University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
College of Biological Sciences

7th and 8th Grade Programs

Middle school is a fabulous time to start really delving into the scientific process. Reinforce the concepts you cover in your classroom with a field trip to a world-famous scientific field station! Our full-day field trips include a hike, a visit to our long-term ecology experiments, and a hands-on science investigation. Students have the chance to participate in all aspects of the scientific inquiry process, from observations and questions to data collection and analysis. Our half-day field trips focus on getting outside and making observations, providing a strong foundation for you to engage in scientific inquiry back in your own classroom.


"The experiences at Cedar Creek are ones that my 8th graders put on their list of “best thing I did all year/unforgettable experiences”. I love that!" - 8th grade teacher, 2018


Digital learning resources are available HERE!





Click here to submit a field trip request form! A staff member will contact you within 3 business days.


Full-day field trips are $330 for a "classroom" of approximately 30 students and at least one teacher/adult chaperone. Half-day programs are $210 per “classroom”. These fees cover the cost of a trained naturalist to guide and teach your group throughout the day, and provide access for your group to areas of the property not open to the public. If this cost is prohibitive for your school, please get in touch with Caitlin ( - we are happy to work with you to subsidize the cost of your visit! 

Teacher Planning Guide

Resources to help you and your students prepare for a successful visit.


Biomes Hike and Research Area Visit

In a 2 hour half-day program, your group will learn about Minnesota’s biomes and visit one of our long-term research experiments. All half-day visits require your bus to stay onsite to drive to the research areas. Select from the research visit options below.


The Cedar Bog Lake trail is a unique experience that lets students walk through representations of all three biomes present in Minnesota before emerging at the shores of Cedar Bog Lake. Deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie and boreal coniferous forest, as well as swamps and a lake – they all contribute to make this a “Walk Across Minnesota!” Students discuss the natural and scientific history of Minnesota and Cedar Creek, and observe and document the biotic and abiotic components that structure our local ecosystems through drawing and writing. Total distance is ~1 mile.



Big Biodiversity

Dr. Dave Tilman’s Big Biodiversity experiment is known worldwide for its insights into the way prairie plant communities function and its role in helping scientists, policy makers, and the general public understand and appreciate biodiversity. Explore this enormous experiment using a guided scavenger hunt that encourages students to figure out Dr. Tilman’s main results on their own. We’ll leave with an appreciation for biodiversity and science that’s hard to replicate anywhere else!

Forests and Biodiversity (FAB)

The Forests and Biodiversity (FAB) experiment is Cedar Creek’s newest look into the importance of diversity for plant and animal communities. Depending on your interests, you will learn about the scientific process, practice using a dichotomous key to identify tree species, discuss the many ways scientists measure diversity, and/or explore a field with 40,000 trees planted by fellow students.

BioCON – global change experiment

Large-scale changes in carbon dioxide, temperature, rainfall, nitrogen levels and biodiversity are happening across the globe. Cedar Creek is home to one of the longest-running experiments in the world in investigate how these many varied factors impact plant community health, growth and resilience. Visit the BioCON experiment to learn about how plant communities are responding to a changing world, helping us deal with human impacts to natural systems, and more! We’ll also discuss the scientific inquiry process, the engineering design process, and brainstorm additional questions and methods we could use to investigate the world we live in.

Oak Savanna and Prescribed Burn experiment

Most people think of wildfires as something to be extinguished as quickly as possible. However, for some ecosystems like the oak savanna, fire is a critical part of a healthy environment. Cedar Creek is home to a prescribed burning experiment that has been running since 1964 and has taught us about the value of fire to plants and animals in these special ecosystems. Visit the savanna section of Cedar Creek’s property and experience the dramatic difference between areas that are burned every year, burned occasionally, or never burned.

photo by K. Lundgren, Jackson Middle School


In a 4 hour full-day program, your group go will on a nature walk, learn about or visit a long-term research experiment, and conduct their own hands-on field investigation. Some full-day trips require your bus to stay onsite to drive to research areas. Select from the options below.

