Planning Investigations

Review tools to guide you and your students from investigations to action.

Issue Investigation guides you through the process of asking questions, designing investigations, analyzing results, and forming conclusions. This arc of investigation can be used in any type of program, classroom, or green team where students are asking questions to learn about a life-relevant issue. At least some investigations should occur outside.

Use the planning tools and student worksheets on this page to support your students as they ask questions, perform investigations, and develop conclusions. You may have some questions ready to guide investigations because they would lead to a lesson that supports your curriculum, standards or learning goals but make sure to have some questions developed or co-developed by your students.

Issue Investigation is one the primary components, in addition to Curriculum Anchor and Informed Action, of the Environmental Literacy Model (ELM) used to think through the details of a MWEE. In working together throughout the investigation to construct, communicate, and refine explanations about the driving question, students participate in the MWEE essential elements of Issue Definition, Outdoor Field Experiences, and Synthesis and Conclusions.

Student-directed learning

The life-relevant environmental issue is often pre-determined by the teacher so they can ensure it supports and satisfies standards or learning goals and fits their curriculum. In the case of a MWEE, this is also true for the overarching driving question. With the focus of the program often set, students can still direct the learning by developing supporting questions. Supporting questions are typically more focused and help to provide context and understanding around the pieces of knowledge needed to answer or address the driving question.

Decide how you will provide opportunities for students to share their supporting question ideas. You can invite students to write or post their questions to a shared classroom or virtual board and later vote on which questions the class should investigate.

Issue Investigation planning tools and student worksheets

Audits and Schoolyard Report Cards

Use audits or schoolyard report cards with your students to better understand your school or community. These tools can be used to formulate supporting questions and identify solutions or interventions. The National Wildlife Federation’s Audits cover a range of topics from Healthy Schools to Water to Biodiversity. There are also more general schoolyard report cards like this one from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Asking Questions and Planning Investigations student worksheet

This worksheet will help students connect the dots between the driving question, the supporting questions (what do we want to know?), and the investigations (how can we investigate it?). Engaging students in developing questions is one way of incorporating student voice from the outset of the MWEE. This worksheet can be used to explore opportunities both in the classroom and in the field.

Incorporating Outdoor Field Experiences

Outdoor field experiences can help students connect the issue to their place or community and see impacts first-hand. If you are conducting a MWEE, you need to plan at least one outdoor field experience. This experience could happen during issue investigation when students are learning more about the issue to help them develop supporting questions or to carry out investigations, and/or could happen during the action component. Use this tool to brainstorm possible outdoor field sites and think through how a visit to the site could help your program. Don’t forget to consider your schoolyard as a possible outdoor field experience! Using your schoolyard may allow you to have more outdoor experiences than if you were to only rely on off-site locations and can help with the sustainability of your program.

Claim, Evidence, Reasoning student worksheet

Use this worksheet with students to guide them through making a claim about the issue they explored during Issue Investigation. This claim will be used to inform Environmental Action Projects.

Moving from Claims to Informed Action student worksheet

This worksheet helps students brainstorm different Environmental Action Project options for addressing the driving question explored in the MWEE. Remember that environmental action comes in many shapes and forms, including restoration or protection, everyday choices, community engagement, and civic engagement.

Environmental Literacy Model

Continue to revisit the ELM as you and your students plan and implement your program. In the Issue Investigation section of the ELM, you will record the supporting questions developed by you and your students, describe each investigation to answer those supporting questions, and the process and activities used to analyze the data and create claims. Check out ELM examples from completed MWEEs in the Teacher Resources section.