Evaluation for Kansas State University’s
Environmental History Institute

Pat Lamb
Manhattan High School
2100 Poyntz Ave.
Manhattan, Kansas 66502

The purpose of this report was to evaluate all of the Environmental History Institute’s materials and information used in my summer Field Biology Class. However, in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the materials received through the institute leads to one major problem. Last year my Field Biology Class was in session before the Environmental History Institute occurred. This year the follow-up session for the Institute was held a month before my summer Field Biology Course. So I have not taught the course yet and cannot evaluate the effectiveness of the different labs, assignments, and just basic information that I have received. Nevertheless, I can explain how I am going to incorporate the information from the many different guest lectures and also the three labs that I developed during the institute.

As a very busy science teacher I read mostly periodicals so that I can stay current with new scientific information and the latest discoveries. When developing new lectures or updating old lectures I might read only a few sections from three or four books. So you can imagine my shock of receiving almost twenty books to read for this class. I did enjoy most and will definitely use almost all of them. Several of the books I found to be favorites. Mari Sandoz’s Love Song to the Plains was personally important because it provided me with the historical perspective of the Great Plains. John Ise’s “Sod and Stubble” supplied me with incredible insights into what pioneer farming on the Kansas plains must have been like. Carolyn Merchant’s Major Problems in American Environmental History, Donald Worster’s Nature’s Ecology, and Thomas Lyon’s This Incomperable Lande furnished both a historical summarization on the different environmental philosophies and also examples of writings reflecting those ideas. While I had already read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Mike Blair’s Prairie Chronicles, their land ethic ideas were important because they are the basis for my personal environmental philosophy.

I must say that even though I am continually finding the use of the books important, my favorite part of this course was the guest lecturers. Without exception, every guest speaker was extremely interesting. Although each presenter had a different style, they all shared an incredible amount of information in a very relaxed amiable manner. The relaxed atmosphere along with the question and answer period at the end of each presentation contributed to a great learning environment. I believe it helped each participant to completely comprehend and appreciate the information that was provided. The knowledge I acquired from each outstanding presentation is indisputable. An equally important factor was that I thoroughly enjoyed every guest speaker.

Collectively, these authors and guest speakers have made me reconsider history in a totally new way. Now, I firmly believe that the environment is not a passive background on which history occurs, but instead is an active participant which almost dictates how events must unfold to create history.

This is one of the basic ideas that I would like to convey to my students. I plan on doing this subtly by including the following essays, lesson plans, and labs into my Field Biology Course. I have developed three labs from the Institute that I plan on using in my course: a wild-flower lab, a prairie-fire lab, and a stream-study lab. Each lab has a historical component. In the wild-flower lab the students are asked to determine if a plant has any historical significance; was the plant edible, medicinal, or useful to Indians or pioneers in some way? In the prairie-fire lab students are expected to understand the impact that fire has on the prairie ecosystem. They are asked to imagine the appearance of our area prior to the control of prairie fires. In the stream-lab each student is asked to imagine the past importance of water on the life style of the Indians, pioneers, and prairie animals. An essay on the interrelationships between Cheyenne Indians, pioneers, and bison from Dr. Elliot West will be given to the students to read. Two other essays taken from Environmental History Institute’s guest speakers will be given to the students. As an example of our society’s manifest destiny philosophy, I have used Dr. Douglas Hurt’s lecture on creation of the Kansas and Nebraska National Forests. Also I am going to provide my students with a summarization of Dr. Samuel Hays’s lecture on cities. From the top of the northern hills on the Konza prairie, students can see Manhattan and the surrounding rural ecosystems. After reading Dr. Hays’s information and viewing old Manhattan Historical Society photographs, students will try to determine the impact of prairie fires and cities on the rural environment. All essays, labs, pictures, poems, and various assignments are to be kept in the student’s journal.

Another basic idea that developed from the course that I would sincerely like to convey to my students is that of Aldo Leopold’s land ethic. Hopefully parts of the labs, lessons, and assignments previously mentioned will help to accomplish this. I will also use a more direct approach. As we travel to Colorado we will listen to my tapes of A Sand County Almanac and then write on what they think "land ethic" means.

