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.
The themes are really starting to come together in an organic way, with learning and skills from one day building to the next day. Major themes emerging are:
predator and prey relationships, mainly resulting from our daily games.
observing animals, birds, bugs and plants in their natural habitats, and using guides to identify them
noticing, measuring, recording and predicting the weather – a daily activity
looking ever closer to notice details – a daily activity.
As teachers, we’re also noticing how quickly the children pair up for walking, how quickly they can pack up supplies and get ready to move to a new location, and how they have built their ability to focus in an outdoor setting. The children are enjoying their freedom to explore a wide area, while respecting the designated boundaries. They are building their stamina and endurance, and their ability to take care of their own needs and belongings. By the end of day four, we had walked nineteen miles together! The older children are also growing as leaders in their research groups.
Fun activities we engaged in today included:
feeding the ducks
predator-prey skits Some of the relationships acted out for other children to guess included hawk and squirrels (lots of scurrying, and hiding in ‘holes’ and warning sounds), and coyote and deer (coyote working together to capture a deer separated from the others.) Behaviors we know that prey animals use include warning signals, hiding, fleeing, freezing. Later this day we also learned about defending. Predator animals might work in a group, or be solitary, sneaky attackers.
a new environmental game called “Muskox Maneuvers’ In this game a few children were wolves and used teamwork to capture a calf. The other children were the herd of muskox. When a predator was sighted, the babies huddled together, surrounded by the cows. The bulls actively defended the herd, trying to chase off the wolves. We played three rounds with very different results each round. Once the wolves were chased off. Another time several wolves were killed. On the third time, the wolves broke through the defenses and managed to kill a calf. Basically, this was an environmental version of flag football!
research projects – results revealed tomorrow!
A look close, look closer still with a magnifying glass, and look even closer, using a microscope activity.
lunch outdoors with friends, followed by free play ~ always favorite activities!
I so enjoyed this day, from start to finish. I can’t wait for tomorrow, when each group will present their research projects!
Day three began with a walk along the South Fork of the Palouse River, the local river that runs through our town. As a class, we are so familiar with this river, as we frequently walk along the trails by the river to access downtown, WSU and further afield. We notice how high or low the river is, how fast or slow the water is moving, and look for signs of animals, birds and new flowers. Today we saw lots of swallow activity, and spotted lupins and flax flowers.
Our main morning activity was a continued hunt for macro -invertebrates. Would the river, with flowing water, contain macro-invertebrate life? We had found so few macro-invertebrates at Sunnyside pond. If not, could we find macro-invertebrates in the dirt and grass? We split into two groups to explore both land and water, and we did indeed find macro invertebrates on both land and in the water. We found ladybugs, spiders, inch worms, stink bugs in the dirt, and caddis fly larvae and freshwater shrimp in the river. Did you know that a caddis fly larva builds a tube of stones or sticks to protect its body? This is its shelter. We found the caddis fly larvae underneath rocks in the river. Their shelters were attached to the underside of the rocks. We took time to look at what we found with a magnifying glass, and to draw our macro invertebrates to record our observations. We were happy to learn that caddis fly larvae are a sign of good water quality.
After lunch and free play time, we played four rounds of a ‘predator and prey’ version of tag. The prey had the option of freezing or hiding in a temporary shelter (four areas, designated with cones) to avoid being eaten (tagged!) by the predators. The object of the game for the prey animals was to navigate their way from their den to the food source, and back again, without being caught by a predator. The predators had to catch a prey animal in order to survive. Each round, another group of children were predators. Tomorrow I plan to add a ‘skit’ to our activities. Each group will act out a predator-prey situation, with the prey showing prey behaviors such as warning others, hiding, freezing and running/flying. The predators can also act our behaviors such as working together. For our game today, the predator group chose their animal, and then the prey animal group responded with their prey animal. Our predator/prey groups were:
wolves and deer
domestic cats and mice
hawks and birds
coyote and rabbits
Other afternoon activities included a review of the scientific method – question, hypothesis (best guess, based on what you already know), method and materials, observations and data, and results/conclusion. As an example, everyone is helping with my question. My question is concerned with the human impact on the environment. Here is how the research is going so far!
