Field Projects: Science in Action

Main content

In this activity, students gather information about atmospheric scientific field projects in order to understand how a research question about the Earth system can be answered by collecting data using many different research platforms and instruments.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will learn:
    • How real science impacts their lives
    • How scientists design research to answer questions about the Earth system
    • About diverse careers that contribute to field campaigns in Earth system science


  • Computer
  • Projector
  • Pens/pencils

For each student:


For each group of students:

  • Field Project Fact Sheets - keep these separate until step 5 of the activity so the students don’t see answers to the previous steps too soon (or put in a sealed envelope to be opened at the appropriate time)

For teachers:


Introduction to the Activity

  1. Review the sample field project presentation (VOCALS Case Study) with your students. The case study covers all of the information students will need to understand when they do this activity for a different field project. Use the Field Project Glossary of Terms as a reference during this discussion to explain terms the students don’t understand.
  2. Discuss the different types of information provided in the VOCALS Case Study: goals, scientists, equipment, location, type of measurement, and relevance.
  3. Ask the students to discuss the real-world applications of the sample field project.
  4. Next, divide the students into four groups. If the class size is too large for four groups, divide the students into groups of 4-6 students, and some groups can work separately on the same field projects for this activity. NOTE: If the following activity is too complicated for your students to do in small groups, the whole class can work on the activity together using just one field project.

Main Activity

  1. Pass out the Scenario Selections Factsheet (one per group of students). This sheet contains four real-world scenarios which the students can discuss. Ask the groups to select a scenario they would like to discuss. If you have divided the students into four groups, there should be one group working on each scenario.
  2. Pass out the Field Projects Student Sheet (one to each student). Ask each group to discuss what kind of scientific research might address their real-world scenario. What kind of research question would allow them to gather the information needed for that scenario? After discussing this with their groups, each student should write their ideas in the designated space on the Field Project Student Sheet - Page 1. Note: If your students struggle with this step, discuss research questions with the whole class and provide examples of questions to get them started.
  3. Pass out the Field Projects Overview. Ask each group to read about the four field projects and decide which field project will allow them to address their real-world scenario. Once they have selected a field project, check their work to make sure they selected the appropriate project for their real-world scenario. Once they have made the correct selection, give them the Research Equipment document. At this time you can also give them the Field Project Fact Sheet for their project as long as this is in a sealed envelope; otherwise, wait until step 5 before giving them this information.
  4. In their groups, have the students look at the Research Equipment information. These pages contain platforms and instruments that can be used in any of the four field projects. The students need to discuss this and decide which platforms/instruments will help them answer their research question. They should record this information on their Field Project Student Sheet - Page 1. After they have made their selections, they should open the envelope to look at the Field Project Fact Sheet for their project to make sure they made the correct selections. Optional: if more than one group of students is working on the same field project, have the groups compare their equipment choices before checking the answers.
  5. Next, the students should look at the sample data set and data summary for their field project on the Field Project Fact Sheet. They should discuss how this data can help answer their research question, and then record that information on the Field Project Student Sheet - Page 1. They should also discuss the Data Discussion Questions as a group and record their answers on the Student Sheet.
  6. After looking at the data, ask the students to review the research summary for their field project and fill out that section on the Field Project Student Sheet - Page 1.
  7. In their groups, the students will discuss how these findings have answered their research question, and how these findings can benefit society. What were the real-world applications of this field project and why was the project important? They will record this conclusion on the Field Project Student Sheet - Page 2. Note: This information isn’t listed on the fact sheets. The students will be generating original ideas to answer these questions.

Reflection and Assessment

Ask each group to present an overview of their field project and their conclusions about the benefits of that project to society: they should share a summary of their scenario, an overview of the field project, and a discussion of how the data helped address their scenario. As a class, the students will have a discussion about why scientists conduct these field projects and how we benefit from what scientists learn.


How do scientists know what they know about the Earth system? Field projects are large-scale scientific research programs that bring many scientists together to make observations and collect measurements in order to answer a set of research questions. At the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO, scientists conduct field projects related to studies of weather, climate, and the atmosphere - some of NCAR’s field projects are highlighted in this classroom activity. During these field projects, which can range in duration from a few weeks to six months or more, scientists from many different research organizations and universities come together to study their hypotheses of given weather or climate phenomena. In order to gather the information they need to answer their questions, the scientists collect measurements via instruments, some of which can be mounted on research ships, research aircraft, and land-based vehicles.

These field projects represent steps 3 and 4 of the scientific process in action if deconstructed into the following steps:

  1. Identifying a problem
  2. Forming a hypothesis
  3. Designing and conducting research
  4. Collecting and analyzing data
  5. Formulating conclusions

The scientific process is iterative and often involves revisiting steps in the process as research continues. Scientists who participate in these field projects often contribute to steps 1, 2, and 5, which are outside of the scope of the field projects. See below for more resources about the process of science.


  • Have the students make posters about the field projects to use in presenting their summaries.
  • Modify this activity to have the students work in groups using the Jigsaw method. After completing the main portion of this activity, divide the students into small groups, and each student in the group should be an expert on one of the field projects. They will teach each other what they learned about their field project. Have the students use a graphic organizer to take notes during the small group discussions.
  • High school students can do a more in-depth analysis of data sets from these four field projects. Provide them with links to online resources listed in the Additional Resources section below.

Related Resources

Learn more about field projects at NCAR’s Earth Observing Laboratory:





Links to web pages and classroom activities about temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed, and wind direction