The last concept that I hope to convey is probably the most important. This is because students will not develop a true "land ethic" for the Great Plains, if they do not see any value in a prairie ecosystem. A huge percentage of my students cannot wait to graduate and leave Kansas. I believe this is the result of students not seeing the value of this environment, or as Dr. Dan Flores states: not developing a "sense of place." Dr. Flores probably had a greater impact on me than any other speaker. I am going to use his questions, and some of my own, to try to develop a sense of place in my students. Not only will my students answer those questions, but we will go out to the Konza at night, sit on the highest hill, write poetry, and watch the stars. If I accomplish nothing else, I hope I can instill in my students a sense of place for the plains and prairies.

Fires and the Prairie

Pat Lamb

Overview and Connection to the Curriculum: This lesson plan is to help students identify how fire affects the prairie. It should also provide an opportunity for each student to engage in a historical visualization of what prairie fires must of been like hundreds of years ago.

Time Required: The time required should only be one class period to visit the Hulbert Plots on the Konza Prairie.

Materials and Equipment: Each student will need only paper and pencil (and field guides if you wish to extend the activity).


  1. Visit the Konza Prairie (or locate another prairie to visit).

  2. Students should walk around and observe the different plots. (15 minutes to half an hour)

  3. Have students fill in the accompanying field guide. Some portions can be finished at home. However to get a feel and true sense of the prairie, most questions would best be answered in the prairie itself.

    Homework for the night prior to the field trip: At home close your eyes and visualize a prairie. Imagine that it’s a warm sunny day with a gentle breeze. Now try to conceive what the prairie sounds like, smells like, feels like, and looks like. For each sense quickly write down a few sensations that you experience as you visualize a prairie.

    Fires and the Prairie

    1. Sit down and use all your senses to describe a prairie ecosystem. Close your eyes and listen, then describe the different sounds of the prairie. Move through the prairie and smell the soil, plants, and the air. Feel all the textures of the different plants and the coolness of the breezes. Watch the interactions of the various organisms. Record it all.

      Hulbert Plots

    2. Describe what is found in plots burned yearly, every four years, and not burned at all.

      Burned Yearly:

      Burned Every Four Years:

      Never Burned:

    3. Compare the plots. Estimate the percent composition of grasses, forbes (wildflowers and green stemmed plants), and shrubs (woody stemmed plants) on each plot. Which plots seem to be healthy prairie ecosystems?

      Burned Yearly:

      Burned Every Four Years:

      Never Burned:

    4. Quickly describe what the prairie must have looked like before settlers.

    5. In the short-grass prairies of western Kansas drought was the only factor necessary to prevent trees and most shrubs from establishing themselves in the ecosystem. However, the tall-grass prairie ecosystem contains enough precipitation for the survival of trees and shrubs. For a healthy prairie ecosystem fire was required to eliminate trees and shrubs. What evidence can you think of that would support this?

    6. Read: It’s 1800 and the tall-grass prairie flows around you. Grasses up to your shoulder sway to and fro, responding to the currents of the wind. A light gray mist seems to shadow the blue sky past the horizon. It slowly changes into a darkening cloud. Within minutes the cloud seems to have swollen above the horizon. This dark ominous messenger expands as each minute expires. Soon one can detect the vague odor of smoke. A deer hurries by. Birds have stopped singing and have moved to thickets on the other side of the hill. There is a sense of urgency in the air. Within a few minutes a glowing red line dances over the hill and rolls down the slope. Now the line of fire extends as far as you can see. With every passing minute the smoke thickens and the air fills with ash and soot. A field mouse frantically searches for the safety of its den. The fire’s closer now. One can see the individual flames as they continually stretch upward pursuing the searing 400-degree heat as it tries to escape. The flames ignite a lone cedar tree, which erupts into a brilliant torch. Larger burnt particles are now floating down among the ash and thick smoke. The stench of burning vegetation overwhelms one’s sense of smell. A column of flame moves up the hill and leaps past you, incinerating everything in its path. The dried grass and vegetation crackles and explodes in a blaze of yellows, oranges, and reds as the line of fire surges forward. Behind this fiery wall are left blackened acres of charred ground and smoldering soil. In the fire’s wake, it appears that only charred remnants of prairie remain. But underground, escaping the flames’ onslaught, persists a tenacious network of rhizomes. They belong to different types of grasses all of which have adapted to prairie fires. Fortunately many forbs and most herbaceous plants have not adapted and therefore have perished. This is beneficial in that it leaves plenty of room and sunlight for the grass. With a little time and moisture new grass shoots will force their way upward toward the surface. Thus grass, the predominant organism of the prairie ecosystem, has been reestablished.

