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Thirteen Ed Online
Lesson Plans
Taking a Stand: Pros and Cons of Forest Fires
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

Procedures for teachers is divided into four sections:
Prep -- Preparing for the lesson
Steps -- Conducting the lesson
Extension -- Additional Activities
Tips -- Managing resources and student activities


Media Components:

Computer Resources:

  • Modem: 28.8 Kbps or faster.

  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 3.0 or above or Internet Explorer 3.0 or above.

  • Macintosh computer: System 7.0 or above and at least 16 MB of RAM.

  • IBM-compatible computer: 386 or higher processor with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 3.1. Or, a 486/66 or Pentium with at least 16 MB of RAM, running Windows 95.
Bookmarked sites:

Yellowstone National Park
Filled with information and photographs of forest fires in Yellowstone, this site lists daily reports of fires in the park. There are also helpful prevention tips from rangers.

Ecopals is a kid friendly site loaded with information about forest fires and forest fire prevention.

The British Broadcast Company
This site has many recent articles on the fires that have swept through Europe and what is being done to stop them.

Here students learn about how satellites are used to detect forest fires and save lives.

Report of the Interagency Management Review Team on the South Canyon Fire
This report gives details of the South Canyon Fire including personnel, equipment, and step-by-step efforts by firefighters to control the fire.

Department of Agriculture
Drought indexes and interactive maps are updated daily. Provides bulletins and warnings for individual States.

National Interagency Fire Center
From the National Interagency Fire Center this site refreshes every day and includes a color-coded map of the United States indicating areas that are at risk for forest fires.

Fuel Model Map
Maintained by the USDA Forest Service this site is part of the wildfire assessment system. The fuel model map rates danger across large geographical areas.

Daily Fire Weather Observations
Provides up to the minute weather information including temperature, precipitation, and wind conditions for at-risk areas in the United States.

System Status and Update Information
Reports daily changes in wind indexes, precipitation, drought, and fuel for different regions of the United States.

National Weather Site
Comprehensive and easy-to-read national weather reports. This weather data is easier to access and read than the government sites.

  • Journal Folders containing loose-leaf and pockets (one per student)
  • Computers with access to the Web (one per group of three students is acceptable)
  • Classroom map of the United States
  • Printers with graphic capability (inkjet or laser are best) and printer paper
  • Floppy disks (3.5 inch)
  • E-mail accounts

Introductory Activity: (1 class period)

What will be covered in this lesson?

  • Preview Lesson -- Begin by creating a framework for the entire lesson, so students know what each activity is building towards. First announce that students will research the topic of forest fires from an ecological perspective. Data gathered from each activity should be recorded in a journal, which will be assessed and used to formulate a final email that states how they feel about the use of controlled fire. They will send their emails to appropriate state officials.

  • Preview Assessment -- Explain that students will be assessed based on their journal entry research. Their journal entries should demonstrate the ability to predict at risk areas for forest fires in the United States. Predictions will be based data collected from various types of maps of the United States. In addition students will be evaluated on the quality of their recommendations to their appropriate state officials. Good recommendations should be based on solid data, and should be presented clearly and persuasively.

    What makes a fire?

  • If school policy permits, light a candle in the class. Ask students what they smell, see, or hear. Then cover the candle with a glass until the flame is extinguished. Ask students why they think the flame died, and what must be for fire to burn. Try to elicit the answer:
    • fuel (wood, coal, gas, dry leaves, dead trees, dry grass)
    • oxygen
    • heat source
    If students have little knowledge of the chemical components of fire, you may want to have them look it up using the bookmarked sites. Their answers should be recorded in their journals.

    Learning Activities:

    Which areas are at risk for forest fires? (2 class periods)

  • Hand out Student Organizer "Which areas are at risk for forest fires?" to fill in as they conduct research for the following activity. Have the class brainstorm all the human and natural factors that can cause a fire. Some examples may be: lightning, unusually dry weather, growth of highly flammable under brush, drought, campfires, barbecues, using fire to clear the land. Have students look at the bookmarked sites to determine additional causes if necessary.

  • Ask students about all the different kinds of fires they've seen in their lives. Where have they seen them? Introduce the three types of forest fires:
    • Ground fires burn the soil layer of the forest floor.
    • Surface fires burn the undergrowth.
    • Crown fires burn through the tops of trees.

