An education that empowers us to systematically examine the world and to navigate it meaningfully is a vital tool for all. Like an artist incorporating found objects in a new work or a scientist using quadrats to measure components of an ecosystem, we all take samples of our environments to integrate into our unique perception of the whole. The more widely we sample, the deeper our understanding. When we travel to a new environment we not only sample more of the world, we can look back at our place of origin from our new perspective to make before unknown connections that lead us to deeper truths.
Quadrats are like windows that can be used to sample anything—plant succession, animal abundance, fungal diversity, nitrogen sequestration, carbon dioxide emissions—to name a few phenomena ecologists might sample. What’s important is that researchers have applied the samples randomly but with a methodical design that allows them to obtain data they can assess statistically. Using quadrats is a way to emphasize the process while keeping the goals in mind. If one has designed a sampling experiment well, with enough randomly placed quadrats spread over an area of interest, one can begin to make inferences about the entire system in that area from a relatively small sample.
Work stemming from the scientific method is inherently inquiry-based. Thus, researchers always have a hypothesis to examine derived from their initial observations. Sometimes they find evidence that supports their hypothesis (which is exciting) but sometimes it doesn’t (which is sometimes even more exciting). Regardless, those findings lead to new observations, questions, and hypotheses that contribute to humankind’s ever-growing and evolving collective body of knowledge.
Kristin Peterson holds a PhD in Biology from Harvard University and a certificate from the NAMTA/AMI Montessori Orientation to Adolescent Studies.