Vital Signs Fieldwork Skills Stations

Doctors and nurses routinely check “vital signs” (temperature, pulse, blood pressure, breathing, etc.) to get a sense of a person’s health. Similarly, scientists use tools to check an ecosystem’s “vital signs” and assess health. Students practice the Vital Signs Fieldwork Skills that will ultimately help them collect high quality data to determine the health of their own local ecosystem.

Project Information
Grade Level: 
Middle school (grades 6-8)
High school (grades 9-12)
How should others reference your work?: 
vitalteach, "Vital Signs Fieldwork Skills," Vital Signs Program, Gulf of Maine Research Institute, 2011


This new scientific observation tool can also be used as a station

Educators really like the skills stations activity when we do it at institutes. We've added stations that we designed for educators, but you might find them useful with students as well.

We add a station on data quality. We have used both the Data Quality - Curriculum Bank> and we have also had a station where educators do a peer review of an unpublished observation. Set up for that is to get an observation to the point where it is ready for review, have Quality Checklist and Peer Review lists, post-its and pens. Participants leave comments on what they see that could be better, and what they see that is great. No one hits publish so that the observation is there for the next group.

We have a not found station where participants watch a scientist video – Project Bank> and read through a how-to guide - How-to Guides>

We also added a station called “On the Grid.” Participants practice finding places on and also practice using the GPS to change units to decimal degrees.

Lastly, we also added a snack and chat station to allow users to start processing all that they are learning.

This lesson could very well be the most important one for us to use with our students in order to get them ready for an investigation coming very soon. It allows our students to practice the skills that they will need in the field when collecting their data. With only one chance to get outside and carry out the data collection part of the investigation, it's great to have a practice session done first. I plan to focus the stations into photos, identification, similarities and differences between species, observing and supporting claims with evidence and also add the video about when it's OK to not find something. There are so many different things growing in the area we will be investigating that it's important that the kids understand this concept. Just because they haven't found a species doesn't mean that they have failed. In a lot of cases, this is a good thing, especially if it's an invasive. I would really rather focus on the quality of their data collection and the quality of their evidence in proving whether they have found something or not.