Seasonal Connections to Nature in the Outdoor Environment

I love to ask teachers, “Who are our best scientists?” You can see them shuffling through the list of outstanding scientists in their minds. But, quickly their faces light up and they enthusiastically respond with “Kids are!” And, they are right! Children are great at asking questions, designing investigations with “What if…?” questions, collecting data usually in their pockets, and the other Science and Engineering Practices. Where are they the best scientists? Out in nature.

Whether in the schoolyard, backyard, or through a field study trip, place-based education is the key. To enhance these experiences to a deeper level, project-based units allow students to establish a personal connection and ownership in their learning which is so empowering.

Fall is a wonderful time to observe migration, deciduous trees losing their leaves, and to begin long-term observations such as decrease of daylight hours and the position of the sun in relation to the horizon. Winter is perfect for snowflake study, animal tracking, and animal behavior during winter months. Spring allows students to see insect lifecycles, spring migration, and plant growth.

Some examples of such projects include school yard gardens, clean-up the playground projects, plant identification books, insect study, and watershed study. My favorite is watershed study. We have been performing water quality testing on our local river for eight years. The students feel ownership of their data, and their river. Watershed study also allows students to see how all of the science work together to for this system.

Outdoors can also mean bringing your class to your local children’s museum, visit to a national park, state park, and other agencies. These professionals love to visit classrooms, as well. This is a great way to bring the outdoors indoors! These people have a wealth of information and some agencies also have educational trunks.

You can bring the outdoors indoors with many classroom activities. An indoor project we are involved is with the Ennis Fish Hatchery and the Trout in the Classroom program. The students observe them throughout the school year, and at the end of the school year, we release them in the Bozeman Fishing Pond. Another project is our indoor garden where the students design their investigations. Students have investigated whether or not a yucca seed with germinate in a hydroponics table, can I pollinate a hibiscus bloom, and  does seed tape work.

Bringing the outdoors indoors allows your students to explore their own yard or park. Motivate your students to bring specimens into the classroom. For safety, require adult supervision, protective eyewear and gloves, and no live animals. You will want to review NSTA’s safety position statement for recommendations and restrictions. You will want to make sure your classroom is equipped with a document camera for whole-group observations.

Whether you take your students outdoors or bring the outdoors in, equip your students with a notebook to record observations, draw diagrams or specimens they observe.

Here is a list of supplies to have in your classroom:

Magnifying Glasses Pencils/Erasers/Pencil Sharpener Scale Colored Pencils/Crayons Tweezers Clear Plastic Bags of Various Sizes
Measuring Tapes/Rulers Specimen Containers  Digital Cameras Binoculars Science Notebooks with 2 Gallon Ziplock Bags to Carry Items and Protect from Water/Rain  

I adore watching and listening to students as they use their five senses to discover the outdoors and the science of nature where all the sciences work to form our world. What are some of the ways you bring nature to your students and your students to nature?

NGSS Standards:

K-ESS2-2: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs.

K-LS1-1: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.

K- ESSE2-1: Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.

1-ESS1-1: Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

2-LS2-2.Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.

3-LS2-1: Construct an argument that some animals form groups that help members survive.

3-LS4-3: Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.

NSTA Resources:

Books and E-books:

Outdoor Science: A Practical Guide By Steve Rich (also in Ebook)

The Great Outdoors by Terry Kwan and Juliana Texley

Birds, Bugs, and Butterflies: Science Lessons for Your Outdoor Classroom, by Steve Rich

Mixing It Up: Integrated, Interdisciplinary, Intriguing Science in The Elementary Classroom, Edited by Susan Koba

Schoolyard Science: 101 Easy and Inexpensive Activities, by Thomas R. Lord and Holly J. Travis

Science and Children Articles:

The Early Years: Planting Before Winter, by Peggy Ashbrook

The mission of NSTA is to promote excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. Follow @NSTA on Twitter to see more stories like these and get the science education resources you need.

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