• Tips & Modifications


    Encourage students to explore a variety of FieldScope data layers, both new and previously explored, including dissolved oxygen, land cover, impervious surfaces, population density, and nutrients and sediment.


    Give bonus points to groups that tackle new data sets and share unique insights with others.


    If time is limited, skip the broad exploration of data in FieldScope in Step 3. You may need to give more time during presentation development and sharing, since each group will be focused on a different theme. 


    In preparation for the trip, give students opportunities to practice data-gathering techniques, such as taping an interview, taking a photo of a feature of the landscape, adding data to a sketch map, or taking temperature and water quality readings.

    1.  Help students put the field experience in context.

    In preparing students for their field experience, have a class discussion about the site they will visit and explore. Ask students what they think this place might look like. Encourage students to share any preconceptions they might have. Explain that their perceptions of the place are important; these will be part of what students bring to the field. Explain that the purpose of the field experience is to refine their understanding of the site, its relationship to the watershed, and their own relationship to the watershed.


    Explain how scientists conduct descriptive field investigations to describe and quantify parts of a natural system. Scientists also conduct comparative investigations, which involve collecting data under different conditions at different times of the year. These types of studies differ from experimental investigations in an indoor, controlled setting, like a lab.


    Explain that prior to a field study, scientists need a strong sense of the setting to be investigated. Explain that to develop that knowledge, they use a variety of resources and research, including maps, media, and prior research. Explain that students will have an opportunity to explore their field site using an interactive map and other online resources.


    2. Have students find the location of the field study site.

    Introduce the name and location of the students’ field study site, and ask students if they have been to this location before. Project the Chesapeake Bay FieldScope interactive map and show students the field study site. Explain that they will be spending time in this place to help them better understand their local, natural environment and its place in the watershed. Explain why the site was selected—accessibility, aspects of its terrain, knowledgeable staff at the site, or other reasons.


    3. Have students do an online exploration of maps and photos.

    Organize students in small groups. Give groups 15-20 minutes at computers to locate the field study site and its surroundings, starting with the satellite map, in FieldScope. Ask students to explore the basemaps and data layers and record their findings. Write the following questions on the board. Ask students to respond to these questions as they are exploring the field study site.

    • What is the physical terrain like? What vegetation do you expect to see? Are connections to the watershed visible or hidden, e.g. underground?
    • What are the built/human aspects of the site you can see?
    • What is upstream from the site? How might the site be affected by what is upstream?
    • What is downstream? How might this site affect ecosystems and aquatic environments downstream?

    Remind students to explore new data layers, clicking the “i” to read legends and data layer descriptions. Explain that this will help them comprehend what the data means and determine usefulness in addressing the questions. Students can also use the Flow Path, Compute Watershed, and other tools. Have them make notes of where they find useful data or visualizations for answering the questions above.


    Students can also view existing student photos and observations in FieldScope where available. Alternatives are the official website for the location, if available, or place-based photographs on Panoramio.com or another quality site.


    4. Have groups create a short presentation.

    After the exploration period, assign a topic that each group will further investigate. Tell students they will create a short presentation. Topics might include terrain, vegetation, animal life, human-made features, upstream land use, downstream land use, and water quality. Give groups 30-40 minutes to research and create a short PowerPoint presentation. Students can use the Research Chart graphic organizer to organize their information. Have them first write the question they will try to answer using the FieldScope map, photographs, or other online content. Review the question before they begin their research. Each presentation should include at least one map and additional visuals, such as photographs, diagrams, and graphs. Students can use the drawing and labeling tools as needed, save the maps as .png files, and import them into the presentation software. Have them include a title and a short description of the map and their findings with each.


    5. Have a round-robin conference style presentation.

    Have half of the groups stay seated while the other half meets with different groups for their presentations. After about five minutes, have students move to another group, and then switch so the other half of the class can present. Have a whole class discussion of new insights students have gained into the field study site.


    6. Have students write predictions about the field study.

    Ask students to free-write about what they expect to think and feel during the field experience. Make suggestions if needed: colors, smells, predicted weather, potential wildlife and flora sightings. During or after the field experience, have them write again about their perceptions of the place and the experience. Allowing them to think freely about their watershed connections before, during, and after will help them become more active participants in the field study.

    Informal Assessment

    Move around the room to meet with groups in both the exploration and presentation development stages. Ask questions to help guide their online exploration and deepen their thinking about the field study site. Evaluate student groups based on their level of engagement with the content and their group collaboration, as well as their insights through the free-writing. 

    Extending the Learning

    During the actual field study, have students look for and gather “evidence” that supports what they found using FieldScope and other sources. Ask: In what ways were your predictions on track? What misconceptions did you have? What new questions do you have about the site after the visit?


    Have students predict dissolved oxygen levels or other water quality at the location and how it might be affected by what happens upstream. They can use data from FieldScope and follow up with water quality testing at the site. Use a three-column chart to create a Predict/Observe/Explain graphic organizer that they can use in class and in the field.

  • Subjects & Disciplines

    Learning Objectives

    Students will:

    • Virtually explore a field study site and determine human or physical aspects of the site using base maps, data layers, tools, and other features of FieldScope.
    • Research a question about the field study site using different online tools and summarize and present their findings.
    • Describe expectations of the field study site prior to the visit, and refine the description during or following the experience.

    Teaching Approach

    • Learning-for-use

    Teaching Methods

    • Discovery learning
    • Discussions
    • Hands-on learning

    Skills Summary

    This activity targets the following skills:

    National Standards, Principles, and Practices

    National Geography Standards

    • Standard 14:  How human actions modify the physical environment
    • Standard 15:  How physical systems affect human systems
    • Standard 3:  How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface
    • Standard 4:  The physical and human characteristics of places

    National Science Education Standards

    Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy

  • What You’ll Need

    Materials You Provide

    • Pencils, pens

    Required Technology

    • Internet Access: Required
    • Tech Setup: 1 computer per small group
    • Plug-Ins: Flash
  • Background Information

    Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan pioneered “humanistic geography,” which describes the importance of people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs, and experiences in forming attitudes about their environments. To develop a “sense of place,” students need opportunities to form their own perceptions and beliefs and to be creative. Through direct experiences they can develop their own attitudes as watershed citizens.


    A crucial component for students to develop a sense of their connection to a watershed is getting outside and exploring it. A well-planned field experience on land or water that connects to classroom learning can deepen student understanding of the human and physical systems that make up their world near and far from home. Setting students up to be active learners in and out of the classroom can further deepen their understanding.


    This activity is designed to inspire students to become active learners before and during a field experience in their watershed. 

    Prior Knowledge

    FieldScope experience as outlined in the tutorial


    Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    terrain Noun

    topographic features of an area.

    watershed Noun

    entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

    Encyclopedic Entry: watershed

    For Further Exploration

    Instructional Content



NOAA (FieldScope Activities)