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FireWorks featuring Ponderosa, Lodgepole, and Whitebark Pine Forests | Print |

Image: FireWorks logoFireWorks is an educational program about the science of wildland fire, designed for students in grades 1-10.

Image: Students Image: Adults

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Wildland fire provides a rich context for education because understanding of fire requires integration of several important concepts: properties of matter, ecosystem fluctuations and cycles, plant and animal habitat and survival, and human interactions with ecosystem

The FireWorks program consists of of a curriculum and a trunk of materials, including laboratory equipment, specimens, CDs, books, and kits of specialized materials for teachers. The program focuses on fire ecology, fire behavior, and human influences on three fire-dependent forest communities-ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), interior lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta var. latifolia), and whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis). The curriculum links each of 36 activities to national and local educational standards. The program is most appropriate for use in locations where the featured tree species occur and may serve as a prototype for wildland fire education in other geographic areas.


Jane Kapler Smith, Ecologist, FEIS Lead Scientist; and Nancy E. McMurray, Biological Science Technician


Blackfeet Community College, Montana Environmental Education Association, Montana Natural History Center, Northern and Intermountain Regions of the Forest Service, Project Learning Tree, Salish Kootenai College Rural Systemic Initiative, The University of Idaho, The University of Montana


1. To increase student understanding

- of the physical science of combustion, especially in wildland fuels
- that a forest has many kinds of plants and animals, which change over time and influence one another
- that fire is an important natural process in many forests
- that native plants and animals have ways to survive fire or reproduce after fire, or both
- that people influence fire-dependent wildlands in the areas where they live
- that people respond in different ways to fire-related questions

2. To enhance scientific literacy and critical thinking about science-related social issues among students, FireWorks aims to increase student skills in

Image: Adults - making observations
- classifying information
- measuring, counting, and computing
- stating and testing hypotheses
- describing observations, both qualitatively and quantitatively
- explaining reasoning
- identifying and expressing responses to science-related questions
- working in teams to solve problems
- critical listening and reading


FireWorks reaches approximately 2,000 students per year. The curriculum has been adapted to Colorado ecology and implemented by Project Learning Tree. At least one Educator workshop is offered per year, teaching educators, community leaders, and agency communicators how to use FireWorks. Two research projects have shown that FireWorks increases student and adult understanding of wildland fire.


Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program
RMRS Conservation Education and Diversity Programs
National Forest Service Office of Fire and Aviation Management
Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Project

FireWorks is developed and maintained by the Fire Modeling Institute Information Team.


Parkinson, Tamara M.; Force, Jo Ellen; Smith, Jane Kapler. 2003. Hands-on learning: its effectiveness in teaching the public about wildland fire. Journal of Forestry. 101(7):21-26.

Smith, Jane Kapler; McMurray, Nancy E. 2004. FireWorks educational program and its effectiveness. In: Engstrom, R. T.; Galley, K. E. M.; de Groot, W. J., eds. Proceedings of the 22nd Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference: fire in temperate, boreal, and montane ecosystems; 2001 October 15-18; Kananaskis Village, Alberta, Canada. Tallahassee, FL: Tall Timbers Research Station: 231-235.

Smith, Jane Kapler; McMurray, Nancy E. 2000. FireWorks curriculum featuring ponderosa, lodgepole, and whitebark pine forests. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-65. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 270 p.

Thomas, Linda R.; Walsh, James A.; Smith, Jane Kapler. 2000. Behavioral and Cognitive Evaluation of FireWorks Education Trunk. In: Smith, H. Y., ed. The Bitterroot Ecosystem Management Research Project--what we have learned: symposium proceedings; 1999 May 18-20; Missoula, MT. Proceedings RMRS-P-17. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station: 71-73. FireWorks trunks available for loan.