Jornada Basin Schoolyard LTER: Program Components

Schoolyard Desert Discovery Project Programs

The following programs are offered to K-12 students by the Asombro Institute for Science Education in collaboration with the USDA-ARS Jornada Experimental Range and the Jornada Basin LTER program. All programs are aligned with New Mexico, Texas and national science education standards. The schedule often fills months in advance, so call 575-524-3334 or e-mail today to participate in this exciting Schoolyard Desert Discovery Project.

Table of Contents:


Field Trips

Students participate in a day-long field trip to the beautiful Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and the Jornada Experimental Range (north of Las Cruces, New Mexico). Field trips are designed to open students’ minds to the sights and sounds of science in the desert and expose students to authentic ecological research conducted by LTER scientists. Hands-on activity stations, accompanied by a “Desert Discovery Walk” to explore the desert ecosystem, complete this fun-filled day. Trips can address a variety of curriculum topics as well as New Mexico, Texas and national science education standards. Pre and post field trip activities are available to prepare students for the field trip and extend the learning back to the classroom.

Volunteer Donna Yargosz uses her teaching expertise to share her knowledge and love of the desert with students.


Classroom Programs

The Asombro Institute comes to your classroom to provide meaningful and creative hands-on, inquiry-based science activities relating to current LTER research in our region. Following the classroom visit, students and teachers continue data collection and analysis using materials and activities provided by the Jornada Basin LTER program. These one-hour classroom programs are aligned with New Mexico, Texas and national science education standards.

During the “Soil - It’s Not Just Dirt” class program, students conduct an experiment investigating water infiltration rates into different soil types.


Teacher Workshops

Professional development workshops allow teachers to learn from LTER and other scientists about the latest research being conducted in our region. Teachers are also introduced to the Schoolyard Desert Discovery curriculum, which includes 35 inquiry-based activities to be completed in the classroom and/or schoolyard. Workshops range in length from two weeks to one day and are offered several times a year. Call the Asombro office (575-524-3334) to inquire about the next workshop available.

Teacher Janet Shearin presents a poster on her research on soil pH to other workshop participants.


Schoolyard Desert Discovery Curriculum

The heart of the Schoolyard Desert Discovery Project is a series of thirty five data-driven, hands-on activities that allow students to learn about science and math while conducting studies in their schoolyards. Activities are divided into seven modules, which can be done alone or in combination with the others for a more complete picture. A Teachers' Handbook includes teacher guidelines, materials lists, sample graphs and tables, reproducible student pages in English and Spanish, and correlations with New Mexico, Texas and national standards. Once your school joins the project, you will receive a free copy of the Handbook. Schoolyard Desert Discovery Modules contained in the handbook include:

  • Weather - Students use handheld weather tools and/or internet sites to investigate long-term changes in the length of day, the sun's position in the sky, temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, cloud type, and evaporation rates. Students also compare weather conditions throughout the year at LTER sites in many different biomes.
  • Microclimates - The weather report gives general weather conditions for an area. However, variations in the environment create areas with differing amounts of light, humidity, heat, and air movement. Areas where these variations are found are called microclimates. The activities in this module allow students to investigate microclimates related to elevation, aspect, height above ground, depth below ground, and proximity to vegetation. These variations play a large role in understanding patterns of plant growth and animal behavior in the desert.
  • Soil - Although we walk on soil every day and plants depend upon it, we often take for granted the many fascinating properties of soil. The activities in this module allow students to learn about soil particles, erosion, compaction, and water infiltration into different soils. They will use real scientific tools like penetrometers to investigate soils in different areas around the schoolyard and at different times of the year. You will never think of it as “just dirt” again!
  • Vegetation - This is the only module that requires native vegetation nearby (all other modules can be done in ANY schoolyard). Students conduct long-term comparisons of the plant composition (which species are present), plant cover, and plant size on at least two research plots in different areas (e.g., upland vs. lowland, edge vs. center of area, arroyo vs. non-arroyo).
  • Arthropods - Arthropods (including insects, arachnids, centipedes, millipedes, and crustaceans) are an incredibly important part of every ecosystem, including the ecosystem of your schoolyard. This module includes two introductory activities to help your students learn about arthropod anatomy and diversity. Other activities allow students to collect and quantify the diversity of arthropods from litter samples and pitfall traps in your schoolyard. The final activity allows students to become animal behavior experts by recording the behavior of ants throughout the year.   Sample lesson plan: Pitfall Traps
  • Vertebrates - This module’s activities allow students to learn to identify some of the common birds of our area. Then they can conduct studies of feeding preferences, population sizes, predation, and feeding behavior using some of the most common techniques used by adult ornithologists and ecologists. Students also use track plates to investigate feeding and habitat preferences of vertebrates in the schoolyard.
  • Water - Seven activities in this module introduce students to precipitation patterns in different biomes, water infiltration, irrigation practices, and evaporation rates in the desert. Students use scientific tools such as anemometers and thermohygrometers to conduct scientific experiments and collect data.



Science Investigation Kits

Each of the seven modules of the Schoolyard Desert Discovery Project has an associated Science Investigation Kit containing all of the equipment and consumable supplies necessary to do all activities within the module as well as student-centered inquiry projects on similar themes. Kits are available for free check-out from the Asombro Institute’s office.

Arthropod Diversity Science Investigation Kit Contents:

  • Grasshoppers
  • Petri dishes
  • Rulers
  • 70% Alcohol-glycerin mixture
  • Dissecting microscope
  • Non-insect arthropod collection (with labels)
  • Insect collection (with labels)
  • Arthropod Characteristic Chart & Insect Characteristic Chart
  • Arthropod or insect identification books
  • Funnel
  • Mesh hardware cloth
  • Can with ends cut off
  • Collection bottle
  • Spring clamp light with 50-watt bulb
  • Work gloves
  • Plastic sandwich bags
  • Forceps
  • Hand lenses
  • Small paint brushes
  • Trowels
  • 35 mm film canisters with lids
  • Dish detergent
  • Stopwatches
  • Thermohygrometer
  • Colored pencils



Arthropod Science Investigation Kit Contents