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Enhancing Our Outdoor Classroom Studies through Technology

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Keywords: Inquiry, Interconnection, Students-produced Schoolyard Field Guides, Ecosystems, Life Science
Subject(s): Math, Science, Spelling, English/Language Arts, Photography, Biology, Information Skills, Earth Science, Reading, Music, Writing, Special Needs, Life Science, Podcasting, Early Learning, Autism, Video, Technology, Health and PE, Art
Grades K through 5
School: ElbridgeGale Elementary, Wellington, FL
Planned By: Linda Petuch
Original Author: Linda Petuch, Wellington
1) Teacher will need to assess students' prior knowledge of elements included in an ecosystem or biome, both biotic (living) and abiotic(non-living) and how they interact within this ecosystem or biome. This can be done through class discussion ( recorded on chart or as a journal reflection), KWL chart (What I Know, What I Want to Know and What I Learned) , a KLEWW chart (What I think I Know, What I Learned, Evidence I collected and What I am still curious about) or any other graphic organizer that will alert teacher to level of understanding of students.
2) Teacher presents the following problem for the students: How can we teach students from another area of our state about the plants, animals and other elements of our schoolyard community ecosystem without them visiting us?
3) Students' responses will vary by experience and understanding. Teacher should share resources available as examples of how we learn about areas we do not personally experience; e.g. books, videos, field guides, hard copies and online.
4) Students brainstorm what they could do...write letters, take photographs, record a video tour, produce a power point, create a schoolyard field guide.
5) Teacher will take students on a brief tour of the schoolyard pointing out primary features such as vegetable gardens, natural areas (woods, scrub, wetlands, plains, fields, etc.) Students are encouraged to share the types of plants and animals they observe on the tour.
6) Students begin research on the plants and animals located in their schoolyard using photographs they take and/or available field guides. Class can be divided into teams of 3-5 members, each conducting research on one area if multiple areas exist, or each team conducts research on the entire ecosystem.
7) Once identified, they should continue research, facilitated by the teacher, to learn how species are interconnected within the ecosystem. Special note should be taken of any migratory species of animals.
8) Once students are familiar with the particulars of the schoolyard ecosystem, they can begin planning their project presentation for their assigned area, including:
a) descriptive name and features, b) Plants and animals found in their designated area, c) Abiotic (non-living) elements in the ecosystem (rocks, fences, bodies of water, etc.)
9) Having determined all of the elements in the ecosystem, students will now begin to plan how they use the cameras to record and/or photograph those identified elements and write scripts to coincide with their visuals.
10) Students will create their culminating project using the chosen format.
11) Final creations will be shared with peers and emailed or posted for the students identified at the outset of the project.
12) Students and teacher revisit the KWL, KLEWW charts, or however background knowledge was recorded, and add the new information as what was learned.
No matter how large or small your schoolyard is, there is so much value to taking students outside to observe nature. Even in urban settings, life finds a way to take hold in nooks and crannies of buildings and provide opportunities for our students to connect with the environment. In my own personal experience, all students, regardless of their academic and socio-economic levels, have responded positively and achieved success during our outdoor classroom activities. If we expect our students to become the next stewards of our earth, we need to have them understand the beauty of nature and how connected we are to every element therein. By adding the technology to this study we can capitalize on our technology-savvy students' abilities while we help them gain an appreciation for nature.
Cross-Curriculum Ideas
This entire project is Science-based, but as I always tell my students, "You can't perform science without including Mathematics. Surveys/counts of species, changes over time, can all be collected, charted and/or graphed and analyzed. By including mathematical observations, we increase the scientific validity of the lessons and support student understanding.
Language Arts and Writing are supported and connected throughout these activities because of the students' organism lists, descriptions and script writing.
The activities would also be material to use for poetry or as writing prompts; e.g., "Pretend you are the chain link fence at the edge of the schoolyard. Describe what you see on a typical school day." "...on the weekend." "You are a radish growing in the garden, how do you feel? " "You are a migratory bird that spends the winter in our schoolyard. Describe your journey here from your home."
Social Studies can be included by reviewing the "history" of the land on which the school was built. How did it become a school site? How has this piece of land changed over the last 100 years?
Art can be easily included as part of the finished product. Students can make labeled illustrations of organisms, create models and/or collages of all elements in the ecosystem.
Music can and should be included in the students' final product and can be used as a teaching tool during the research.( Kimbo: "Insects, Bugs and Squiggly Things", Banana slug Band: "Dirt Made My Lunch"). Original songs, chants are encouraged.
Physical Education can be included easily as students do their laps around the PE field...make organism observations, a minimum of ten during your lap.
Discussions about growing fruits and vegetables and whether or not to add fertilizers, and pesticides is an excellent way to tie in Health.
1) Students can use "Kidspiration" or "Inspiration" to create concept maps about their ecosystem.
2) Classes can develop this project with "Eco-buddies" teaming grade levels: Kindergarten and 3rd grade, 1st and 4th grades, 2nd and 5th grades. Older students can take care of some of the more complicated tasks but include the younger students ideas.
3) Measurements can be taken and recorded throughout the investigation in order to compare and contrast changes over time; e.g. days, weeks, months, seasons.
4) Hand lenses and microscopes can be used for detailed descriptions of organisms. (Teachers, be sure to discuss safe handling of these objects outside in the sun.)
5) Binoculars would serve to enhance students' understanding of the usefulness of this tool when birdwatching and studying other organisms that are easily frightened away when we approach.
6) This activity is the perfect introduction to the study of conservation and the impact humans have on the environment, both good and bad.
7) Detailed study of the beneficial (e.g.,pollinators) and harmful insects (e.g.,aphids) found in this ecosystem.
8) Using the students organism photographs from your schoolyard habitat students can create food chains and a food web by connecting the energy flow, from one to the next, from: producers to first, second, third and fourth order consumers; attaching to one another by holding a piece of yarn for each food chain. Teacher can introduce a problem in that ecosystem (freezing weather killed all of the grasses). Students holding "grasses" let go of the yarn and the food chain/web starts to unravel. This is a great graphic way to teach how we are interconnected. (Original idea from "Project Wild" curriculum, I added using the photos taken by students in your schoolyard)
Links: Link to Fl Wildlife, creating habitats
Link to Audubon, Just for Kids
Link to podcasting tools
Link to eNature field guides
Link to Florida Fish and Wildlife
Materials: Early Learning, Speech and Language, Slideshow, Authoring and Publishing, Inspiration, Podcasting, Spreadsheet, Word Processor, Books, Elementary, Literacy, Writing, Flash/USB Drives, Computer Accessories, Memory Cards, Tripods, Camera Bags, Microscopes, MP3 Players, Projector Screens, Point and Shoot, Flip Video, Mobile Labs
Other Items: 25 Hand lenses, $ 1.50 each, total of $37.50
25 Binoculars, children's, class set, $ 6.00-8.00 each
6 Brock microscopes, $80.00 each, total of $480.00
15 Clipboards for students not using cameras, $2.00 each, total of $30.00
1 Soil temperature/moisture gauge, $15.00 each, total of $15.00