Carex morphology teacher resources

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This is the landing page for teachers participating in or interested in participating in the Global Carex Group morphology collaboration. This is a snapshot of background information and lesson plans developed in 2012. The project has grown substantially. Contact Andrew Hipp if you are interested in participating.


Plant form as a window into evolutionary history

Plants are critical to ecosystem function: they protect wetlands and water supplies; they feed insects, birds, and mammals; they shade our homes; and they make our neighborhoods livable. Plants are also relatively easy to study, and a focus on the study of plant biodiversity can underpin students’ understanding of the natural world. In this unit, students will investigate the plant Tree of Life as a model to understanding biodiversity at all levels, in humans, animals, bacteria, and all organisms.

Questions that this unit addresses

  • What do plant systematists study?
  • What is the tree of life?
  • How do scientists measure morphological traits?
  • How do morphological traits evolve on the tree of life? How do they reflect or differ from the hierarchical structure of the tree of life?

Curriculum tie-ins to science teaching standards

AAAS Science Benchmarks

Next Generation Common Core Science Standards are still in development. Therefore, the most current version of the AAAS Project 2061 Science Benchmarks were used to structure the unit plan.

Similar patterns of development and internal anatomy suggest relatedness among organisms.
A classification system is a framework created by scientists for describing the vast diversity of organisms, indicating the degree of relatedness between organisms, and framing research questions.
It is not always easy to recognize meaningful patterns of change in a set of data. Data that appears to be greatly irregular may be shown by statistical analysis to have underlying trends or cycles. On the other hand, trends or cycles that appear in data may sometimes be shown by statistical analysis to be easily explainable as being attributed only to randomness or chance.
When people estimate a statistic, they may also be able to say how far off the estimate might be due to chance.

Common Core Math Standards

Understand statistics as a process for making inferences about population parameters based on a random sample from the population.

Lesson plans, protocols, and sample data

The documents here were designed as a lesson plan by Donna Wetta, a teacher at the Avery Coonley School, for her class. They are free to use, but they are designed to be used in collaboration with a scientist who is conducting research in this project. They can be adapted for different classes, and modified versions will be archived here for other classes' reference, with permission. Please contact Andrew Hipp for questions about these.

Sample plots from this data
PCA of Carex morphological traits, generated by two high school students and a K-12 teacher during ca. 20 hours, summer 2012


Resources you will need, and support to obtain them

Dissecting microscopes
Dissecting tools
A collaborating scientist
Access to herbarium materials, real or scanned
At least one computer and scanner
Image processing software
We have been using photoshop, but GIMP would be an alternative
Data entry computer workstations
sufficient for your class, platform doesn't matter


For whom would this be good?

This is a good project for a high school, undergraduate, or advanced and focused upper middle school class. The project demands an attention to detail, and provides insight into how scientists gather and analyze plant biodiversity data. If you and your students are interested in what constitutes a good species and how traits evolve on the tree of life, and have the curriculum flexibility and attention to detail needed to generate quality data (see lesson plans above for information), this project might be a good fit for you.

How much time do you need?

Based on our experience with a trial of two high school students and one experienced teacher, we would suggest a minimum of 5 to 6 class periods (of 45-60 minutes each). During the first period, the scientist presenting the project will visit the classroom and give an introduction to the tree of life and the project that this is a part of (on biodiversity of sedges), present an introduction to the sedge body and the traits and protocols for measuring, and work with the class to get familiar with the traits. A second class period will be spent working through lesson plan 1, gaining an understanding of the sedge body and how the measurements are made. Then, at least two class periods should be spent generating data. We found that it took about 20 minutes per specimen for students to generate data after their first few specimens (which they should get through in days 1 and 2). Students will work in pairs. Thus, a class of 20 students may reasonably get through 20-30 specimens in a classroom period. Two classroom periods allow students to become familiar with the data they are generating, though this could be reduced to 1 if time is limited. Then, at least one classroom period needs to be spent on data analysis, with data analysis as homework. The final period, the collaborating scientist will return to the classroom to work with students in understanding how their data relate to our expectations of how traits will evolve on the tree of life.

How much experience do you need?

At this point, I am only soliciting teachers to participate after they have gone through a research internship in the Plant Systematics Laboratory at The Morton Arboretum. If you are interested, please contact me to discuss research internship possibilities. Internships are open to any biology teacher with interest and good references, and who has the support of her or his administration to implement this project in the classroom and laboratory.

What kind of scientific support will you receive?

During your research internship in our laboratory, you will receive training and supervision in conducting molecular and morphological research. Back at school, participants in this research project will have two classroom visits from the lead scientist on this project (Dr. Andrew Hipp), one being an introduction to the project with the class, one being a wrap-up with the class focused on analyzing and interpreting data. During the course of the project, teachers have the opportunity to consult with Hipp and his lab on any questions.

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