OK, this is me in my element, out and about with a bunch of awesome kids. We have walked, on average 4.5 miles a day, so by the end of the week we will have walked over twenty miles together. That means a lot in terms of bonding with our peers! We really see how the kids start looking out for each other, including carrying a water bottle for a friend who is tired, or pointing out to a friend where she or he needs to apply sunscreen. When you are out and about with kids, you don’t need to have a lesson plan, other than being open and aware to what catches the attention of the children. Everything is a learning opportunity. So far, what has caught the attention of the children includes:
opportunities to climb
hunting for shade (We have experienced record breaking heat during this week!)
bugs, especially viewed through a magnifying glass
signs to read – detour, no parking, danger, speed limits, one way . . .
landmarks we recognize – the clock tower, Webster science building (What the kids call the pumpkin tower, as every Halloween, pumpkins are thrown from the top of this building, the tallest building in Pullman!), the WSU visitor center
plants and trees we recognize – lupins, poppies, lavender, willow
the sound of the clock chimes – we are beginning to use the chimes to tell the time of day!
seeds that hitch a ride on our clothes and backpacks
Seeds, in general
Vocabulary involved in the above interests is vast! We have talked about- lupin, poppy, rose, lavender, willow, habitat, predator, prey, shade, shadow, clock tower, chimes, time, seed dispersal,
As far as planning goes, these are important details for teachers:
Before you leave, check that every child has lunch and a filled water bottle.
Bathroom and water fill opportunities – essential that you know where these are, and that you check that facilities are open, and water fountains are operational.
Bring plenty of snacks – children will get very hungry.
Bring a few books for a rest time in the shade.
Schedule frequent water breaks, and plan for frequent water bottle refills.
Plan for frequent bathroom breaks.
These are our ground rules for the week:
Hold hands gently as you walk hand in hand with your partner.
Stay within your boundaries while playing.
Listen to your teachers and come when you are called.
Look after your own belongings – backpack, lunch, water bottle, sunscreen . . .
Leave nature in nature!
We sometimes underestimate the capabilities of children. I encourage us all to test the capabilities of children through an extensive outdoor activity! Your children will amaze you!
Well, today the rain that was forecast for the whole week finally came! We only ventured out to complete our weather forecast. And our young scientists predicted the weather accurately.
“Well, the sky is covered by a heavy blanket of grey cloud – nimbostratus clouds – that means continuous rain.”
“And there is almost no wind, so that means the rain is here to stay. There is no wind to blow the clouds away.”
That made it easier to relocate today’s planned activities to our classrooms. We spent some time looking at maps, and finding the places we had visited during the week. We also caught up on recording the birds we had noticed during the week. We had seen fourteen of the eighteen birds in our birding books, and the children could remember where and when we had spotted the birds.
“We saw the quail crossing the road yesterday on our walk to the park.”
“The hawk was on the pole by the bridge.”
“The violet-green swallows were on the island in the pond and under the bridge.”
As well as the birds in our birding book, we also saw crows, a wood duck and a heron.
We then divided into our groups to continue working on our research projects. We were mostly working on completing our tri-fold displays for our presentations scheduled for 1:00PM. There was a whole lot of writing, drawing, coloring, cutting, gluing and decorating going on. We also practiced verbally presenting the material.
We were so happy to have so many families show up to join us for our indoor picnic, followed by the presentations. We had parents and grand-parents, and siblings, so we had a full house! As teachers, we are so thankful for the awesome support we receive from our families.
So, what were the questions our students worked at answering using the scientific method?
Are there fish in the ponds at Sunnyside Park. We found virtually no macro-invertebrates in the pond, so if there were fish in the pond, what did they eat?
How many food webs can we observe at Sunnyside Park?
Are there more animals at the big pond or the small pond at Sunnyside Park?
How are bugs attracted to people?
Our students used many tools to answer their questions – fishing nets, binoculars, magnifying glasses, timers, clipboards, paper and pencils to record data. Some of them presented their data in tables or pie charts. Some of them used math skills, such as using addition and division to find an average. Each group successfully used science vocabulary such as hypothesis, prediction, materials, method, observations, data, results, and conclusion. I am so tickled to hear our students use words such as ‘prediction’ or ‘hypothesis’ in their daily conversations! As our presentations were put together under a time crunch, we absolutely accepted developmental spelling. As a teacher, I much prefer that a six to seven year old is unafraid to sound out hypothesis than all words are correctly spelled! ‘Hipothesis’ is a very close approximation to the correct spelling, as is ‘qesten’. (Note to self – give lesson on ‘u’ after ‘q’ in most English spelling of words beginning with q. Give lesson on ‘ion’ spellings. This is how Montessori teachers work.)
