Get to Know a National Park with FieldScope

Get to Know a National Park with FieldScope

Use an interactive map to explore the geography and ecosystems of one of the highest national parks in the United States.


5 - 12


Geography, Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

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FieldScope is a web-based platform for citizen science projects involving geographic data. It’s also a great tool for exploring the geography of a place, including diverse ecosystems, changing elevations, and watersheds. Use the link above to launch the Rocky Mountain National Park FieldScope map. Be sure to go through the tutorial when the map loads to get familiar with the tools you will work with in the FieldScope project.

Strategies for Using the FieldScope Project in Upper-Elementary and Middle School

  • Have students locate Denver, Colorado on the map. Use the Search feature, as needed. Then ask them to use the Measure tool to calculate the distance from Denver to Rocky Mountain National Park, “as the crow flies”. Then have students locate the main road that runs from Denver to Estes Park, a city that borders Rocky Mountain National Park on the east and the main gateway to the park. Have students measure the distance from Denver to the park on the road.

  • Show students the Elevation layer and help them to understand that areas shaded in white are the highest, and that the ground gets lower in elevation as you move through the white to the green, brown, and tan colors. You can use the Query tool to obtain the elevation at different points in and around the park to confirm this. Then show students the Life Zones layer. Discuss life zones with students. Challenge students to explain the relationship between elevation and life zones. Have students identify which life zone is at the highest elevation and which is at the lowest elevation in the park.

  • In FieldScope, have students select the Places and Environments and Life Zones layers. Have students use a three-column chart to record differences they observe in the three life zones from the images from the Places and Environments layer. On the left side of the chart, have students write names of the life zones in the park. In the second column, have students write keywords about the landscapes and vegetation based on the images and captions from each zone. (e.g., Tundra: alpine, ice, glacier, barren rock, steep rock faces, ridges. Subalpine: lodgepole pines, douglas fir, trees, dead and downed trees. Montane: Streams, alluvial fan, Ponderosa Pine, aspen, lakes.) In the third column, have them refer to the Vocabulary tab above and the Encyclopedia of Life to find further information about the terms and species of trees mentioned in the photos.

  • Have students turn on the Vegetation layer. Challenge students to count as many different vegetation types in the park as possible by querying the map with the Query tool. Also have students use the Transparency tool to investigate the relationship between the vegetation and elevation layers—are certain types of vegetation found at some elevations and not others? What about the relationship between vegetation and life zones? To do this, show students that you can change the transparency of a layer by moving the slider bar under the layer name back and forth.

  • Have students use the Search tool in the tabs at left to find Long’s Peak, the highest point in the park. Click on the query tool (question mark at top right) and then on the summit of Long’s Peak to determine its elevation 4,344 meters (14,252 feet). It can be difficult to click on the exact spot of the peak, so have students click with the query tool around the area of the peak to find the highest possible elevation. Survey the class to see who can find the highest elevation. Do the same for the nearby University of Colorado-Boulder, but now ask students to find the lowest elevation. Ask: How much of a change in elevation would you experience if you drove from the University of Colorado-Boulder to the park and climbed Long’s Peak?

  • Have students use the Drawing and Marker tools to create their own maps and Save (see button at the top right of the FieldScope tool) them to a computer for use in a report or presentation.

Strategies for Using the FieldScope Project with High School Students:

As homework, have students work through the tutorial. In class, assign small groups to computers to explore the relationships between two or more thematic layers included within the FieldScope project. Students can zoom in to look at relationships at different scales. Have each group use the drawing tools to mark the maps as needed to show any patterns. Students can save their maps as PNG files and then present their findings to the class. Patterns students might identify:

  • Life zones distinctly change with elevation
  • Ponderosa pines grow at lower elevations compared to lodgepole pine trees.
  • Streams run down in elevation from the center of the park, on either side of the continental divide.
  • Mountain pine beetle damage is mainly in the montane life zone on the west side of the park, but in recent years has moved into the subalpine areas on the east side of the park.
Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Anne Haywood, National Geographic Society
Sean P. O'Connor, BioBlitz Education Consultant
Educator Reviewer
Sarah Richings-Germain, Teacher, Olander School for Project Based Learning, Fort Collins, CO, Olander School for Project Based Learning
Expert Reviewer
Joseph Kerski, Ph.D., Education Manager, ESRI, ESRI
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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