Day One ~ habitat essentials and food webs!
As this was day one, we started the day with a review of our rules that we had agreed on, based on the advice of the older students who had participated in Moss previously:
- Use your senses. Leave nature in nature!
- Walk with your partner.
- Take care of your belongings.
- Stay within the designated boundaries while exploring.
- Come as soon as you are called.
We also completed backpack checks. Do you have a water bottle? Lunch? Magnifying glass? Binoculars? Supply bag of pencils, crayons, erasers, a piece of string? Pages for today’s work? Is there anything in your pack that you don’t need to carry?
We completed a weather check, because no self-respecting environmental scientist would head out without checking the weather. We are not only relying on weather forecasts and apps, but making our own predictions, using our own knowledge of clouds, a cloud chart, a storm tracker book, a thermometer, a rain gauge and a wind vane. With just light stratus clouds, sunshine, and gentle winds out of the north, we successfully predicated a fine day. However, the cloud cover built up over the day, blocking out the sun, so the day gradually got cooler. By the end of the day we had a much heavier blanket of cloud. We are predicting some rain!
When we first arrived at the park we spent five minutes just sitting and using our senses. We heard red-winged blackbirds, quail, ducks, the ruffle of bird feathers, felt the breeze, could smell lilacs, and saw turtles sunning themselves on logs, a family of ducks swimming together, and swallows dipping low over the water to catch bugs. Then we changed perspectives. First we looked close, using our string to circle off a small area for exploration, followed by looking far, and drawing what we saw from a distance. Scientists not only use their senses to record impressions (data), but also must change perspectives, looking both close up and at the big picture.
We tried an aquatic macro invertebrate hunt, looking for critters in a tub of pond water, but we were disappointed. From the whole group we only found what might have been a leech and another critter that looked like a bug. Why, we wondered, was there so little pond life? We thought about poor water quality, and maybe the recent floods in the area. The pond water really did look murky. We will hunt again at different locations, and hope for better luck.
After play time and lunch, everyone listened to a non-fiction story about orphan fawns. This was in preparation for an environmental game called ‘Oh deer!” Four children were chosen to start as deer, and the other children were necessary resources – food, water, shelter. The children used hand signals to show what they were looking for (if a deer) or were (if they were a resource). (Hands to tummy to signal food, hands to mouth for water, and hands over head to signal shelter). Resources scattered. Deer and resources turned their backs on each other, and decided what they would be for that round – in search of water, for example, or the resource of shelter. At a given signal, the deer turned around and searched for the resource they were searching for. When they found the necessary resource, they came back home with their resource. Each resource ‘found’ became a deer, to signal a healthy and productive year – the deer herd had increased! In our year 2, the herd increased from 4 to 8. The next year there were sixteen deer, but only two resources available, so there was a massive die off of the herd. Only 2 deer remained. We played the game for many rounds, seeing the herd grow and decline based on available resources. We added a predator – a coyote – to see what would happen. The ‘deer’ all said that it was more difficult to find resources while also paying attention to a predator.
After discussing what we had learned from the game, and giving real life examples of this cycle, we worked on food webs. After all, a big part of the game we played was based on the food web – deer in search of food (grass and leaves and other plants), and coyotes hunting for deer. One group’s food web began with a fly, eaten by a robin, eaten by a big bull frog, eaten by a big fish, eaten by an osprey, eaten by an eagle, which when it died, was eaten by a fly! The food web was a circle.
Our final activity of the day was birdwatching. We used our bird identification book, and binoculars to identify birds. The big hit was seeing a heron fishing in the pond. We also saw mallards, red-winged blackbirds, robins, violet-green swallows, crows, and heard quail.
Probably the most memorable event of the day was the finding of a dead baby bird. The bird had been beheaded, and we found the head, too. We saw ants and flies feeding on the dead bird. We thought that maybe the baby bird had been attacked by a predator. The food web isn’t always pretty!
Getting outdoors for a whole week of environmental exploration and science isn’t only a great learning experience, it’s good for us physically – see below! And for all of my teacher friends looking to end the year on a high note, I encourage you to plan a big experience like this. It is fun for teachers and kids alike! And if we hope our students will work to find solutions to our environmental problems, we first need to help them to care deeply about our Earth!