The Future of Forests

This 10-lesson middle/high school unit is centered around the anchoring phenomenon of post-fire landscape recovery, with each lesson tied to NGSS Life Science Standards (LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience).

As wildfires continue to ravage the west, burning more and more of the landscape, many are left wondering what happens next? Traditionally, we think of forests recovering after a disturbance (e.g., wildfire) following a particular pattern (secondary succession). However, contemporary research shows that fire-affected landscapes across the west are struggling to recover to pre-fire conditions due to increasing drought and are transitioning to grasslands and shrublands. These data suggest that the future of our forests is uncertain.

Through engaging online interactives and numerous case studies, students gather evidence to construct conceptual models to explain the unit driving question, "How do landscapes recover after a wildfire?" 

 

Summer 2021 Teacher Workshops

Teachers, sign up today to reserve your spot for one of the "The Future of Forests" virtual workshops! Participants will leave with the tools/strategies to implement the curriculum in their classrooms as well as a certificate for 10 PD hours and the option to purchase 1 credit ($80) from the University of Colorado Boulder!

Future of Forests

Goals Header
Big Ideas

  • Drought-like conditions disrupt the way landscapes recover following a disturbance (e.g., wildfire)

Teaching Materials

Unit Summary: Future of Forests
Lesson 1: Landscapes on Fire
Lesson 2: From Fire Comes Life
Lesson 3: Succession Survey
Lesson 4: Measuring Soil Moisture From Space
Lesson 5: Temperature and Transpiration
Lesson 6: Landscape Recovery Case Study
Lesson 7: Putting Pieces Together
Lesson 8: Final Model Construction
Lesson 9: Final Explanation
Lesson 10: Citizen Science with GLOBE

Description

Lesson 1: Landscapes on Fire

In this 2-day lesson, students work in pairs to construct initial descriptive models and explanations for the unit driving question, “How do landscapes recover after a wildfire?”

  • Driving Question(s):
    • Why should we care if landscapes recover after a wildfire?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Develop a model to explain how landscapes recover/change after a disruption (e.g., wildfire)
    • Ask questions that arise from observations of fire-affected landscapes to seek additional information about factors (causes) that might affect the landscape recovery process after a fire.

Lesson 2: From Fires Comes Life

In this lesson, students create a storyboard and play a modified game of Rock-Paper-Scissors to communicate the process of secondary succession.

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • How do wildfires affect landscapes?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Communicate the process by which landscapes change (secondary succession) after a disturbance.

Lesson 3: Succession Survey

In this lesson, students will engage with the Landscape Change Monitoring System (LCMS) data explorer tool developed by the USDA Forest Service to evaluate the recovery of fire-affect landscapes.

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • Do all landscapes recover the same way after a fire?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Evaluate the recovery of fire-affected landscapes using the Landscape Change Monitoring System data explorer developed by the National Forest Service.

Lesson 4: Measuring Soil Moisture From Space

In this lesson, students will analyze soil moisture data gathered from NASA satellites to evaluate conditions in their communities. 

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • Why do plants need water?
    • How do scientists measure soil moisture conditions over time?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Analyze and interpret soil moisture data collected by NASA satellites to evaluate the dynamic soil moisture conditions locally and globally.

Lesson 5: Temperature and Transpiration

In this lesson, students explore the relationship between temperature and transpiration by analyzing and interpreting a transpiration rate dataset collected by a potometer and engaging with temperature and evapotranspiration data from the western United States.

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • How does water enter and exit soil?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Evaluate the relationship between changing temperatures (cause) and transpiration rates (effect) by analyzing and interpreting a transpiration rate dataset collected by a potometer.
    • Evaluate the relationship between changing temperatures (cause) and evapotranspiration rates (effect) by analyzing and interpreting temperature and evapotranspiration data from the western United States (1979-2020).

Lesson 6: Landscape Recovery Case Study

In this lesson, students analyze and interpret post-fire tree regeneration data from 1485 sites across 52 fire affected regions of the US Rocky Mountains.

  • Driving Question(s):
    • How has a changing climate impacted post-fire tree regeneration?
  • What Students Will Do:
    • Analyze and interpret post-fire landscape recovery datasets to identify tree regeneration patterns.

Lesson 7: Putting Pieces Together

In this lesson, students will work in pairs to construct a written argument supported by citing empirical evidence and scientific reasoning (obtained from previous lessons) that drought has prevented some fire-affected landscapes from recovering to their pre-fire conditions. 

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • In a future where drought-like conditions are expected to persist, which vegetation types (conifer trees, grasses, shrubs) are most likely to regenerate after a wildfire?
  • What Students Will Do: 
    • Construct and present a written and oral argument supported by citing empirical evidence and scientific reasoning that human-caused drought has prevented some fire-affected landscapes from recovering to their pre-fire conditions

Lesson 8: Final Model Construction

In this lesson, students draw on concepts and evidence acquired during the unit to construct final models for the unit driving question, “How do landscapes recover after a wildfire?”

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • Why do scientists continue to gather evidence and revise models of phenomena
  • What Students Will Do: 
    • Develop a model to explain how landscapes recover/change after a disruption (e.g., wildfire).

Lesson 9: Final Explanation

In this lesson, students work independently to incorporate concepts and evidence acquired during the unit into a written final explanation for the unit driving question, “How do landscapes recover after a wildfire?”

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • Why is science communication important in encouraging evidence-based decision-making?
  • What Students Will Do: 
    • Construct an explanation based on qualitative and quantitative evidence for how landscapes recover after a fire.

Lesson 10: Citizen Science With GLOBE

In this lesson, students use NASA’s GLOBE Observer app to engage in citizen science by making land cover observations that are important helping scientists monitor landscape changes.

  • Driving Question(s): 
    • How can we (the public) help scientists conduct their research?
  • What Students Will Do: 
    • Evaluate and monitor changing landscape conditions by engaging in citizen science with NASA’s GLOBE Land Cover app.

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