Higher Education

Undergraduate students participate in courses that help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and academia. Plant phenology touches upon many subject areas: biology, environmental science, horticulture, geography, art, and more. It is also an important component of challenging and current scientific issues like climate change. Such issues can generate many questions for students.

By participating in Budburst, instructors can assist students in drawing connections between these topics as they explore firsthand how plants respond to changing environmental cues, and how this in turn can affect other components of the ecosystem. Working with real data, students have the opportunity to experience the process and nature of science directly while becoming part of a larger community of practice.

Experiencing the Scientific Process

Incorporating Budburst activities into your courses will allow your students to experience the scientific process from start to finish. Your students will be generating hypotheses, collecting data, weighing and choosing between protocols, analyzing data, summarizing results, and arguing from evidence when they write up their results.

A question as seemingly simple as “What plant should I monitor?” may provide your students with the opportunity to really think about how scientists choose what to study. The next question, “I have a plant in mind, but how do I identify it?” provides opportunities for research, asking questions, and finding resources. The possibilities for engaging in science are nearly endless.  

Fitting Your Course Needs

Phenology observations can be made only once for a plant or many over time, providing options on how you can customize Budburst to your course needs.

  • Making phenology observations on plants at one point in time develops observational and data collection skills.
  • Making recurring phenology observations on the same plant involves students making observations throughout the semester or quarter to explore their plant’s response to the seasons.

You can also have students investigate whether their plant’s annual cycle is responding to variability in climate by having them compare their observations with historical data. Budburst can be used for all of these objectives, and more.

Project Ideas

Thinking about incorporating phenology into your courses? Learn how faculty around the country are using Budburst in their courses by checking out their profiles below.

If you'd like to get in touch with one of the faculty below or if you're using Budburst with your undergraduates and would like to be included on this page, email us at budburst@chicagobotanic.org.

Erin Spear

Dr. Erin R. Spear
Affiliate Faculty, Department of Biology
Regis University, Denver, CO
Course(s): Introduction to Environmental Science lab

"Since the spring of 2017, my students have contributed observations to Budburst and utilized existing data. In pairs, students observe labeled trees on campus. To facilitate accurate phenological data, students will be provided with species-specific guides to the phenophases (text descriptions and photos). Semester to semester, students observe the same 10 tree species and, in most cases, the same individuals to build a temporally extensive dataset. Beyond data collection, students also gain experience with the scientific process by plotting downloaded data. As a class, we focus on a single, seasonally-relevant phenophase of a single tree species, Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), which is both common in Colorado and has adequate observations. The students are asked to identify factors contributing the spread of the data, calculate the yearly and cumulative change in the timing of a phenophase, and articulate the big-picture relevance of their investigation via an abstract.

Sandra Davis

Dr. Sandra Davis
Assistant Professor of Biology
University of Indianapolis, IN
Course(s): Plant Biology

"I have my students in my Plant Biology course use Project BudBurst to monitor trees on campus. Students learn to use dichotomous keys to identify trees using winter twigs. They then work in groups and are given a set of three trees that they must identify, determine height, and map location. They monitor the trees and make regular reports to Budburst. At the end of the semester, the lab groups pool their data to compare phenology of the different species."

Terri Hebert

Dr. Terri Hebert
Assistant Professor of Education
Indiana University-South Bend,IN
Course(s): Science methods for Pre-service Elementary Education,
Intro to Scientific Inquiry

"I use Budburst with my freshmen students enrolled in the introductory class to scientific inquiry. We begin the semester with an informative walk around campus, hosted by the campus landscaper. He provides historical features of each tree, as well as methods used to provide a healthy environment for them to grow. After class, each student selects a tree that appeals to them. Throughout the semester, individual observations of the trees continue as changes are documented within their science journal. Results are shared within the Project BudBurst website. This has definitely provided a much needed perspective to the class as we witness, discuss, and record changes occurring over time."

Julie Hein-Frank

Julie Hein-Frank
Instructor of Science Education
University of WI-Green Bay, WI
Course(s): Citizen Science in the Classroom,
Methods of Field Biology for Educators

“I incorporate Budburst into my graduate courses for k-12 educators. Introducing teachers to Project BudBurst deepens their content knowledge of ecological patterns, systems and processes as they learn ways to involve and engage their students in the practice of authentic scientific inquiry. Participants then introduce their students to Budburst as an accessible model of scientific practice for the classroom by providing opportunities for students to make meaningful contributions to real scientific research while learning strategies in observation, question development, data collection and the interpreting and reporting of results.”

Dr. Sara Wyse

Dr. Sara Wyse
Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences
Bethel University, MN
Course(s): Intro to Biodiversity,
Ecology & Adaptation

"Students in my course work in teams to devise a method to quantify bud break and leaf emergence on campus trees. They undergo peer-review, collect data and reflect on the efficacy of their method. Students present their work at a Bio100 symposium and upload their data to Budburst. To build a campus phenology record, we study the same trees each fall (leaf drop and color change) and spring following the protocol of Long and Wyse 2012."