Lesson Plan

Students as Scientists: Salamander Research Wrap Up (North Carolina Middle School)

Girl with salamander
Two middle school girls prepare to collect data on a salamander during their middle school field trip in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Grade Level:
Sixth Grade-Eighth Grade
Biodiversity, Biology: Animals, Chemistry, Civic Engagement, Climate Change, Conservation, Earth Science, Ecology, Environment, Mathematics
60 minutes
Group Size:
Up to 60
National/State Standards:
North Carolina Essential Standards  Grade 8 Science Clarifying objectives 8.L.1.1, 8.L.3.1, 8.L.3.2, 8.L.3.3, 8.L.4.1, 8.L.4.2
biodiversity, research, inventory and monitoring, Salamanders, Amphibian, acid deposition, phenology monitoring, Great Smoky Mountains National Park


The Great Smoky Mountains are known as the “Salamander Capital of the World!” Salamanders are an especially abundant and diverse group in the park. Researchers use salamanders as a bio-indicator to help assess the health of our forests threatened by air pollution and impacts from a changing climate. This unit is broken into three parts. This unit involves a trip to the park and is accompanied by a preparation activity and a wrap-up activity.  This is the wrap-up activity of the unit.


1) demonstrate the ability to graph scatter-plot data
2) determine through inference a predictor of salamander behavior,
3) understand what the term "Stewardship" means
4) how the students can become a steward in their school and their community


In the park, some salamanders spend all of their life in the water; these are classified as aquatic salamanders. Other salamanders spend most of their lives out of the water, coming back to streams to mate and lay eggs, we classify these as semi-aquatic. There are also some salamanders that never are found in the water, not even to lay eggs. These are classified as terrestrial salamanders.

Some students who visit the Smokies participate in a salamander research study. The research project is designed to answer a couple different questions about salamanders. One is "How far from water will aquatic and semi-aquatic salamanders move?". Another is "How close to the water will we find terrestrial salamanders?". For both questions, we want to know what weather and other abiotic (non-living) conditions are like while data is being collected. During the study, we also visually check the health of salamanders and collect data about that that includes their length, weight and species. To do this study, we set out a series of "tree cookies" that lead from the edge of a creek out into the forest in a transect, which is a line that follows a bearing set up with a compass (e.g. we might set up a line that follows a bearing of due North). Each cookie is placed 5 meters apart and each row has 10 cookies in it. Each salamander study plot in the park has 4 rows for a total of 40 cookies. This lesson will allow students to create a graph using previously collected salamander data stored on the Hands on the Land website. After graphing the data, the students will make inferences in determining a predictor of salamander behavior.




The materials needed to complete this unit include "Graphing Salamander Trends Student Worksheet" and the Teacher Answer Key
Computer with Internet connection



Students can create a concept map for the subject of "salamanders" before starting the series of lessons. They can create a second concept map for comparison after the lessons. Did students show any gains in their organization of their knowledge; the use of concepts, content and terminology and connections; and knowledge shown between the relationships of concepts. Please see our concept map scoring rubric in the "Students as Scientists: Salamander Research" lesson 1 PDF for grading guidance.

Teachers should grade student graphs and worksheets.


Park Connections

Salamanders are an especially abundant and diverse group of animals within Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Most of the salamanders in the Smokies breathe through their skin which makes them sensitive to changes in the environment from threats like acid deposition. Since salamanders are cold-blooded, they may also be impacted by rapidly changing weather conditions in the park, especially in the winter and early spring. This lesson plan connects the student to these salamanders and wraps up their field experience in the park.


Students can brainstorm and come up with their own original questions to ask of the data. Have them think about the information that was collected and what could possibly be answered by that data. They could ask a question such as "In what month are the most Pigmy salamanders found at Purchase Knob?". Another possible question is "What was the most common salamander found at Purchase Knob in 2012?". 

Data can be accessed from the Hands on the Land website in the Salamander Monitoring section. There is a teachers guide on the website to help focus the discussion. http://www.handsontheland.org/environmental-monitoring/salamander-monitoring.html



Additional Resources

"Reptiles and Amphibians of the Smokies" available at http://shop.smokiesinformation.org/category.cfm/gsma/books

Salamander Monitoring database


Stewardship: Our responsibility to care for our natural resources - land, air, wildlife and water - sustainably, so future generations can enjoy them.

Last updated: April 14, 2015