Browsed by
Month: April 2018

Surprises Never Get Old

Surprises Never Get Old

Usually by now, I am having students use found nature items to make a boat, or looking for symmetry in nature. But this year, we had a two hour delayed start due to fourteen more inches of snow just this past Monday – April 16th! This has forced a bit more creativity in outdoor lesson planning. I don’t mind repeating lessons, and think it’s good for kids to experience the same learning, but at a different time of year. This allows us to compare what happened previously to our most recent adventure as well as note how weather/seasons affects our observations and learning. But, it makes it tricky to repeat a lesson if the seasons won’t change.

This week, as were considering what to do, we decided to try something different. We’ve been noticing lots of snow eating throughout the year and while we discourage it, you know it keeps happening. You and I understand why it might not be the best idea, but we realized that to a kid, we are just another adult telling them to stop doing something they love. We thought the best way to help kids understand the why was with science.

Before going out, we talked about locations we might want to check as well as what things might be in snow. We came up with nine locations we were curious about, and students brainstormed a pretty accurate list of what we might find: dirt, sand, scat, salt etc… This also opened up the door for me to introduce pH as a piece of data we can add to our observations. I did a very general overview of the scale, how pH paper worked and demonstrated on tap water to show neutral. Then, we packed up and headed out.

Despite the recent snow, we noticed that spring was working hard to pop out. There was way more bird activity than previous weeks. We also noticed the huge amounts of salt on our sidewalks, particularly by the flagpole. As we continued our walk, we noticed how crunchy the snow was on top, how deep the snow still was and places that looked like clean snow.

Once we got into the forest, it became apparent that many other animals are ready for spring to come too! The deer apparently like using our trail as much as we do. We found evidence of two way traffic even. Was one in the morning and one at night? Was it the same deer or different deer? We also found lots of squirrel and rabbit tracks, saw chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, and even a woodpecker. Part way down the trail we also found a huge flattened out section of snow covered in clumps of fur next to a stick that had clearly been chewed on.

We paused at this spot for quite awhile, letting students speculate about what animal it might have come from and what might have caused so much fur to come off. It was super interesting to me how many students jumped right to beaver because of the chew marks, despite being a good mile from a pond. We also had recently spotted a bald eagle around our school yard, leading some to wonder if the eagle had a lunch. At the end of the trail we even found some goose prints in the snow – a first for me.

All of these finds, questions, wonderings and guesses reminded me again of the wonderment caused by simply being outside and paying attention to where you are. I don’t regret having our plan, in fact Mrs. Lyons followed up with students the following day and found some interesting results with the snow we collected.

However, I was reminded yet again that sometimes the best lessons aren’t the ones we plan but the ones we discover. While our main purpose was to be out collecting snow, students also got a chance to observe sights, sounds and textures, find patterns, make guesses, ask questions and wonder. These are all good skills to have, but seeing them practiced and used in such an authentic setting make them seem even more valuable. I shouldn’t be surprised any more by our surprise finds or side bar learning, but somehow I always am. I guess a good surprise never gets old for me.

Nature + Tech = A Good Combination?

Nature + Tech = A Good Combination?

Last week I brought a first grade class outside to build on some recent work they had done around settings. To get them excited about seeing the outdoor classroom through a different lens, we used the Creaturizer App from PBS Kids

On this app, kids tap to both create and modify an imaginary creature. Each body part is able to be switched out (legs, tail, wings, mouth, head, horns etc…). I modeled how to do this before taking the iPads outside. We also brainstormed together the parts that might make sense to keep in a forest setting. For example, a duck bill wouldn’t be helpful since we don’t have a body of water in our forest. Once a final creature design is made, students are given four missions to place their creature in a setting to meet a specific challenge. Examples included, Where would your creature build a nest? Where could your creature hide? The fun part is the creature appears on the screen while the camera is open so you can put your creature in a tree, under a leaf, on the ground etc… You can also two finger pinch the creature to change the size or tilt the creature to position it just right.

Students had a lot of fun placing them, searching for the just right spot along the way. After the four missions were completed, I had told students we were done, close the iPad and enjoy the rest of the walk in nature. A lot of snow had melted since the last time we had walked our path so many oak leaves were now visible as well as the bare forest floor. In addition, I had noticed much more bird activity since our last outdoor visit and was hoping students would notice this as well. However, instead many students went back to the app, made a second creature and did four more missions.