Ecosystem Comparison (available April – November, bus required)

Students go on a hike to Cedar Bog Lake (see Biomes Hike above), discuss natural history, and make observations about changes that occur between at biome transition zones (light, temperature, soil, moisture, etc). They also visit the Big Biodiversity experiment (see description in Research Visit options above) to discuss the scientific inquiry process and the value of biodiversity for plant communities. Upon returning, they work in groups of 3-5 to develop hypothesis-driven questions and collect basic data on the abiotic and biotic factors in three ecosystems (prairie, forest and wetland). These questions and data allow them to investigate a basic ecological concept: how do the physical elements of an ecosystem influence the distribution of its living organisms? The day wraps up with groups graphing their data, interpreting their results, and collaboratively sharing insights into the interactions that structure ecosystems.

Trees and Transects (available April – November, bus required, max 50 students per day)

After an introduction and overview of abiotic and biotic ecosystem components, data collection techniques, the transect method and more, students go on a hike to Cedar Bog Lake (see Biomes Hike above). On their way out to the lake, we discuss natural and scientific history and make observations about the ecosystems we are walking through. On the last 135 meters of the hike, students transition into data collection mode! In small groups assigned to specific portions of the transect, students collect data on water depth, light availability, temperature and plant community composition. Back in the classroom, each group adds their data to a whole-class pictograph that shows how abiotic and biotic variables change on the transition from hardwood forest to deciduous swamp to lake. The day also include a visit to the Big Biodiversity experiment (see description in Research Visit options above) to discuss the scientific process and the value of studying ecosystems and plant communities.

Preserving the Oak Savanna (available May – October, bus required)

Students go on a hike to Cedar Bog Lake (see Biomes Hike above), discuss the natural and scientific history of Cedar Creek, and make observations about factors that impact the health of forest ecosystems. They spend the rest of the day in our oak savannas, where they visit and view our long-running prescribed burn experiment (see description in Research Visit options above) and discuss how fire can be used as a research and management tool. In the savanna, they also conduct their field investigation. After a chance to plan in small groups, students use a line transect or quadrat sampling to investigate the effects of prescribed burning regimes on savanna plant populations. They develop basic scientific questions, collect data, and graph their data to answer their group’s question. There is time at the end of the day to share out the results of their investigation. There is also ample time to look for some of our savanna specialist species, including the red-headed woodpecker! Depending on availability and teacher interest, a hike to our bison viewing platform may be available as a substitute for the hike to Cedar Bog Lake.

Bog Biology (available April – October, bus required, limit 50 students per day)

What makes a bog a bog? Come explore the weird and wonderful world of bogs, swamps and marshes! The day will include a walk to Beckman Bog, a peat bog that is home to tamaracks, black spruce, carnivorous plants and other unusual plants. Students will spend time out on the boardwalk in our bog, looking closely at the plants that make their home there and doing some drawing and writing about what they see. We will also highlight the phenology research taking place at the bog, and how our particular bog has changed over the last few decades. Back in the classroom, students will investigate water quality in bogs and other aquatic environments by observing and classifying macroinvertebrates found in different water sources across the property. They will learn to use a basic macro index to quantify pollution levels in water.

Water Quality (available April – November, bus required if going to Fish Lake)

Students go on a hike to Cedar Bog Lake (see Biomes Hike above) or to Fish Lake to observe and think about the role water plays in ecosystems. All living things need water, from plants to animals to humans. How can we tell if our water is clean and our aquatic ecosystems are healthy? During and after our hike, with plenty of time for questions, observations and journaling, we will learn how scientists at Cedar Creek and elsewhere study water quality and get a chance to see some of their tools and sampling methods. Student groups will make hypotheses about which of three water sources at Cedar Creek is the healthiest (and figure out what ‘healthiest’ even means!) and then measure factors like dissolved oxygen, nutrient levels and pH to see how their hypotheses hold up to reality.

Scientific Sorting (available year-round, bus required)

How do scientists identify organisms they’ve never seen before? How do we sort and classify items we encounter out in the field? Students will spend the day learning about Carolus Linneaus and the importance and power of classification. They will go on a hike to Cedar Bog Lake (see Biomes Hike above), discuss the natural and scientific history of Cedar Creek, and make observations about similarities and differences between the ecosystems – particularly the forests – they pass through. On the way back, they will collect 1-2 small items from the trail. Back in the classroom, they will use their observational skills to sort them and come up with a basic classification scheme (dichotomous key) to sort their items as well as some ‘surprise items’ provided by the naturalist. The day will wrap up with a visit to the Forests and Biodiversity experiment to practice identifying trees using a professional dichotomous key!

