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From Long-Term Data to Understanding: Toward a Predictive Ecology
2015 LTER ASM Estes Park, CO - August 30 - September 2, 2015

The power of long-term observation: Does Nature's Notebook cultivate long-term participation in phenology monitoring?

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LoriAnne Barnett


Phenology provides a lens to teach inquiry, observation, the scientific method, and the communication of results. The USA National Phenology Network’s (USA-NPN) Nature’s Notebook program ( is a long-term phenology observation program with curriculum and outreach materials for formal, non-formal, and informal settings ( USA-NPN allows users to access all observation data, thus enabling exploration via basic statistical analyses, graphing and mapping techniques. Participating in Nature’s Notebook (NN) addresses Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for middle, high school, and undergraduate Earth and Life Science Standards.  


Long-term phenology monitoring via Nature’s Notebook is collaborative place-based, hands-on learning that promotes cross-subject engagement. The USA-NPN encourages long-term observation at schools, nature centers, museums, or parks to answer local scientific research questions. Online resources include training materials, access to research-based content, materials for delivering phenology-monitoring programming to students and volunteers, periodic summaries of data, and resources such as phenology calendars.  


As a long-term goal, the USA-NPN seeks to better understand why educators and local phenology leaders, who organize groups of volunteers, participate in a Nature’s Notebook monitoring program given available local and USA-NPN resources.  Moreover, in 2015-2016 we seek to further understand trends in group retention.



Participants contribute data via groups and shared sites. Education and outreach materials tailored to group engagement help leaders begin monitoring in concert with existing programming outcomes. Frequent communications from and with USA-NPN staff, and consistent training materials, may contribute to a group’s success and desire to remain active participants in the Nature’s Notebook project.


Currently, over 40 schools and universities have implemented phenology monitoring using Nature’s Notebook, in class sizes as few as 10 up to 500 students. Programs include middle schools developing sites within regional phenology trails, a magnet high school where students create phenology-focused senior projects at a nearby National Wildlife Refuge, a freshman-level natural science class seeking to answer questions about native species on their campus, and a university course where students link ground-level phenology observations with remotely-sensed data from satellites. Over 70 non-profits, parks, arboreta, and other similar organizations have established monitoring locations, in conjunction with research questions, as an extension of their education and outreach programming. This implementation model would provide an excellent platform for collaboration with LTERs and regional organizations across the US, in service to determining the ecological health of a region.


These existing projects are successful because they boast volunteers and sustained data collection on marked species. Our evaluation will elicit concrete details about gaps in resources, understanding of content for data accuracy, and what contributes to group long-term success.