Students Using Measurement Instruments in the Field / Generating Field Data

(These are ethnographic Field Notes reconstructed from written notes made on site as the activities took place. They are in first person from the point of view of the documenter. The photographs are from slides taken at the same time. --Cynthia Porter Gehrie, Ph.D.)

I go with the group of boys (the students spontaneously separate themselves into a group of girls and a group of boys. Each group has a measurement kit.) Our first site for measurement is a marsh area.

J. volunteers, "I'll be the secretary."
CC is in charge of the kit and directs the measurements. He begins to set up the water experiment. "Who'll time it?' he asks.
"I'll time it," E offers. They pour the water in.

CK has picked a large leaf and is waving the stem in the air for the kids to smell the odor it gives off. It is pretty stinky.

"This is skunk cabbage," she explains.

I notice that C2 picks a different leaf and crushes it and passes it around for the girls to smell in order to clear their noses of the scent of skunk cabbage.
Then they pass it on to one of the boys.

Meanwhile, CC is directing the water measurement. He tells E to "keep watching for when the water is out of the can." Then he checks the soil moisture gauge which CS is working on.


Katy (their teacher) comes over to see how the boys are doing. They measure the soil moisture.


CC checks with J, the secretary, to see if he is writing down the measurements in the right way.

E and some other boys are trying to decide if "the water is all drained down."
D says, "It's finished."
J agrees, "There's nothing there."
CC asks, "How long has it been E?"
E says, "4 minutes and 14 seconds."
CC says to J, "Okay, write that down."

They prepare to measure soil temperature.

CC and J do the wind measurement.

The others are dropping off the task, standing around, exploring a little.
Katy tells them to get looking for plants (to identify.) She points out nettles and K directs J to write down "nettles" under the list of plants.

Katy also points out a wild geranium.

CK (the Ranger) draws the students' attention to an Elm tree.
She invites the students to touch the leaves.

She says it is a Slippery Elm. "Native Americans used the sap. It is slimy and good as cough medicine."


CK checks with the students to see if they are "all done" measuring.

We start down the trail. The kids walk by many holes and neat things they do not see except for when things are pointed out at a stopping place, directed by CK.

We are now entering the oak savanna habitat. CK says it "needs to be burned to get rid of all the baby oak trees. The flowers don't grow unless the area is burned." she explains. She stops and points out a lovely lavender flower, lupine.

The students begin to take measurements in this habitat.

This time I watch the girls' group. L sets up the soil percolation test. She can't get the can to go into the earth. As she steps on it, to press it into the ground, it bends and slightly crumples.


R picks up the can and straightens it. She scrapes away the leaves and pushes the can into the soil.
"You got it in," M congratulates her.

M asks, "Who's timing?" as they pour the water into the can.
L2 says she will.
Water draining through can into soil

"Then add 5 seconds to that." directs L ( to compensate for the time lost deciding who would time.)

CK (the Ranger) insists the girls look at false Solomon's seal.

S. is secretary. She is having trouble keeping up. M asks S, "How many measurements do you have left to write down?" S tells M, "Lots. You have to tell me what to write down."
The girls have divided up the instruments and are working simultaneously.

They insert an instrument into the ground

M tells her to write down the reading on the instrument.

Other girls bring back their measurements and tell S. S can't keep up. She is having a hard time with the amount of incoming data and is uncertain about where to enter the information. The other girls miss this, think their task is over when they tell S their measurement.

Katy (the teacher) notes that some of the girls have dropped off the task. "What have you entered on the list of animals?" she asks.
M tells S that they need to write down the plants and animals.

We start off again down the hill. They move fast, loving the sense of run-falling down the slope

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