Experimental Design- Snowpack Project

Background for Teachers

Field sampling goes more smoothly with a plan; hypotheses can only be supported with relevant data. Students need to develop a research plan to have that smooth field season and collect those relevant data.

The snowpack research questions deals with time and location, therefore experimental design for your student researchers will involve when and where to sample to support their hypotheses. Additionally, because of the great possibilities in comparing samples from one site with samples from another site, located at another school, it will be very important that your students characterize their field site well and that they record their field data very well.

Share with your students that they can collect as many samples as they feel they will need to support their hypothesis, but that time (colecting time, data analysis time) is a resource that hey will need to manage. Students will also have access to the data from the other classes doing the project.

As a reminder of the types of information that can be collected from a sampling location review the Table of Field Variables with the students. If you are in doubt about whether or not a sampling plan is feasible, contact Acadia Learning staff or your partnering scientist.


Students understand:

  • That the hypothesis must be supported by relevant data
  • Collecting relevant data requires a plan


  • Students will produce a sampling plan or a more formal Research Proposal

Where does this lesson happen in the Project?

This is the first Activity in Unit 4: Field Sampling.

Getting Ready

Share with your students that they can collect as many samples as they feel they need to support their hypothesis.

There are always unpredictable issues: Snowmelt all happens suddenly on a weekend, etc. Use best judgment and make notes at each outing to help explain if odd results are produced because of uncontrollable circumstances.

Students will have access to the data from the other classes doing the project.

Review the Table of Field Variables with the students.

Remind your students of the real-time data available to them from CoCoRaHS.

Remind your students of any classroom or school limitations (e.g., all samples must be collected before school starts, or all smapling must take no more than 15 minutes of classtime, or you cannot collect samples from someplace that is farther than walking distance).


Students will need to assemble:

  • From Unit 2: Site information
  • From Unit 3: Their hypotheses, questions, “data shopping list” or what they need for data

Students will be well served by having the Table of Field Variables so that they know what options there are for data collection resources. If the students have been to the field site then assemble any information already collected.

Handouts (see also Lesson Resources)


Student Prerequisites

  • Students must have their hypotheses and have all of their material from previous Units

Time Needed

1-2 classes (longer if the students write a formal research proposal)

Doing the Activity

Develop the research plan by answering the questions who, what, where, when, why and how. The “why” is the hypothesis. The guiding question for this activity is: How would you go about collecting evidence to support or refute your hypothesis?

Each group should reiterate its hypothesis.

Answer the question in a general sense (if a hypothesis is summarized “Snow-Water Equivalent will be greater in new snow from storms that happen when the air temperature is warm then cold.”, then they might answer: “Collect fresh snowfall from storms that happen during warm weather and during cold weather, determine the snow-water equivalent, compare data from the two groups.”).

Craft that general approach into a workable study plan – iron out all the details. Some questions to start with are:

  • How will you monitor ait temperature?
  • How will yuou classify warm and cold?
  • What else would you need to know about the field site (what will you need to keep constant?)- topography, aspect, primary tree type?
  • What other kinds of information do you need to collect/monitor-snowpack depth?
  • Who will collect the samples?
  • When?
  • How will they be collected?
  • Where will they be stored?
  • How will you keep track of your data?

There are more questions. Many more will arise during the process and will need to be addressed. Students should take notes and keep track of how they will address all of the issues.

Each group should present its research plan to the class, and encourage feedback and questions from the other groups. If the project is going to be a class project, follow with a discussion of pros and cons of each group’s presentation, and formulate a coordinated plan for sampling, using a collaborative approach where the best of each group’s methods are combined.

The information the students have put together to this point can be called a research proposal. Students can now be asked to put together a more formal proposal. A research proposal is a document that describes the plan for the project. It makes the case for the proposed study and approach. (Scientists frequently write research proposals and other groups of scientists or people from science agencies judge those proposals to decide which ones deserve funding.)

Once the proposals are completed, students will then have the opportunity to review their peers' proposals with the goal of making constructive, collaborative improvements. Remember, there’s no right or wrong approach to a research project, but the choices students make will determine how they can interpret their results. Alternatively, the teacher or the cooperating scientist can review and make comments on everyone’s proposal.

The following are the general sections that should be included in a research proposal and some questions to answer in each section. Here you’ll think about, collect, and enter information about your project.

Research project title

Give your project a name


 What role does snowpack play in the environment? Why should we care about snowpack? What affects snowpack? A sentence about their particular interest (that is leading to their hypothesis). (4-5 sentences)


“If _______, then we expect that_____, because_____” (1‐2 sentences)


This section summarizes all the decisions made above – who, what, when, where how?

Results and discussion

What do you think you might find? Maybe you have some ideas because you already have some data. What will your data mean? (2‐3 sentences)

Two sentences:

  • Start with: “If the hypothesis is supported, then… “
  • Start with: “If the hypothesis is not supported, then… “


If you cite (or mention in your proposal) any web sites or articles where you found information (such as your statements about affects of temperature on snow water equivalent, or if you’re using someone else’s methods), you need to list them here.

This document can also serve as a precursor of the final research paper.



Listen as students present. Does their plan make sense? Ask how much time in the field their sampling will take? Which protocols from the Table are they using? Have they read those protocols? Ask them about data management.


Collect the formal research proposals. Review as you would an early draft of a report.

Lesson Extensions and Supplements


Lesson Resources

    Table of Field Variables




Planning and carrying out investigations

This Activity is included in: 



Field Protocols: 

Teacher Instructionals and Primers: