Appendix A: Working scientifically

Scientific research is a fundamental part of Environmental Science and good research skills are needed to collect representative data so that reliable conclusions can be formulated.

Students must be given the opportunity to carry out investigative/practical activities which cover the following requirements. These activities should be carried out within clear environmental contexts. Opportunities for developing the required practical skills are signposted within the subject content. Opportunities should also be taken to incorporate the required mathematical skills.

Students must undertake fieldwork which meets the minimum requirement of two days of fieldwork for AS. If a mixture of fieldwork and laboratory-based activities is chosen then the equivalent minimum requirement would be one day of fieldwork plus six laboratory-based activities for AS.

Schools and colleges are required to provide a practical work statement that confirms each student has been given the opportunity to fulfil this requirement. Schools and colleges must provide the practical work statement by 15 May in the year of entry. Any failure to provide this statement in a timely manner will be treated as malpractice or maladministration (under Ofqual's General Condition A8 (Malpractice and maladministration)).

Assessment of the knowledge and understanding of the practical skills in the AS specification will be by written exams only. Overall, at least 15% of the marks for an AS Environmental Science qualification will require the assessment of practical skills.

Students must undertake experimental and investigative activities, including appropriate risk management, in a range of environmental contexts. They must also know how to safely and correctly use a range of practical equipment and materials.

Students must carry out practical activities using the best contemporary practices for risk assessment and safe working in the laboratory and during fieldwork.

Investigative/practical activities undertaken throughout the course should enable students to develop the following skills:

Practical skills for assessment in the written papers

Independent thinking

Practical skill number Description
PS 1.1 solve problems set in practical contexts
PS 1.2 analyse and evaluate existing scientific knowledge
PS 1.3 apply scientific knowledge to practical contexts
PS 1.4 plan scientific investigations and apply investigative approaches and methods to practical work.

Use and application of scientific methods and practices

Practical skill number Description
PS 2.1 comment on experimental design and evaluate scientific methods
PS 2.2 evaluate results and draw conclusions with reference to measurement uncertainties and errors
PS 2.3 identify variables including those that must be controlled
PS 2.4 collect and present information and data in a scientific way.

Numeracy and the application of mathematical concepts in a practical context

Practical skill number Description
PS 3.1 plot and interpret graphs
PS 3.2 process and analyse data using appropriate mathematical skills as exemplified in the mathematical requirements
PS 3.3 consider margins of error, accuracy and precision of data.

Instruments and equipment

Practical skill number Decription
PS 4.1

Know and understand how to use experimental and practical instruments, equipment and techniques appropriate to the knowledge and understanding included in the specification, including:

  • using appropriate apparatus/instruments to record quantitative measurements (for example temperature, length and pH)
  • using appropriate apparatus/instruments and methodologies to measure abiotic and biotic factors (for example, light intensity, humidity, population size)
  • sampling techniques (for example pitfall traps, Tüllgren funnel, soil texture analysis, water turbidity, light traps).

These skills can be developed through the following methodologies and sampling techniques and opportunities are signposted throughout the subject content.

Required practical activities

Students must develop a knowledge and understanding of all the scientific methodologies and sampling techniques included in Research methods.

In addition to this, they must have first hand experience of the methodologies Me1, Me2, Me3 and all the practical sampling techniques included in ST1, ST2 and ST3. These can be carried out through a range of practical activities based in the laboratory or during fieldwork. This practical work will build upon the knowledge and understanding gained from Research methods.

Methodologies

These are the underlying principles which are essential in the planning of all good scientific research. It is important that students understand how to plan environmental studies as well as how to carry out the specific techniques.

Students should have an understanding of all the methodologies covered in Research methods, which would always be included in the planning of any environmental study. In addition, suitable opportunities must be provided to allow students to investigate three of these methodologies in detail: Me1, Me2 and Me3. Students should develop an understanding of how these methodologies enable the planning of better scientific research so they can evaluate their impact on the reliability of the data collected.

To gain the greatest education benefit from these activities, the investigations should be planned within an environmental context where the results would inform environmental decision-making, eg the effect of abiotic factors on plant distribution in a nature reserve, the control of invasive plant species, the effect of field cultivation on river water or nutrient concentration or the effect of different farming techniques on soil organic matter content.

Students must understand that the methodologies for which they develop skills can be applied to any environmental research project, including those in locations they cannot visit and those which require equipment which they do not have. It is still possible to apply their planning skills in these theoretical contexts. This will help them develop their knowledge throughout the specification within the context of independent thinking and scientific research.

Planning for representative data

Methodology skill number Description of skill
Me 1 Sample location – random sampling, where there is no directional difference in sample results or there is no environmental gradient.
Me 2 Sample location – systematic sampling, where there is an environmental gradient or fixed sample intervals are appropriate.
Me 3 Number of samples – an assessment of the number of samples needed, as influenced by the variability between samples.

Sampling techniques

These are the techniques that should be carried out to develop a knowledge and understanding of the practical methods used to collect representative, reliable data about the environment.

The first hand experience of practical techniques should build on the theory of the use of all of the techniques, as covered in Research methods.

At AS, students should gain first-hand experience of the sampling techniques included in ST1, ST2, ST3. The techniques should be carried out within environmental contexts that highlight how the data gained can be used to reach conclusions that inform future decision making.

Sampling technique skill number Description
ST 1

Measurement of abiotic factors:

  • light intensity
  • temperature
  • wind velocity
  • humidity
  • water turbidity
  • water ion concentration, eg nitrates, phosphates
  • pH.
ST 2

The use of quadrats to measure biotic factors.

Population size, species richness, species distribution, biodiversity

  • Selection of suitable quadrat size
  • Types of quadrat:
    • open frame quadrat
    • grid quadrat
    • point quadrat.
ST 3

Measurement of edaphic factors.

  • Soil texture:
    • sedimentation
    • soil sieves
    • soil triangle.
  • Soil water content.
  • Soil organic matter content.
  • Soil pH.
  • Soil bulk density.

There is no prescribed list of compulsory investigations that must be carried out. Schools and teachers must choose appropriate practical activities that allow students to gain first hand experience of the required methodologies and sampling techniques.

The time devoted to practical activities should equate to two full days of fieldwork or one day of fieldwork plus six sessions of laboratory based activities.

Practical activities should be carried out with the consideration of their environmental impacts and how these can be minimised. All activities should be planned and carried out to ensure the safety of the students and other people.

Scientific principles

Throughout the course, students must be given opportunities to develop the following skills and knowledge.

Use theories, models and ideas to develop scientific explanations of environmental processes

Students must be given opportunities to use theories, models and ideas to develop scientific explanations of environmental processes.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • the control of ecological succession in conserving plagioclimax habitats. Students should understand the processes in ecological succession that can inform conservation strategies
  • global climate change: how interconnected natural systems cause environmental change
  • the processes in the carbon cycle that are affected by human activities
  • the processes in the nitrogen cycle that are affected by human activities.

Students must be given opportunities to use knowledge and understanding to pose questions, define scientific problems, present scientific arguments and scientific ideas related to the environment.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • setting conservation priorities. Students could evaluate the information available to decide which taxa and habitats should be conserved
  • difficulties monitoring and predicting climate change
  • ozone depletion. Collection, analysis and interpretation of data, an evaluation of data collection methods available and the reliability of data produced
  • reserves and resource. Students could consider how data from exploration and the development of new exploratory and extraction techniques affect estimates of mineral reserves.

Use of appropriate methodology, including information and communication technology (ICT), to answer scientific questions and solve scientific problems

Students must be given opportunities to use ICT to access environmental information and data, and to manipulate data.

Suitable opportunities for the use of ICT include:

  • data on IUCN Red List species
  • interactive maps on protected areas
  • IWC catch quotas
  • current atmospheric CO2 levels
  • tracking satellites that monitor the cryosphere
  • climate modelling
  • carbon footprint calculations
  • tracking satellites that research mineral deposits
  • research methods:
    • tracking wildlife.

Undertake experimental and investigative activities, including appropriate risk management, in a range of environmental contexts

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to undertake experimental and investigative activities, including appropriate risk management, in a range of environmental contexts.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • research methods
  • sampling techniques.

Analyse and interpret quantitative and qualitative data to provide evidence, recognising correlations and causal relationships

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to analyse and interpret quantitative and qualitative data to provide evidence, recognising correlations and causal relationships.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • the importance of ecological monitoring in conservation planning
  • ozone depletion: collection, analysis and interpretation of data, an evaluation of data collection methods available and the reliability of data produced
  • evaluation of the effectiveness of the methods used to restore the ozone layer
  • reserves and resource
  • Lasky’s principle
  • the Universal Soil Loss Equation. Students could use data to estimate soil erosion rates in different agricultural scenarios
  • research methods.

Evaluate methodology, evidence and data, and resolve conflicting evidence to make judgements and reach conclusions and develop and refine practical design and procedures

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to:

  • evaluate methodology, evidence and data, and resolve conflicting evidence to:
    • make judgements and reach conclusions
    • develop and refine practical design and procedures.

      Suitable opportunities for this include:

      • regulation of sustainable exploitation. Students could analyse data on populations and exploitation rates to assess the effectiveness of the strategies
      • management and conservation of habitats. Students could evaluate secondary data to assess the effectiveness of habitat conservation methods
      • how population control and the management of desired and undesired species affects the conservation of biodiversity
      • difficulties monitoring and predicting climate change
      • ozone depletion: collection, analysis and interpretation of data, an evaluation of data collection methods available and the reliability of data produced
      • the hydrosphere: analysis and evaluation of strategies for sustainable management
      • research methods and working scientifically. Students could apply their knowledge of scientific methodologies and sampling techniques to plan studies to collect more data and to critically analyse methods of data collection in scenarios throughout the specification.

Know that scientific knowledge and understanding of the environment develops over time

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to develop and understand that scientific knowledge and understanding of the environment develops over time.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • management and conservation of habitats
  • changes in concentrations of greenhouse gases and the impact of global climate change
  • changes in ozone depletion
  • changes in mineral reserves
  • strategies to secure future mineral supplies.

Communicate information and ideas in appropriate ways using appropriate terminology

Students should understand and use the subject technical terminology used throughout the specification.

Consider applications and implications of environmental science and evaluate their associated benefits and risks

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to consider applications and implications of environmental science and evaluate their associated benefits and risks.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • the importance of the conservation of biodiversity
  • the advantages and disadvantages of the methods used in sustainable management of the carbon cycle.

Consider ethical issues in the treatment of humans, other organisms and the environment

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to consider ethical issues in the treatment of humans, other organisms and the environment.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • human influence on biodiversity
  • regulation of sustainable exploitation
  • management and conservation of habitats
  • global climate change
  • the impact of unsustainable exploitation of the hydrosphere
  • the environmental impacts of soil erosion.

Evaluate the role of the scientific community in validating new knowledge and ensuring integrity

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to consider the way that peer review within the scientific community is used to validate new knowledge and ensure its integrity.

Suitable opportunities for this include:

  • species population monitoring for:
    • IUCN Red List species categorisation
    • CITES trade control categorisation
    • setting quotas for IWC, EU CFP and ITTO
    • monitoring rates of tropical rainforest loss
    • monitoring rates of coral reef bleaching
  • difficulties monitoring and predicting climate change. Students should understand the limitations in the available data when attempting to predict future natural and anthropogenic climate change. They should be able to evaluate the reliability of existing information and discuss the methods that are used to fill gaps in current knowledge, including remote sensing
  • the Rowland-Molina hypothesis
  • monitoring ozone depletion
  • evaluation of the effectiveness of the methods used to restore the ozone layer
  • analysis and evaluation of the strategies for sustainable management of the hydrosphere.

Evaluate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision making

Students must be given opportunities throughout the course to evaluate the ways in which society uses science to inform decision making.

Suitable opportunities for this include:
  • categorisation of species for CITES appendices
  • management and conservation of habitats
  • the importance of ecological monitoring in conservation planning
  • the control of ecological succession in conserving plagioclimax habitats. Students should understand the processes in ecological succession that can inform conservation strategies
  • how population control and the management of desired and undesired species affects the conservation of biodiversity. Students should understand r- and k- selection strategies and how these affect the ease with which species can be over exploited
  • evaluation of the effectiveness of the methods used to restore the ozone layer
  • impact of unsustainable exploitation of the hydrosphere. Students should be able to use the technical terminology related to the hydrological cycle to discuss anthropogenic changes and strategies that may allow sustainable exploitation.