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Montessori Outdoor Science School Day Three ~aquatic ecosystems, plus the scientific method May 3, 2018

Welcome to our outdoor classroom, day three!

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.

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Montessori Outdoor Science School Day 2 ~ Ecosystem day at Kamiak Butte State Park May 2, 2018

Filed under: learning,Montessori education,nature,Observation,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:00 pm

 

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!31632031_10156298995276774_4545326570385965056_n

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?

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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!

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Tomorrow we will explore another ecosystem during a river walk!  I can’t wait!

 

Taking a mental break! March 8, 2018

Filed under: Montessori education,Observation,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 8:48 pm

19754_335407046773_3316326_nParents ask the best questions after observing in a classroom!

One parent observed children occasionally taking a break from intense focus on their work.  A child might be working with focus, and then spend time gazing around the room or off into space.  That’s a good observation.

Sometimes when that happens, a child is thinking!  Sometimes a child might be taking a mental break.  I know that I do that when I am working.  Maybe I am working on financial reports, and find that I need a break.  I look away from my computer for a while, or maybe change activity for a while – go check the mail box or load the dishwasher!  I’m giving my brain a chance to rest from intense, high brain activity.

Children in a Montessori class sometimes put out a name tag to save a work, and then go to eat snack, or read a book, before returning to their work.  An elementary aged child might save a work with a name tag, and then choose a different type of work.  In our school, a child might switch from working on a math equation, to working on a map, for example.  The goal is for the child to complete their activities by the end of the week.  Completing a map might take several days.  We allow each child to find his or her own rhythm for learning and completing work!

I just love getting questions from parents.

 

Outdoor Science School ~ day four. Inquiry projects May 26, 2017

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 . . .


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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.

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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.

 

Outdoor Science School ~ Day three. It’s all about perspective! May 24, 2017

Today we travelled by public transportation and a long walk to reach Roundtop Park, one of the highest points in Pullman, and a remnant of the original Palouse prairie.  Part of the challenge of today was the weather.  The temperature dropped about thirty degrees from yesterday, and there was a fierce cold wind blowing.  We got a very concrete lesson in being prepared for changes of weather.  Many of the kids were under-dressed in shorts and T-shirts, and were feeling very cold.  We made an emergency trip back to one of our family’s home to stock up on jackets, hats, gloves and long pants.  Lesson learned, we hope!

The theme of today was perspective.  We spent part of the day getting up close and personal with individual prairie plants, and using a plant guide to identify the plants.  We also considered what we might have named a plant.  I loved the name given to a type of grass by a child ~ ‘purple seeds’   From the photos you can see how intent the children were on seeing ‘up close’ and noticing detail.

Above is one of my favorite photos,  At outdoor science school, no desks are needed for learning and work!

We also switched perspective, because we were up high, and looked out at the landscape.  We drew and talked about what we saw.  We also talked about what we noticed using our different perspectives.  This is similar to using binoculars and a magnifying lens, two tools we have been using throughout our outdoor science school.

Part of today was also spent in being a child in nature – having fun by running, climbing, jumping, and pretending to be animals!  We ended the day by composing a song about perspective!  I hope we will sing this for parents at our presentation tomorrow at 1:00.  Tomorrow morning the children will work on inquiry projects, and will present their findings to the group and parents after a picnic lunch.  This week has gone by too fast!

 

Outdoor Science School ~Day Two. It’s all about the water! May 23, 2017

Today we had another beautiful day for our outdoor science school ~ blue skies, sunshine, high around 80, but a wonderful breeze!  We walked along the South Fork of the Palouse for a day focused on water.  IMG_3953Our morning base was under our favorite willow tree.  This tree provided us with much needed shade for snack, and our first activity, getting close to something we found in nature ~ a piece of bark, a leaf, a rock, a bug . . . We shared with a friend what we noticed, and what we wondered.  “I noticed this piece of bark has some moss growing on it.  And I wonder where the bark came from?  Did it fall off the willow tree?”

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Someone noticed some very strange fungi growing on the tree, and then we all got up close and personal with our favorite tree.  We found more fungi, spiders and their webs, ants, holes that might be homes for living things . . .

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Next wIMG_3984e worked on a water cycle game.  We imagined we were a droplet of water, and we followed this water droplet through a journey.  There were various stations representing clouds, ocean, rivers, ground water, animals, plants.  We spread out around the various stations.  At each station there was a bag of colored beads and a dice.  We took a bead at our station (e.g. white bead for clouds, blue bead for rivers) and then rolled a dice to tell us where to go next on our water droplet journey.  The dice were loaded in favor of the real water cycle, so we found ourselves spending a lot of time at the cloud and the ocean station.  That makes sense!  There is a lot more water stored in the oceans, than in plants and animals, for example.  This was a fun way to explore the water cycle.( Check out https://www.facebook.com/TheMontessoriSchoolofPullman/ to see a video of  the journey of a couple of droplets of water. We then spent time building miniature water sheds.  We used backpacks, water bottles and rocks, and a black trash sack to build mountains, valleys and lowlands.  Then we used spray bottles to represent rain to see how water would gather and flow, as in lakes and rivers.  We added ‘stuff’ to represent pollutants, and then let it ‘rain’ some more to see what would happen.  The pollutants spread throughout the watershed.  We thought about where we might build a house on our watershed, where we might farm, how we would provide spIMG_3985ace for wildlife . . . We drew our watersheds.

