The park's middle school education programs improve students' understanding of pertinent natural and cultural resource issues through hands-on research projects. Students use field and lab equipment, collect and record scientific data, and make connection between abstract concepts and the real world. All lessons incorporate scientific methodologies and contribute to the process of park research. Watch a video overview.
Program Video: This video highlights the main activities and lessons for middle grade levels, showcases the variety of educational offerings and provides a sense of program locations. Each of the featured programs has a complete downloadable lesson plan on this site.
Soil Science (6th grade- Combined with Terrestrial Invertebrate activity) Before park biologists do any kind of a study, whether they are looking at mammals, plants or insects, they must look at the soil in the area. This is important because along with temperature, sunlight, and moisture, soil will determine what can grow and live in the area. During this study, students will describe different ways of classifying soils, demonstrate two ways soils are studied, explain why soils are an important part of an ecosystem, and understand why park biologists need to study soils. Lesson Plan (596 Kb)
Location: Purchase Knob and Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
North Carolina State Standards:
Science 6th grade Competency Goal 1: 1.01, 1.03-1.06, 1.08
Competency Goal 3: 3.05-3.08
Competency Goal 4: 4.01-4.05
Competency Goal 7: 7.01-7.05 Language Arts 6th Grade Competency Goal 1: 1.02-1.04
Competency Goal 2: 2.01 Math 6th Grade Competency Goal 1: 1.02, 1.03, 1.05, 1.07
Terrestrial Invertebrates(6th grade- Combined with Soil science activity) All plants and animals are important to the ecosystem. Although often overlooked, terrestrial invertebrates are as important to the ecosystem as the large vertebrates are. The functional responses of terrestrial invertebrates to soil pH, soil temperature, and air temperature provide a complete assessment of the ecosystem. During this study students will monitor the population of terrestrial invertebrates in a predetermined area. Lesson Plan (465 Kb)
Locations: Purchase Knob and Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
Lichens (7th Grade- Combined with Snail Inventory or Ozone Biomonitoring programs) There are many species of algae and fungi, but when certain species of fungi join with certain species of algae in a symbiotic relationship, they become a unique organism called lichen. This unit focuses on how lichens are used as bioindicators of poor air quality. Monitoring lichen composition is important in order to detect the loss of biodiversity as pollution intolerant species die and are replaced by more tolerant species. During this study students will observe and identify the growth forms of the lichens on assigned trees and determine the percentage of coverage of each form. Lesson Plan (736 Kb)
Locations: Purchase Knob, Clingmans Dome
North Carolina Standards of Learning: Science 7th grade: Competency Goal 1: 1.01, 1.03-1.06, 1.08
Competency Goal 3: 3.01-3.04, 3.06
Competency Goal 4: 4.07, 4.08 Language Arts 7th Grade Competency Goal 1: 1.01-1.04 Math 7th Grade Competency Goal 1: 1.01, 1.02
Snail inventory (7th grade- Combined with Ozone Biomonitoring or Lichen program) Our soils in the park, especially at high elevations such as Purchase Knob and Clingmans Dome, are exposed to high levels of acid rain. Soils with a pH of 5.5 or lower have a low availability of calcium and other nutrients but an overabundance of aluminum and iron. Park managers are very concerned about how this affects soils and the availability of nutrients to plants and animals. The majority of snail species in the park are calcium-based and snails are an important part of the food chain. During this study students will search for and identify snails, explain why scientists are concerned about snail populations, and learn about the role snails play in the food web.
Ozone Biomonitoring (7th Grade- Combined with Snail inventory or Lichen program) Purchase Knob only Scientists have noticed that ground level ozone levels tend to be worse at higher elevations, especially at night. Because of this, it is important to monitor ozone levels at various elevations. Purchase Knob is a high elevation site within the park. One of the methods we use to monitor the effects of ozone pollution is to periodically check how certain sensitive species of plants are reacting to ozone exposure. During the study students will be able to understand what ground level ozone is and how it affects plants and animals, and assist in collecting data from a specific plant in the ozone biomonitoring garden.
Salamander Monitoring(8th Grade- Combined with Tardigrade or Water Quality program) The Great Smoky Mountains are known as the "Salamander Capital of the World" as they are an especially abundant and diverse group in the Great Smokies. There are 30 species of salamanders within the boundaries of the Park. Since these salamanders breathe through their skin they are more susceptible to water and air pollution and are used as bioindicators. During this study students will work in groups inventorying and monitoring many of the salamanders found in the park.
Tardigrade Inventory(8th Grade- Combined with Salamander or Water Quality programs) When most students imagine national parks and nature in general they probably think of large animals such as bear and deer. Although these animals are important parts of the ecosystem, there are other pieces that we often overlook. Tardigrades and other microorganisms are some of the most numerous and most biodiverse organisms on Earth. This unit explores the biodiversity of these microscopic organisms. During the study students will be introduced to the process of collecting lichens and isolating resident tardigrades and other microscopic organisms.
Water Quality (8th Grade- Combined with Salamander or Tardigrade Inventory program) The Smokies has over 2,100 miles of rushing mountain streams and rivers that flow through the park. In each mile lives a diverse community of native fish, amphibians, insects, and larvae, some of which are found only in the Southern Appalachians. Park fisheries managers and university researchers monitor water quality, fish populations, and watersheds to better understand the dynamics of water running through diverse ecosystems. During this unit the students will assist the park in collecting data from the stream and identify the quality of the stream using water quality test parameters and bioindicators.
Phenology and Climate Change (pairs well with salamander monitoring)
Best suited for 8th grade. Students collect tree phenology data for an on-going monitoring study examining the impacts of our changing weather and climate in the Smokies. Students will learn about tree identification and phenology.
Locations: Purchase Knob (near Maggie Valley), Mingus Mill, Deep Creek North Carolina Essential Standards - Grade 8 Science:
Clarifying objectives 8.P.2.1, 8.P.2.2
Clarifying objectives 8.L.3.1, 8.L.3.3