizing you cannot entirely eliminate error, particularly when estimation is involved, how might you minimize your margin of error?

  4. What are the possible applications of your data and results? What individuals or agencies might find your information useful?

    Challenge Question
    Identify local species that pose a particular challenge in field study. For example, fish species are not easily observed from shore, wolverines are solitary creatures that avoid contact with all other species, urban bird species are often difficult to observe from street level. How would you conduct a population study on these challenging animals?

Assessment Guide

  • Students should be assessed for individual and team achievement in four areas:
    • Developing questions
    • Designing an investigation
    • Conducting an investigation
    • Communicating results
  • Comprehension can be assessed through testing on the student's ability to list species characteristics and the steps in research design.
  • Assess teamwork and participation through individual and group discussion.
  • Assess effectiveness of peer training through performance assessment of trainees.


  • Once students become comfortable with their process, have them train younger students to assist them with their field research.
  • Communicate results of study to local community and scientists, via Web page, local newspaper, and informational brochure.
  • Have students participate in current field research on other population studies (or related areas) by working directly with scientists in the field.
  • Contact student field researchers in Alaska via the Youth Area Watch Home Page.



Created by Douglas Penn, team leader of the Harriman Young Explorers Team, and the Whittier Community School Youth Area Watch Students.




For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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