How do you perform science experiments in a forest? What about in the ocean? There are multiple variables that can’t be controlled, and the traditional Scientific Method that we learned in school doesn’t explain how it works. But biologists are doing science outdoors every day!
When the Pacific Education Institute (PEI) realized that field science had not been described, we began looking at what happens when scientists research outdoors. PEI determined that scientific field studies, or Field Investigations, could be categorized into three levels. The first level of study, the most basic, is the Descriptive Investigation, a process through which individuals observe what is in the environment and describe it in detail. The next level is the Comparative Investigation, involving the comparison of variables in time or space. The third, and most complex, form of field study is the Correlative Investigation. This type of Field Investigation focuses on the relationships and patterns between variables. Take a look at the table below for examples of the types of questions you would ask for each of the Field Investigations:
In 2007 PEI created a guide describing the field science process, called Field Investigations: Using Outdoor Environments to Foster Student Learning of Scientific Processes. Since then, Field Investigations have been adopted by multiple state Departments of Education, including Washington, and the model is included in state science standards.
In addition, the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) has come out with a Conservation Education Toolkit, and the Field Investigation Guide is a key part of it. To find out more, take a look at AFWA’s CE toolkit, where you can download the guide for free.