Question – Is there more trash at the ball fields or Sunnyside Park?
Hypothesis – There is more trash at the ball fields because there is a lot of human activity there, and it is close to a road.
Method and materials – At each site, an equal number of children will spend five minutes collecting trash at a high-traffic area. I will then compare, to see which site had the most trash. Materials needed include trash bags, gloves and a stop watch.
We completed the trash collection at the ball fields and tomorrow we will complete the trash collection at the park. I will then compare ‘data’ – trash collected.
In our groups we then brainstormed what research project we wanted to complete tomorrow and Friday morning. Our location will be at Sunnyside Park, so our project needs to be doable at the park. We also need to know what materials we will need before leaving tomorrow. My group needs fishing nets, oats, a tub for water, and a camera for recording evidence. Can you guess our project?
Today was all about the weather. We set out under heavy cloud cover, like a grey blanket. Those were strato-nimbus clouds and they usually predict lots of rain! Would we get wet?
Our first lesson was an overview of the geology of the area. We were at Kamiak Butte, but what exactly is a butte? A butte is the remnant of a once much taller mountain. A long, long time ago, our area saw a lot of volcanic activity. The peaks of Moscow Mountain to the East, Kamiak Butte, and Steptoe Butte to the Northwest, all now have their bases buried in layer after layer of basalt. The basalt flowed, filled in the valleys and is about 2,000 feet deep. After an ice age, loess (wind-blown, fine and often fertile ‘dust’) from melting glaciers also covered the valleys, resulting in the deep, loose and rich farmland of the Palouse. We drew diagrams of the geology, and during our hike we would see the other peaks – Moscow Mountain and Steptoe Butte – and lots of rich farmland filling in the spaces between the peaks.
We began our hike. Our first major stop would be at the vista. None of the children knew exactly what a vista was, but I was sure once we reached the vista, they would figure it out! On the way up the switchbacks, we stopped to identify Ponderosas (needles in bunches of three) and Douglas Firs (via a legend about mice hiding during a fire in the cone of a Douglas Fir. Check it out – you’ll see what looks like the back legs and tails of mice hanging out of the cone!). We also discussed what the purpose of the berms on the trail might be for. One child thought they were for hikers to hang onto if they were being swept off the mountain! Not quite, but they do stop dirt being swept off the mountain. The older children knew the word ‘erosion’, and knew that most of the erosion would be water erosion. We looked for a rainbow of flower colors – we saw yellow, pink, purple, blue, white . . . We also spotted Steptoe Butte and a wind farm in the distance. Stopping frequently to look and listen and smell and touch keeps the hike interesting, and builds in small rest periods.
“A vista is an overlook.” “It means a view!”
This was a great spot for us to do our changing perspectives activity. Up close, we could see needles and dirt and rocks. Off in the distance we could see a mountain, farmland, the towns of Pullman and Moscow, lots of clouds. We also drew three flowers we saw up on the meadow, and learned to identify desert parsley, larkspur, arrow leaf balsam root, and Indian paintbrush. We also refueled with a juice box and granola bar. When you are hiking with children, you do need to stop for a snack break.
Part of our purpose of visiting Kamiak Butte was to check out micro-climates. How did it feel at the vista? Warm, sunny, light, open . . it was 68 degrees in the sun. There were a lot of flowers blooming and scattered trees. This side of the Butte faced South-East, and received a lot of the sun.
We climbed up the gentler, sunnier side of the Butte to the summit. On the way, we saw and felt the weather changing. We were walking into the clouds. The temperature dropped quickly, to about 48 degrees, a drop of twenty degrees, and it felt damp. As I said, this day was all about the weather! There was so much to see on the way up – more flowers, bugs, birds, trees alive and trees dead and trees growing at strange angles . . .
