Coweeta Outreach

Coweeta LTER scientists and staff provide middle school, high school, and community college students "hands on" field and laboratory research experience. The Schoolyard initiative has been funded since the 1998-1999 school year by an annual supplemental grant from the National Science Foundation to the core Coweeta LTER grant. The purpose of the Schoolyard Program is to formally provide instruction, field research, and data summary and analysis experiences to K-16 students and instructors using Coweeta LTER research projects as an example. In 2017 the Schoolyard Program held 14 events serving 1140 Middle and Elementary School students from 13 different schools or youth organizations in the region. Our REU program provided summer field-based research experiences for four undergraduate students.

The overall goal of the Schoolyard LTER initiative is to impress the importance of long-term research and environmental awareness into the curriculum of K-16 science instructors. The variety of ecosystems included in the LTER network, coupled with the ongoing ecological research, highlights the great potential in having Coweeta serve as a learning environment for students of all levels. It serves as a setting for teachers to learn about current science knowledge and methodology to include in their teachings. The LTER Network utilizes sites in multiple biomes to study five core areas of research: primary production, population studies, movement of organic matter, movement of inorganic matter, and disturbance patterns. This focus encompasses many historic and current issues in ecological studies.

The program coordinated by researchers at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory includes students from Mountain View Intermediate School, Macon Middle School, and Macon Early College in Franklin, NC, as well as students students from Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School in Rabun County, GA.

The mission of the Coweeta LTER Schoolyard Program is to utilize the LTER programs and network to promote training, teaching, and learning about the value of long term ecological research and Earth’s ecosystems.

Provide direct learning experiences about long term ecological studies to middle school, high school, community college students, and their instructors.
Promote student-scientist interactions that foster understanding of careers in science.
Collect and share data that are relevant to the five core LTER research areas: primary production, population studies, movement of organic matter, movement of inorganic matter, and disturbance patterns.
Provide opportunities for students to learn about local ecosystem structure and function.
Provide Science Study Boxes, which are filled with science equipment and activities, to local educators

Coweeta LTER provides 6 Science Study Boxes filled with science equipment and activities. To asses the the quality of these study boxes and whether or not they are meeting teachers' objectives, an evalutation form is provided with each box.

Activities and Experiences

Macon Middle School Projects
From the Macon Middle School, 15 – 18 sixth grade students from the science classes participate each year in the Coweeta program. The students come to eight Saturday sessions during the school year, approximately one per month. Each Saturday meeting lasts for about 4 hours, giving the students and researchers time to do a scientific project together. Locally, the middle school program has worked with seven teachers and approximately 125 students. 

Rabun Gap - Nacoochee High School Projects
Students at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School have been assisting Coweeta researchers as a part of the Schoolyard LTER program since its inception. The private college prep school is located just south of Coweeta Hydrologic Lab across the state line in Georgia. Involvement has included collecting stream samples at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, assisting with field data collections on their school site, and assisting with tree growth studies at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest and at research sites on Coweeta Hydrologic Lab long-term gradient plots. The students at Rabun Gap Nacoochee School have contributed significantly to ongoing studies of the Coweeta LTER program, while gaining valuable field experience in their classwork. From 1998 through 2004, six instructors and approximately 117 students from Rabun Gap have participated in the Coweeta Schoolyard LTER activities.

UNC Institute for the Environment
Since 2001, Coweeta scientists have been engaged as mentors for undergraduates enrolled in the UNC Institute for the Environment of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Students spend a semester at the Highlands Biological Station to learn about local biodiversity and conservation issues. As part of their experience, students conduct both independent research projects, as well as collaborative group projects. Coweeta scientists often serve as mentors for these students as they explore a diverse array of research topics, from examining the differences in water use by different tree species, to conducting herpetofauna surveys of local natural areas.

Southwestern Community College Projects
In past years, our Schoolyard project with Southwestern Community College focused on forest carbon cycling in eastern deciduous forests. Deanne Oppermann and Brian Kloeppel led the field activities with student participants at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory on three Saturdays each semester through 2008. Early in each semester, Brian Kloeppel presented an overview of the forest carbon cycle to the students enrolled in the Chemistry courses at Southwestern Community College in Sylva, North Carolina. He also demonstrated how to measure tree stem carbon dioxide (CO2) flux, one component of the larger forest carbon cycle. A current study in the Coweeta LTER program involves measuring the carbon pools and fluxes in ecosystems including fluxes from soil, roots, leaves, and tree stems. The students measure tree stem CO2 flux on watershed 2, a south-facing mature (~95 year old) hardwood watershed, at Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. They work on ridge, midslope, and cove plots enabled the students to compare and contrast how slope position impacts forest carbon cycling. The students also measured tree stem and soil temperature as well as annual tree diameter growth in all sample trees including all species and sizes present at the study plot.

Locally, the Coweeta LTER Schoolyard program has reached twenty teachers and over 1100 students.

Other Participating Schools
Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School
Macon Middle School
Mountain View Intermediate

Land Trust for the Little Tennessee
Little Tennessee Watershed Association
Big Bald Banding Station