So what were their conclusions?
There are fish in the pond. We used oats as bait and almost caught some fish in our nets. The fish are surviving partly on food thrown into the pond to feed the ducks. There may be few macro-invertebrates because the fish eat them.
The groups observed several food webs. They also noted that they saw more land food webs than aquatic food webs. This was due to poor water quality in the ponds and a lack of aquatic macro-invertebrates.
There were a lot more animals observed at the big pond. There is more water and more food at the big pond, and the island in the big pond provides a safe habitat for many animals.
Bugs use their senses, just like people do. Bugs are attracted by sight (color), smell (sweat, perfume, shampoo), taste (blood) and touch (body heat).
The kids really enjoyed using a microphone to make their presentations. The audience asked a lot of thought provoking questions. Everyone then spent time looking at the presentation boards. And so ended a very happy, positive and productive outdoor science week.
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!
Yesterday afternoon each group chose a topic they wanted to explore more and designed an inquiry project to answer a question. This morning, each group worked hard to find ways to communicate their project and findings to the other groups and their parents. The three groups of first-third graders incorporated the scientific method, and used vocabulary words such as question, hypothesis, method, data, conclusion. The children incorporated drawings, charts, bar graphs, and maps into their display. They also worked as a group to decide who would explain what part of the project to the audience, and practiced making the presentation.
That’s a whole lot of learning ~science, vocabulary, visual communication, math, graphing, teamwork, cooperation, making choices, making a presentation . . .
So what did the groups choose to focus on?
Bird song, water quality, insects, beaver habitat! The variety of topics reflects the different aspects of the four-day experience that caught the attention of the different groups. Student-choice, student-led inquiry, teamwork!
Above – a few details from the kindergarten research project.
A few more details!
Of course, the day wouldn’t be complete without some time for the kids to do what they do so well – enjoy being kids in nature!
As educators, we saw so much intense growth this week! The children certainly deepened their understanding of eco-systems, the major theme of the four-day outdoor experience, and of processes such as decomposition and the life cycle, and of habitats, and of scientific vocabulary and the scientific method. However, we saw a lot of growth outside of science learning, too! Leaders emerged, friendships deepened, children grew in their resilience and ability to be responsible for all of their belongings for a whole day. The children developed good teamwork, too.
Several of the children were really sad, and some even moved to tears as our experience together came to an end. But as one child said, “I’m really sad, but never mind, there’s always next year to look forward to!
Many thanks to the McCall Outdoor Science School outreach program, and our four, fabulous outdoor educators! Cheers, from all of us at MOSS!
This morning we were all about the river! I love it when children make connections. When one of our educators mentioned aquatic ecosystems, one of our kindergarteners piped up, “Oh, like our aquatic center, where we swim. It’s water!”
Activities this morning included testing water quality using technology (water temperature, PH of water, amount of dissolved oxygen in water), learning about water sheds, hunting for macro invertebrates (macro – opposite of micro, meaning big enough to be seen without a microscope, and invertebrates – without a backbone) and using either an app that asks questions (How many legs? How many tails? Does it have a shell? etc.) or a classification chart to identify the macro-invertebrates we caught in the creek, and learning about aquatic habitats for animals. We searched for evidence of beaver activity. The kindergarteners also drew pictures of animals that lived near this creek in their habitats. The habitat needs to supply food, water and shelter. We drew beavers, quail, fish, swallows, deer . . . and more. The KG kids also got to feel a beautiful beaver pelt!
A plus of being close to the river was we had another beautiful location for morning snack and lunch, and a perfect day to enjoy our picnic! We love our favorite, enormous willow tree!
After lunch and recess, each group worked on an inquiry project, thinking about what they wanted to learn more about and choosing a question they could answer through nature. The older students followed the scientific method – asking a question, coming up with a hypothesis, thinking about how they could answer the question, what data they needed to collect, and how they would present their project. For the kindergarteners we kept it simple. What did we want to learn more about? What did we want to find out? How could we find out the answer to our question?
Now, I can’t tell you what each of the four groups decided to study because that would spoil the surprise for the presentations of our research tomorrow! But I will leave you with these photos of the kg kids collecting data! What are they trying to find out, I wonder? Presentation of research is at 11:00 tomorrow at the Sunnyside Picnic Pavilion. Picnic to follow.
Welcome to our outdoor classroom, day two! We hiked the Pine Ridge Trail at Kamiak Butte County Park, and focused on comparing ecosystems.
