Our Wisconsin charter school uses scientific research and project-based learning as the focus of our curriculum. Project learning is based on a constructivist model of learning that engages you in real-world scholarly activity because you get to chose topics that interest you.
Posted on January 9, 2015 by -Ben B. 12th grade
This year I wanted to complete a large scale field project that I could get lots of students involved in. My fellow student, Emerson, was interested in the same kind of project that I was looking to start. It took us several months and some inspiration, but we eventually came up with such a project.
The central question that we are trying to answer is "what is the winter range of the mammals on Beaver Creek Reserve?". This seemed like a lofty question to be asking. We have to figure out what kind of animals lived in this part of the state, if they were present on the reserve, and how we would be able to determine where their range on the reserve ended. At first we planned on deploying trail cameras to snap pictures of the animals as they came into a bait pile. We dismissed that method after we realized that having animals come in to a bait pile would only give us population and not distribution, because our bait piles would attract animals and not be unbiased. If the mammals are coming in for the bait they may be going out of their way to visit the bait. After a discussion with Mr. Laufenberg we decided to try to collect our data by tracking.
Our current task is to find animal tracks in the snow, identify them, and then take GPS waypoints to mark where we found each track. To keep our data and sample area random we created 30 transects, each 150 meters long. We use the GPS to find the start of these transects and then using a compass walk along the transects and identify tracks. When we find a track there are certain things in and around the track that we are looking for. Before I even look at a track I look at the animals gait and movement patterns. You can tell the difference between a fisher and a coyote so easily just by the way they move. Coyotes tend to travel in straight lines while fishers weave their way through the landscape in no discernible pattern. Each animal will leave behind small unique traces that you can pick up if you know what to look for. One of the things that I look for right away is the number of toes. Some animals may only have four toes while a different species may have five. You have to slow down and get to know each animal as a species before you can pick up these small cues.
With this data we will be able to build range maps for each species that will be documented. So far we have verified the existence of fisher, squirrel, white tailed deer, coyote, red fox, river otter, small rodents, and muskrat on Beaver Creek Reserve. These maps will allow future visitors to know where they can find these animals.
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