We ate lunch at the summit, before starting down the steep northern facing slope of the Butte. Words the children used to describe the north slope included dark, wet, cold, very green, lots of trees, fewer flowers. We also noticed that it took us about two and a half hours to reach the summit, with stops for snack, lunch and lots of observations and activities, and only 42 minutes to descend! Going downslope is a lot faster than going upslope! Once at the base, after a thirty-minute free play break (also important when planning outdoor activities for children), we took time to draw our observations of the vegetation we saw on the SE slope and the Northern slope. We also recorded activities we saw humans involved in at Kamiak Butte, and how they might impact the environment. We didn’t see much litter, but we did see evidence of trampled plants, and picked flowers.
Our final activity of the day was an environmental game. In this game, all of the children were black bears. One of the bears had a hurt paw, so could only hop. Another bear was blind in one eye. A third bear was a mother bear with two cubs, so had to collect twice as much food. The bears scattered over a large area to collect food – insects, fruit, nuts, berries and meat – designated by different scraps of colored paper. The goal was to collect enough food and a varied diet to remain healthy and survive. One thing we learned was that it was harder to survive when injured, and that the mama would feed herself first, before feeding her cubs. If she didn’t survive, her cubs would not make it.
We ended with a fictional story, called ‘The Lonely Giant.’ The story gave us a good message about what happens when we destroy our forests – the animals and birds are forced to move away. When that happens, like the lonely giant, we miss the sound of birdsong, and the animals. At the end of the story, the giant works hard to restore the forest.
What a great day! No rain. About 12,000 steps and over 5 miles. We were active for almost three hours. We spent a day hiking and immersed in nature with friends!
I am ending with two joys from today ~ one of our students celebrating the love of flowers, and another student celebrating her love of birds with her hand made nest from found materials! Spending a day outdoors with children is always a joy!
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!
Our school is so lucky to be in a small college town. Many of our parents work at the university, and are involved in research. This allows us to have very interesting presentations by experts to enrich the curriculum.
So far this year we have had a presentation by a Mom who worked at NASA on developing food for the space program. Then we had a dad share his knowledge of native edible plants that tied in very nicely with a study of the fundamental needs of humans, the need for food, and hunter-gatherers! Yesterday we also had a parent working on neuroscience present information about the brain.
We used a KWL model to structure the presentation, starting with what we already KNOW, followed by listing WHAT we wanted to know, and ending with what we LEARNED. When we combined our knowledge, we already knew a lot! Take a look at this list!We wanted to learn:
What does our brain look like? What color is it?
What makes us laugh?
How does our brain grow?
How do scientists learn about the brain?
How do we think and learn?
We soon found out what our brains looked like as our visiting scientist brought three brains for us to look at and contrast and compare. We looked at a half of a brain of a human, a sheep and a rat. Of course that led to lots of other questions about how she had the brains, and what happened to the person and animals that owned the brains. Our scientist explained that the person and animals had died before the brains were removed, and in the case of the person, the person had said before dying that he or she wanted to donate his or her brain to science, for students to learn.
We noticed that the human brain was much larger and heavier than the other brains, and had a lot more curves and coils on the outside. The rat brain was almost smooth on the outside. We saw that all three brains had a brain stem. We decided that the bigger size and the more curves were needed by humans because we store more information and memories in our brains than sheep or rats.
We looked at pictures showing details of the brain seen up close through a microscope. We also tried out a few tests to show that when we practice a skill, our brains learn and grow better at the skill. As an example, a student volunteer used a pencil to draw a route through a maze, and was timed from start to finish. Each time the student repeated the activity, he got faster and more accurate.
By the end of the presentation, we had all learned so much, including the classroom teachers. Our visiting scientist gave each student a gift of a brain-shaped eraser as a reminder that mistakes are important because the brain learns by trying new things, making mistakes and then correcting the mistake. If we only do things we already know how to do, we might not make many mistakes, but we won’t learn new things and help our brains grow.
Our scientist ended by saying that there still needs to be much research done on the brain so we can learn and understand more. She told us that one of our questions – “Why do people laugh, and how does the brain find things funny?” – is one of the questions researchers are working on, because right now we don’t know for sure! Perhaps one of our students will find out through research!