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Mystery of the Disappearing Cottonwoods

Source Institutions

    Oregon Museum of Science and Industry

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Mystery of the Disappearing Cottonwoods

Learners will explore the scientific mystery behind a disappearing group of trees by examining data and attempting to explain the decline. They make a model of a riverbank and then simulate the spreading of cottonwood seeds by scattering hole-punch confetti onto the model river. Next, learners analyze the percentages of seeds that land in ideal terrain against the percentages of seeds that land on inhospitable conditions. The lesson plan includes handouts, background information, and suggested extension activities.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 14

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 3-hole punches or single hole punches
  • Colored construction paper (one 8.5” x 11” sheet)
  • Butcher paper (2, 2-meter long sections)
  • Margarine tub or plastic cup
  • Meter stick
  • Pencils
  • Blindfolds
  • Scotch tape
  • Index cards (3 inch by 5 inch) or post-it notes
  • Broom
  • Materials to photocopy: Science Background, Student Procedure, and Research Sheet


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
    • Earth's History
      • Ecology
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Plants
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Human Impact
  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data
      • Formulating Explanations
      • Communicating Results
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Technology and the Environment

Informal Categories

  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All Rights Reserved, OMSI, ©2006

Funding Source:

  • NASA


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