Jepson Prairie Reserve Research Project

The Jepson Prairie Reserve Research Project is a lesson plan created
by 2000 HOST Teacher Jim Johnson.  


Student teams will design, research, analyze and report on a field research project of their own choosing.

Grade level:  8 to 12


Engaging in field research can be an intensely creative, social and emotional experience for students in addition to being a terrific exercise in critical thinking. Researching a question that they choose themselves motivates students to actively discover and construct their own knowledge. The natural beauty and fascinating flora and fauna of a natural area like the Jepson Prairie Reserve provide an ideal setting to unleash students’ innate sense of wonder and curiosity. Working and performing as part of a team in this setting develops teamwork and collaborative skills as well. 

The first part of this activity is a docent-led hike at Jepson Prairie Reserve in early spring. The purpose of this hike is to become inspired! Students should be motivated to observe, to wonder, and to question. Based on their observations during the initial field trip, students will then develop a question that interests them, design a study to answer part of that question, and conduct the study. Students will then analyze their results and present their findings to their classmates.

Location an Time

Jepson Prairie Reserve

The entire research project could take two field trips plus 4 to 8 class periods over the stretch of one to several weeks. The introductory field trip could be done without the research project and would take 2 hours or less at Jepson Prairie Preserve.

Teacher Preparation

Students should be familiar with the Scientific Process before undertaking this project.  Before beginning Part 3 of this activity, students should practice hypothesis making. They also should have some instruction in sampling and sample size before beginning Part 3. 



A docent and the teacher will lead class on a hike from the parking area out into the “docents triangle” then east and south toward Olcott Lake. This needs to have some structure to it so that the students engage and remain interested. The group needs to stay together, and the teacher should resist the temptation to be “Mr./Ms. Info.” The purpose here isn’t really to learn ALL ABOUT Jepson Prairie, or vernal pools, or Central Valley grasslands. The purpose is to engage the students in asking questions. During the hike, the teacher should model questions. The students are required to write down 10 UNIQUE questions on the hike.

The teacher may collect the students’ questions upon return to school, or the following day.


Before beginning this part, the teacher needs to decide how to divide the students up into research groups. Ideally, groups would have three or fewer students. However, the more groups there are, the less time the teacher will have with each group. Some teachers may want to make larger research groups so that they don’t have to consult with so many groups.

The day following the first field trip, students will list all their questions on chalkboards and/or butcher paper. This should be more than a hundred questions, but many will be quite similar. The class and teacher should attempt to lump together similar questions so there are no duplicates.

Students will then pick the three questions that interest them the most and put a check mark by them. This exercise should narrow the field of questions down to approximately the number of research projects that will be done. For example, if there will be five groups doing five research projects, the class should focus on the top five to seven questions. 

The next step is for students to select the one question from the remaining questions that they would most like to research. At this point the teacher should guide the students into research groups according to their question of interest.


Once the research groups are established, their task is to take their question and work it into a testable hypothesis. The teacher must emphasize the necessity to clearly define the research question and to ask a question that can be answered in the time available. It is likely that a group will only be able to investigate one part of their question during the time available. It is very important that groups make their own question so they have ownership in their research. When a group has come up with a clearly defined question, they can begin to design their study. They should check with the teacher to insure their question is narrow enough in scope and answerable within all logistical parameters. 

After they have formulated a suitable research question, they need to come up with a plan for how to answer their question, including what references they might need, field guides, and equipment. They should plan what each member of their research team will do during their time for field data collection. The teacher should strive to guide the teams as much as possible during this planning period. Research teams should submit a written research plan to the teacher, which will include a clearly defined question, a clear procedure to answer the question, and a list of the equipment they think they will need. The instructor should look over these plans carefully before the next phase and offer suggestions to the group as he/she sees fit.

Equipment and other materials should be collected before the field trip.

Note: One of the groups could be the “documentary” group which could make a videotape or a brochure or even a booklet about the class’ research. In fact, there could be two documentary groups, using different media forms of documentation.


Students should conduct their research at Jepson Prairie Reserve according to their research plan. All individuals in the group should be engaged in research with their group. The teacher will move about as best as he/she can to assist the groups.

Materials: As needed. Students bring field note books and pen.


Students should compile their data and summarize it. They should remain focused on the part of their question that they are attempting to answer. Students need to construct graphs and tables to use during their presentations to the rest of the class. They should plan their presentation, assigning roles to each group member. Presentations should be planned to have all the parts listed below:


Each presentation should have the following parts:

What is your question?
Why does it interest you?
Why do you think it may interest others?
What part of your question will you investigate?
How did you sample?
When, where, equipment, techniques
What did you find?
Graphs, tables
Significant differences
What do your results mean?
What do your results tell you about the part of the question you addressed?
What do your results tell you about your question?
Who helped you and in what ways?


  • Each student will write and present a research paper regarding their topic.
  • The research paper will included graphs and charts.
  • They should summarize their data analysis.
  • They should remain focused on the part of their question that they are attempting to answer. 
  • Each group member should have a role. 

Teacher Materials

  • field notebooks
  • pens
  • field guides
  • binoculars (optional)
  • special equipment may be required for specific research projects