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What a special place for lunch!  We sat on the riverbank, surrounded by the sound of rushing water, and ‘snow in spring!’  The cottonwoods were releasing their seeds, and it looked like snow!

Our afternoon was spent checking out whether the Palouse River was ideal habitat for salmon.  We used tools to measure the temperature of the water, the acidity and the turbidity (How cloudy) of the water.  From a song, we learned that salmon like clear, cold water and fast flowing water.  We also observed to see if there was food (aquatic macro invertebrates like caddis fly) and shelter, like rocks and snags.  Our conclusion was that the habitat would not be ideal – water too warm, for example – but might be possible, but the fish would be stressed.

On our walk home, we noticed that some of our students were really dragging towards the end.  Our last stretch was uphill in the heat of the day.  However, at the end of a full day like this is a strong sense of, “I did it!”

Roll on tomorrow, and another full day of outdoor science learning!

 

Outdoor Science School ~ day one May 22, 2017

Filed under: community,Community Building,nature,Observation,outdoor education,Uncategorized — bevfollowsthechild @ 9:18 pm

I am very excited to share each day of our first ever four-day outdoor science school.  We are very thankful to our sponsors ~ Schweitzer Engineering Lab in Pullman for a donation of $500, and to one of our grandpas who donated the other $500.  We are also thankful to Sawyer’s family for housing our environmental scientists, and to our families for feeding them during their stay.  Our science educators joined us for four days of outdoor learning from the McCall Outdoor Science School in Idaho.

Each day I will share some of the highlights of the day.  Today, on a gorgeous spring day, with highs near 80, lots of sun and blue skies, we walked to Sunnyside Park.  We enjoyed walking with friends and a picnic lunch, a chance to play on the playground (a game of freeze tag) and also an opportunity to participate in three key learning activities:

Magic Circle

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For this activity, each child chose an area of ground that seemed interesting, and used a rope to circle off the area.  Then they drew and labelled and counted what they saw.  Our educators encouraged the children to keep looking closer and adding details  because these are skills of scientists ~ careful and deep observation.  Next the children were encouraged to classify their findings.  The children found different ways to classify, including in the image shown above – things that are living (bugs), things that once were living but no longer are living (dried pine needles), things that never were living (rocks). I think this activity might be repeated at different locations, with the results being compared.

Web of Life

For this activity, students were invited to draw an element or organism of the ecosystem they were observing.  It could be an organism – a bird, bug, mammal, plant, or an element such as the dirt, the air, the pond.  The children were encouraged to label their drawings.  Then the children formed connections between what they had drawn and someone else’s drawing.  “I drew a bird.  I’m connected to the drawing of the tree because the tree provides me shelter and a place to perch and build a nest.”  “I drew a tree and I am connected to the pond because I need water to grow and I am on the banks of the pond, so that’s where I get my water.”  A child held hands with another child once they had made a connection.  Soon there was an interconnected web of life forming.  Once we had formed a very interconnected web, we then considered what would happen if we removed one element of the web.  “What would happen if we drained the pond to build a new home?”  “What would happen if we removed the bugs?”  “What would happen if we cut down all of the trees for wood?”  This was a great lesson in learning about ecosystems and balance.

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Aquatic Macro Invertebrate Hunt

Vocabulary we learned.  Macro = able to be seen with the eye, micro needs to be seen with a microscope, aquatic = lives in the water, invertebrate = without a backbone.

We got a tub of pond water and divided into two groups ~ the hunters and the observers. The hunters used spoons and a baster to catch aquatic macro invertebrates.  These were transferred to the specimen collection area – an ice cube tray.  The observers used lenses and a field guide to identify the specimens.  Identification was based on questions ~ does it have a shell, does it have wings, does it have legs?  We drew what we saw and identified when we could.  Then the kids swapped roles, and the hunters became the observers and vice-versa.  For the group I was with, our most elusive, difficult to catch and favorite aquatic macro invertebrate was the predacious diving beetle!  We imagined this critter as the bad guy in a comic strip!  Who knew there could be so much life in even a tub of pond water?

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I loved today.  This is hands on learning and community building, memory making at its best.  This experience has made me committed to having at least a monthly out-of-doors learning activity, and to repeating this opportunity in future years.

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Being outdoors and with friends and learning in so many ways ~ science, writing, vocabulary, data collecting, observational drawing, social learning, independence – is the absolute best!

I am so excited for day two!