    7. Imagine yourself as some prairie animal (select something besides a bird). What would it be like to be on the prairie during a prairie fire. Indicate what adaptations (anatomical, physiological, and behavioral) that you possess that will preserve you during this hazard. Start with: “Just a whiff of smoke alerted me and I gave my complete attention to the odor. Using all of my senses I strain to . . . .”

    8. Select some prairie plant. Write on how a prairie fire would affect that particular plant. Indicate what anatomical and physiological adaptations that plant has developed to protect itself from the fire. (Reproductive parts will sometimes save species if not the individual.)

    9. Compare how early settlers must have viewed prairie fires and how plains farmers and ranchers feel about them today.

    10. Homework: Write an essay on the following: How would the absence of prairie fires have changed history (American history as well as natural history)?

    Wild Flower (Plant) Identification

    Pat Lamb

    Overview and Connection to the Curriculum: This lesson plan is to help students identify plants. It can be used to identify plants found in any ecosystem. This lab can be modified so that variations can be used throughout the elementary grades, middle school, high school, or college.

    Time Required: The time required depends on the quality of the presentation you demand and the variation of the lab that you use. I believe it will take a minimum of 2 class periods (1 class period if you only want rough drawings) to collect the data.

    Materials and Equipment: Each student will fill out one wild flower form per plant, photograph the flower of the plant and the entire plant, and with their partner videotape the plant while their partner gives its name and a short narrative containing a description of the plant and any important facts about the plant (Ex. edible, poisonous, medicinal).


    1. Students should work in pairs. Select someone that is as serious about the project as you are, so as to eliminate possible problems.

    2. Select a flower.

    3. (A) Mark the flower’s location on a map. (B) Circle ecosystem and give a quick description of area.

    4. Using a taxonomic key determine the name of the plant.

    5. Photograph the entire plant and one of its flowers.

    6. Fill out the student wild flower form.

    7. Video plant in the following manner:

      A. Prior to filming the plant, run a "focus test."
      B. Do not walk with camera while filming. If you need to get closer, use
      the zoom. If you still need to get closer to flower, then stop filming
      and walk closer.
      C. Hold shot of plant or flower for at least 30 seconds. Read description
      of plant from taxonomic book or botany book. Include any thing of
      taxonomic or historical significance. (Ex. - Square stem or Indian and pioneer

    Worksheet: Student Wild Flower Form (page 1)

    Place photograph of entire plant here.

    Place drawing of 2 leaves (or 1 if leaf is compound) here.

    Worksheet (page 2)

    Place photograph of plant’s flower here.

    Place drawing of flower here.

    Leaf Type - simple      compound
    Leaf Arrangement - alternate      opposite      whorled      basal
    Flower Arrangement -
    	Petal # =        3      4      5      6      8      9      10      >10
    	Petals:    ray flowers      regular      disk flowers      irregular      both
    	Stamen # =   	 3      4      5      6      8      9      10      >10
    	Ovary:     superior      inferior
    	Plant Height = ____________________
    	Flower density:  Common in area,    scattered throughout area,     rare in area.
    	(plants/area)  10/m2      1/m2      1/5m2      1/10m2      other=_____________
    Ecosystem plant found in:
    	tall grass prairie,	gallery forest,		disturbed soil,
    	rocky slopes,		marsh,			meadows,
    	riparian,		other=_______________________________
    Any unusual physical characteristics or adaptations?
    Does the plant have any historical significance

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