  • Given this information, ask students to hypothesize which areas of the United States are low risk, and high risk for forest fires based on the natural causes listed in the chart and additional data gathered through the following information:
    • United States Map of the Keetch-Byram Drought Index from the Department of Agriculture Note: This drought index ranges from zero (no droughts, shown in blue) to 800 (extreme drought, shown in red). Students should record areas that are currently under drought alert in the United States.
    • National weather maps on: Students can access this site to see which states have weather conditions that are conducive to forest fires.
    • Fuel Model Map of the United States on: . This can be used to assess areas that contain a significant amount of dead vegetation. These areas appear in brown and black.

  • Have students check their hypothesis against data listed on the National Interagency Fire Center
    Ask students to reflect in their journals on why their predictions were accurate or inaccurate.

  • Next, ask students to access the Report of the Interagency Management Review Team on the South Canyon Fire. Students should write journal entries of methods firefighters use based on the report. They should include the location of the fire, weather conditions, equipment, personnel that were present, what went wrong, and recommendations to improve safety conditions for firefighters.

    What affect do forest fires have on the natural world and on humans? (1-2 class periods)

  • Ask students to list all the positive and negative effects of fire that they know of. After completing and discussing their lists, have students access before and after pictures of a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park. Ask students to fill in how the fire might have effected plants, animals, and humans in the area. Then break the class into groups of three and have the groups access Wildfires on ecopals . Students should make three charts listing the harmful and helpful effects of each type of forest fire. After compiling their data, they should summarize their finding by writing a cohesive paragraph addressing: How are plants, trees, animals and air affected? Have each group share their paragraphs.

  • Next have students examine the positive and negative impacts on humans. They can begin by reading Have students write first person accounts of the fires as farmers. Since farmers need to decode data to find out which processes they will use to farm and protect their land, students should consider these questions:

    • Why do they depend on fire to clear their land?
    • What were some of the positive and negative effects of the accidental fires?
    • How will they try to protect their land in the future?
    They may need to do additional research using the bookmarked sites. Once the farmer narratives have been written, they should be shared with the class.

    Culminating Activity:

  • Pair up students and have them list the benefits and hazards of forest fires based on their journal notes and previous research. Students will decide whether they are for or against the use of fires to clear the land. Their position needs to be supported by data collected from their journals.

  • Once the students decide where they stand on the use of fires, they should prepare the data to be used for their argument that will later be sent to their appropriate state official via e-mail. The e-mails should include spreadsheets, charts, and other hard data to support their arguments. Have student groups e-mail each other to get peer feedback on the writing and quality of data collected. After the first round of revision is complete the e-mails should be sent to the teacher for final comments. Then e-mail to the official.

    Ongoing Activity:

    As part of an ongoing activity have students monitor fire and weather activities on the sites listed below:


    Multimedia: Students can prepare a public service TV announcement on video for an area that is at high risk for a large forest fire. In their announcement they should include causes of forest fires, harmful and beneficial effects, and what people can do to use them wisely and in other cases prevent them.

    Fine Arts: Students should prepare posters for their school alerting students to the hazards of forest fires and how they can be prevented. Or, they can create pro-fire posters of their benefits on the ecosystem.

    Social Studies: Students should prepare a time line of the largest fires in modern American history including significant information about each. They could also make a map of the United States that shows where these fires have occurred.


    • Make sure you share your school's guidelines for Internet usage with your students first and the consequences of not following the guidelines.

    • If you have big monitor or projection facilities, you can do Internet research together as a class. Make sure that every student in your class can see the screen, go to the relevant Web site(s), and review the information presented there.

    • If students need to share computers divide your class into small groups. Groups can do Internet research using pages you have bookmarked. Group members should take turns navigating the bookmarked sites.

    • You can also set the class up so that each computer is dedicated to certain sites. Students will then move around the classroom, getting different information from each station.

    • A computer center or lab space, with a computer-to-student ratio of one to three, is ideal for doing Web-based projects. Generally, when doing Web-based research, it is helpful to put students in groups of three. This way, students can help each other if problems or questions arise. It is often beneficial to bookmark sites for students ahead of time.

    Overview | Procedures for Teachers | Organizers for Students