Entomology 101 (available June – early October)

Experience the wonderful world of insects! Students will put on their entomologist hats for the day as they explore the structures that allow particular species of insects to thrive in specific habitats. Your visit will include a nature walk with a focus on observing and documenting insects and their habitats, a chance to explore our world-famous insect collection and discuss the science of entomology, and a hands-on investigation to collect and examine live insects! We’ll discuss the connection between structure and function and how it plays out in nature.

Wildlife Ecology (available year-round)

How do scientists study wild animals, particularly the ones that are shy, scared or rare and thus hard to observe? Spend a day exploring and practicing field methods while learning about on-going research into wildlife at Cedar Creek. Your visit will include an introduction to the art and science of animal tracking including a nature hike and field investigation of wildlife track and sign, hands-on exposure to field methods currently in use at Cedar Creek (depending on group size and time of year, this will include radio telemetry - invented at Cedar Creek! - , camera traps, or both), and plenty of time examining our collection of pelts, bones and skulls. As available, you may also have the opportunity to go birding and learn about our red-headed woodpecker research project, view our seasonal bison herd and/or assist in insect surveys.



Our capacity to do in-school visits is limited, particularly in September, October and May. However, if you would like one of our scientists or naturalists to speak to your students at a career panel or event, assist with judging at a science fair, or provide input in a similar capacity, please let us know. Contact Dr. Caitlin Barale Potter (; 612-301-2602) and we'll see what we can arrange!



Phenology (K-16), Weather and Climate (K-8), Prairie Ecology (K-8), Animal Adaptations (K-8), Winter Biology (5-16), Soil Biology (5-16), Climate Change (7-16) and more! Have a suggestion for a topic that your school would like to see? Tell Caitlin ( and we'll add it to our list of future programs!



Minimum/Maximum Students: Minimum 5 students/program. Maximum is ~30 students per group and 4 groups (~120 students) per day for all programs. Your field trip fee covers the cost of a naturalist to lead your group through your visit – thus, program fees are assessed on a per group basis rather than a per student basis and you will be charged the full group amount even if you bring fewer than 30 students.

Chaperones: At least one chaperone (preferably teacher, though non-teacher adult/parent is acceptable) is required for each group of up to ~30 students. Paras and nurses accompanying specific students do not count towards this minimum. We rely on chaperones to assist with group management and behavior issues as they arise so that our naturalists can focus on delivering your program!

Scholarships: Scholarships are available to schools that cannot afford field trip fees. Contact Caitlin (caitlin@umn.eduor 612-301-2602) for information.

Billing Policy: An invoice will be issued from the University of Minnesota for your trip at the beginning of the season (April for spring field trips, June for summer field trips, September for fall field trips and December for winter field trips). It can be paid by check or credit card within 30 days. We do not accept cash or other payments onsite on your field trip day unless prior arrangements have been made.

Cancellation Policy: Programs are held rain or shine. If there is rain in the forecast, make sure your students are prepared to be outside in it! In extreme weather conditions, we reserve the right to cancel programs for your safety and will work with you to reschedule. You will not be charged a cancellation fee under these circumstances. However, you will be charged for the full amount of your program if you cancel less than 14 days in advance or if you do not show up or contact us within 30 mins of your scheduled arrival time.) COVID UPDATE: if a program needs to be cancelled because of changes in public health guidelines or policies at your school or at the University of Minnesota, or if the weather forecast means we will need to spend the majority of your program indoors, you will not be charged a cancellation fee. We will work to reschedule where possible and appropriate.

Accessibility: The majority of the programs offered at Cedar Creek can be modified to accommodate participants with special needs. We ask that you share pertinent information with a minimum of two weeks notice about any students that have any special needs (particular educational requirements resulting from learning difficulties, physical disability, or emotional and behavioral difficulties). This information enables us to make the necessary modifications needed to meet the needs of your group and to arrange your schedule so that all your students have a straightforward and positive experience.

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