April 30, 2017

PFPP Logistics and Student Learning Outcomes

Scientific and mathematical background needed for students to participate in this activity:

  1. Understanding of photosynthesis, respiration, plant growth and carbon cycle
  2. Familiarity with spreadsheets and data management.
  3. Optional, but helpful skills: ability to calculate species diversity indices, regression analysis, two groups comparisons, equation fitting, log transformations


  • Minimum number of three-hour labs required for this activity is one.
  • The optimal number of three-hour labs for fully implementing this activity is two (one for data collection, and one for data analysis) or three (one additional lab for paper proofreading or project presentations).


  • The data generated from this activity can be used in your curriculum without additional sources of data, can be uploaded to EREN’s website to become part of the Permanent Forest Plot Project’s database, or can be compared with data from other EREN sites.

Student Learning Outcomes:

A. Field Work and Data Entry:

Students will learn how to:

  • set up a permanent forest plot
  • describe and measure topographic variables
  • map (optional), identify (optional), and measure trees at diameter-at-breast-height (dbh)
  • manage data through data entry and proofreading
  • calculate biomass and carbon using allometric growth equations (optional)
  • collect soil data (optional)
  • use internet resources for climate, soil, and forest area parameters

B. Hypothesis Formulation and Testing:

Guided Approach:  Students will collect data directed at answering a specific question set by the instructor.  The instructor may choose from EREN’s list or select one based on individual research interests or EREN interests for comparative studies across sites.

Open-ended Approach: Students will generate their own questions and hypotheses of interest using the dataset they generate and/or from the larger shared data set from multiple sites. This approach is encouraged for upper-level students in smaller classes.

C. Student Reporting and Assessment:

Depending on the instructor’s interests and time reserved for the project students may develop and execute an oral presentation and/or write a scientific paper.  In either assignment students will:

  • synthesize and interpret a literature review
  • analyze data using descriptive and/or inferential statistics
  • design and interpret tables and figures
  • interpret their data and contrast it to other studies’ data or findings
  • discuss, share, and complete an assignment with peers and assess each other’s contributions and effort in a group project

Transferability: Instructors can use the permanent plot and data generated in class for independent research endeavors with students and other participating EREN faculty.   Future classes can re-measure plots, set up new plots, or contrast their site data to other participating EREN sites using the online databases.

Project Protocols: 

Students and faculty should use the research protocols available on the EREN website: PFPP Protocols

For non-field activities such as data analysis and reporting, faculty are encouraged to develop their own set of instructions using the information provided under Faculty Notes to fit their individual courses.