While we walked,  I noticed many students with their attention focused on the iPad rather than the path. I didn’t stop anyone from doing this, just simply my observation. As I reflected on this, I feel conflicted about this occurrence. On one hand, students were clearly enjoying themselves. They found the challenges engaging and novel enough to want to do it again. We were still outside and they were looking at our setting and finding places their creature could fit. On the other hand, students were so focused on their screens that they walked right by sights and sounds they could have been noticing. Rather than looking up and around and hearing, I saw a line full of kids that looked like adults checking their phones as they walk down the sidewalk.

We have taken iPads outside before and I didn’t notice this behavior. Maybe it’s because other times we were outside only to use the camera and had to use our eyes first to find what to snap a picture of. Our district is in the process of rolling out 1:1 technology. Next year, fourth and fifth graders will have their own iPads. As I look through lists of ‘nature apps’ to consider using with students ( it makes me think more carefully about what I might use. More specifically, this experience has made me consider not just the what, but the how, the why as well as the before, during and after.

Remembering to Change

Remembering to Change

I was doing so well at writing these posts to help me reflect and document this year, then suddenly it’s April and three weeks have passed. Ok, well only two weeks of school since spring break was in there. And even though it’s April, I am sitting in bed with the cats at my feet nearing the end of my fourth snow day of the year -a new record for me. So it felt like the perfect time to do some catching up.

This school year I had committed to having a focus on outdoor learning. Part of this decision came from an internal desire to see our school yard used better, part of it came from the Teachers Guild Fellowship I was awarded last summer and part came from my need to shake up curriculum a bit (get out of a rut). Focusing on finding ways to use out outdoor spaces sometimes has taken work and many times meant trying new ideas for the first time.

In the midst of winter, it is also easy to slip back into old ways and do lessons that were known and comfortable. But the nice thing about making your goals public – for me that meant sharing my intention at an all staff meeting at the beginning of the year- is that your colleagues end up holding you accountable; sometimes in unexpected and unintended ways. It was a actually a conversation with our art teacher, about some topic I don’t even remember the details of now, where she casually mentioned me going outside. It literally made me do a double take – That’s right, I should be going outside.

So I found a way to make it happen. I had been working with the second grade team on a mitten experiment, but one teacher was also ready to try something else. We started by heading outside to record the temperature of different surfaces in our outdoor classroom: wood benches, snow, dirt, rocks, blacktop. We also did each surface twice, once in a shady spot and once in a sunny spot. On this particular day, it was fairly overcast so not easy to tell where the sunny or shady spots were. Back inside we shared data and found some unexpected results. The wooden benches were reading warmer than the asphalt. We brainstormed a number of possible explanations.

However, the conversation also got more interesting when students also shared other observations they had from outside, including how the snow is more gone around the trees than in open spots. This led students to hypothesize that trees might give off heat just like humans give off body heat. It’s conversations like this that make me love my job. My response was: Let’s find out!

We decided we should test the soil temperature this time rather than surface (so the temperature probe would be placed in the ground rather than resting flat on top). We also decided that to prove if we were right we’d need to take the temperature not just by the tree but moving out from the trunk as well. We also decided to collect data from two sides of the trunk and move out a meter each time. If our idea was right, we’d see the warmest temperatures near the trunk and it would get colder as we got further away.

The next day we bundled up, headed out and found two trees to use – one pine and one ash so we could also see if leaves made a difference. It was a little more challenging than anticipated and found several spots where the ground was frozen pretty solid, not letting us insert the temperature probe very far. It also happened to start sleeting on us while we were out, making it hard to focus and observe, but we got our data and headed in.

Our data was inconclusive, but it led to a great discussion about how to find patterns in data and how much change we would have needed to see to tell if there was a pattern. It also led to a great follow up discussion, that if trees don’t give off ‘body’ heat, how else can we explain why there is more snow gone around the trees.

This lesson served as a great reminder to me of a number of components of my job:

  1. It’s fun and challenging to be open to unexpected results. In fact, this whole lesson was not at all what I had planned. I had thought we’d use the temperature data the first day to do an ice cube melting investigation. But the students noticed something else and had genuine wonderings and I LOVE that I got to witness that and be a part of their discovery. I think in the end more true learning came from them testing out their own idea than would have come from me directing them.
  2. It takes time and energy to keep up with a goal. In some ways I had to be reminded that I was supposed to be changing things this year. I appreciate the flexibility of my schedule as well as my family as I spend a lot of time researching and thinking about how to make these changes.
  3. I’ve heard people reference making your goals public before, but this really hit home for me after this experience. If I had simply thought about doing more outdoor lessons and kept that to myself, this lesson might never have happened.

So, if you’ve actually read this far let me be the friendly reminder to you. What did you want to work on changing this year?


Skip to toolbar