The south facing slope of Kamiak Butte is sunny, open, and at this time of year covered with wildflowers. I chaperoned the kindergarten group today, and we learned to identify arrowleaf balsamroot (part of the sunflower family), yarrow, indian paintbrush, and vanilla smelling ponderosa pines.
We also enjoyed listening to a book written by scientists, members of the National Forest Service. The book asked us to consider, “Why do we cut down a tree?” At first the kindergarteners were appalled, “Cut down a tree? Never! Trees give us oxygen.” The book gave us insights into why trees might need to be cut down – damaged and dangerous, diseased, overcrowding and causing a fire danger, or to supply us with wood for products we use. We decided to use our senses on the rest of the hike to observe the ecosystem, and also to spot trees that might not be healthy. We found hollow trees, trees that were damaged and broken, and even trees that were lying on the ground and decomposing. I heard that word a lot! “This tree is decomposing. It’s turning back to dirt!”
The kindergarten group hiked to the very top, and ate lunch with an amazing view. We also got to feel the pelt of a coyote, an animal that lives at Kamiak Butte. We saw chipmunks, lots of butterflies and bugs, smelt the warm dirt and the Ponderosa pines, felt soft leaves, and heard birdsong.
Meanwhile, the groups of older children were sampling the ecosystems, and collecting data. How many rocks, pine cones, flowers, sticks, bugs, etc. were contained within a circled off part of the ground? This activity was carried out on the south side and the north side, and the children made comparisons and drew bar graphs in their nature journals to report what they noticed. They also used hand lenses to get an even closer look!
The kindergarten group just verbally reported the differences they saw – one side was sunny, the other side was gloomy and dark, one side had lots of flowers, the other side had moss, fungus and ferns and not as many flowers, one side had only a few trees, the other side was the forest. Because kindergarteners are filled with curiosity, and a sense of wonder and awe, we spent four hours on the trail! We stopped to look at so many things, and the children called out to one another, “Good observation!” and “Good eye!” The loop we hiked was 3 and a half miles.
Were we tired when we finished our hike? Nope, we then spent thirty minutes of free play on the climbing structures, but also building nests for chipmunks and squirrels, collecting pine cones, finding worms . . . just being kids out in nature!
We used some technology tools today – hand lenses, binoculars, a gadget to measure wind speed, probes to sample dirt, and measure soil temperature and moisture levels, and the highlight for the KG kids, an app that recorded and identified and played bird songs. When we played the chickadee’s song, we were surprised to hear two chickadees call back to us!
We ended our day with a hike to find a Douglas fir tree and collect the cones. We listened to a legend about the cones, involving how the mice sheltered in the cones during a big forest fire. Can you see the rear legs and tails of the mice hanging out of the cone?
We also learned that a Douglas Fir, unlike a spruce tree, is friendly, not prickly. Its needles are soft. So we all got close to our Douglas fir tree, and that’s another plant we learned to identify today!
Tomorrow we will explore another ecosystem during a river walk! I can’t wait!
First of all, many thanks to all of our family members, friends, neighbors, former families, current families and community members for supporting our Montessori Outdoor Science School this year. Your donations helped to pay for four science educators from the McCall Outdoor Science School to visit our school for five days and lead small group, hands-on inquiry based science lessons for our Maple Room students. Thanks from the bottom of our hearts!
So here are some photos of our classroom for today!
Today’s focus was on ecosystems, living and non-living, the cycle of life, and mostly, DECOMPOSITION! How does something go from living to non-living to part of the very dirt? This is what we wanted to find out. We collected piles of similar items – pine needles, leaves, pine cones, sticks – and arranged our collections from the freshest/most recently living to the oldest/most dead looking. What did we notice? As the items aged, they became more broken up, smaller, drier . . and more like dirt!
How did this happen? The items got smashed up from being stepped on, and drying out. We also went on the search for decomposers, the FBI of the natural world! Fungus, Bacteria and Invertebrates!
We also played some small group and large group games to explore decomposition and the life cycle process. In one game of chase, the catcher was the wolf. Most of the rest of the children were the herd of deer, and a few children were mushrooms, the decomposers. When a deer was caught by the wolf, and went down to the ground, the mushrooms swept in and began the work of decomposition, returning the deer to the earth, and providing a source of new life!
So today we learned by observing closely, by asking questions and discussing answers, by using magnifying glasses, by drawing what we saw, by playing games, by getting close to the dirt and even making art!
Outdoor science vocabulary I heard the children using today ~ decomposition, fungus, bacteria, invertebrate, process, ecosystem!