Long-Term Observations

Carrying out investigations of living things is different from investigations of physical phenomena. In exploring topics like batteries and bulbs or balance, multiple experiments or explorations can be carried out in a short period of time, such as several one-hour sessions. However, plants or pond organisms undergo changes over periods of weeks, months, or longer, and for an investigation to have integrity, youth need firsthand experience with phenomena; they need to witness changes as they occur. Therefore, observations of living things need to be long-term and structured if youth are going to appreciate and understand the changes they are witnessing.

The activities in Exploring Trees and Ponds suggest two parallel types of long-term observations. One is the observation of changes outdoors, and the other involves setting up containers and other arrangements indoors and observing changes within the indoor environment over the course of the project.
Here are some possibilities for long-term observations:

Outdoors

  • Changes in local trees and plants over the course of the project (September–May), including changing leaf color, dropping leaves, budding leaves, flower production, and seed production.

Indoors

  • Growth of tree seedlings over the course of the project (September–May).
  • When do leaves on branches brought indoors change and drop compared with the same kind of trees outdoors? When do leaves emerge in the spring?
  • How long will it take leaves placed in containers under different conditions to decay?
  • How successfully will seeds collected from trees and plants outdoors germinate and grow indoors?
  • What does a bean plant look like as it grows when placed in a device that shows root and stem growth?
  • How do pond organisms change when placed in containers and kept for several months?

It is important to keep track of the changes that happen with each of these types of projects. You will need to think of a way to structure these observations so that youth follow through consistently.

Some of these investigations do not need constant monitoring. For instance, once composting containers for leaves are set up, they can be checked every few weeks. Tree seedlings during the winter months need continual watering, but close or frequent observations are not necessary until the spring season. In preparation for each session, you should check each of the containers for any significant changes so you can alert youth.

It is suggested that you post large charts where youth can add their observations; this will act as a reminder and a record for all to view. The postings on the chart can be a whole-group action, or individual youth can take turns doing the recording. When there are significant changes, youth can take photos, which can be added to the large chart or placed in the youth’s journals. During long-term investigations, it is important that youth observe and record on an ongoing basis.