Today we returned to Sunnyside Park for our final day of our outdoor science school, and focused on inquiry projects. The children divided into two groups the day before, and thought about what they were most interested in studying. One group chose birds, and the other group chose more hunting for aquatic macro invertebrates ~ remember them from day one? Next they chose a question to which they did not already know the answer, and designed a project, using the scientific method, to find the answer. They learned and used new words like hypothesis (best guess), data (numbers), location, materials, conclusion . . .
The first group wanted to know whether there were more land birds or water birds at Sunnyside Park. Five of the group shared the hypothesis that there would be more land birds, and two members of the group thought there would be more water birds. To find the answer, they chose two locations – one on a hill, surrounded by trees, and then down on the edge of the pond. At each location they decided to spend five minutes watching for birds, and using tally marks and columns to keep check of how many were water birds and how many were land birds. They spent two five-minute bird watching sessions at each location. After each five- minute session, the children spent time discussing what they saw and adding up their tally marks.
The second group wanted to know whether there were more macro invertebrates in the pond or in the stream. Their hypothesis was that there would be more in the pond. To find the answer, they decided to sample four tubs of water at each location. They worked in pairs, as hunters and recorders. The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch the macro invertebrates in the tub of water and to transfer what they caught to the sample tray – an ice cube tray. The recorders used lenses to view each sample and a field guide to try to identify each organism.
The groups then used their best team-working skills to prepare a poster to communicate their inquiry project to the other group and parents who would be attending a presentation. I loved watching the children work together as writers, illustrators and data managers to present their projects.
After a picnic lunch with parents, the children presented their projects and answered questions. And what did they discover? There were more land birds than water birds in Sunnyside Park. The second group rejected their hypothesis, because they found about the same number of macro invertebrates in the stream as in the pond.
Next we sang two songs that the children had learned and one that they spontaneously composed. The children’s songs were about habitat, eco-systems and perspective.
Finally, parents and children had time together to look through field journals, take a closer look at the project posters and try out some of the scientific tools we used during the week.
After a few group photos, we said goodbye to Ms. Audry and Ms. Rachel, our educators. As a wonderful surprise, Audry and Rachel had prepared an individual note for each child, mentioning their strengths and skills.
This week went by so fast. I watched the children grow not only in their science skills and knowledge but in their sense of community, their resilience and their independence. One of our children said, while bird-watching, I could keep doing this forever! We will definitely be interested in another Montessori Outdoor Science School next year.
Thanks once again to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman, and one of our students’ Grandfather.