Monthly Archives: April 2013

Animal and Plant Surveys: 10 Reasons to Get Outside and Survey

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What’s a Survey?

Simply stated, a survey is an overview of the living things in an area. The purpose of a survey is to get a general idea of the types of living things in that area, a step in scientific inquiry that will then (likely) lead to more focused questions about the living things there.

A simple table can be used to survey living things in your location. (c) Simple Science Strategies, 2013.

Why Conduct a Survey?

An animals survey can be a powerful, yet simple, outdoor-based learning task. With only a few minutes a day, several big scientific and educational ideas can be addressed:

  1. For students (and teachers) new to nature study, a survey provides an easy focus for outdoor excursions.
  2. Completing the survey allows students to practice collecting, organizing and interpreting data — an important science and numeracy skill.
  3. Using an organized list to answer a question is an important problem-solving strategy.
  4. Students working together with one clipboard and survey fosters discourse on scientific thinking.
  5. Conducting a series of observations on the same focus guides students to look for patterns over time.
  6. Looking for a particular type of living thing helps students hone their observation skills.
  7. Exposure to nature on a regular basis can engage learners, especially those who don’t have the opportunity to get outside often.
  8. Increasing students’ activity level by the inclusion of outdoor studies can fight childhood obesity.
  9. Working with a table of data gives students practice in using non-fiction text features – an important literacy skill.
  10. Gathering initial observations and data is an important step in both the inquiry and engineering design processes. nature study

Surveys naturally lead to the use of field guides — a staple in a science library.

Sample Animal Surveys

The above survey sheet can be used for amphibian surveys. or a generic animal survey can be used.

For examples of nature studies involving animal surveys, please click on the links, below:




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Nature Study: 15 Minutes to Deeper Science Understandings

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You can enrich any science instruction with outdoor nature study for only 15 minutes a day. (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2013

In the Northern Hemisphere, we are (finally!) heading into spring – the nights are still chilly, but the days are creeping up into near 70 degrees F today. My Southern Hemisphere friends and readers are enjoying the shift to autumn weather. The sudden changes in both spring and fall make them excellent times to move your science instruction outdoors. Whether you are a homeschooling family with adolescent children, a parent with a tiny tot in tow, or a classroom teacher with 20 winter-tired faces looking at you, you can take advantage of nature as your classroom, for only 15 minutes a day.

Getting Started With Nature Study rocks

Nature study can be conducted using only a few minutes a day, and in any outdoor space.

For those of you who are just dipping your toes into the world of nature, here are some excellent resources to help you get it off the ground.

  •  “8 Reasons to Do Nature Study” reviews the rationale behind including nature study in your instruction, from laying the groundwork for more formal studies later on, to enhancing students’ inquiry skills, to increasing their overall health, just by getting outside more.
  • In “Getting Started With Nature Study,” my friend and fellow nature lover, Barb McCoy, gently guides teachers and families into the routine of nature study, through ten simple lessons.
  • When I first started homeschooling, I put together “Nature Study,” a lesson template I use to build a day’s instruction around a 15 minute outdoor excursion.

Building a Nature Study Library

Over the years, I have read many homeschool and outdoor education blogs on nature study, and I have compiled what I find to be the most commonly used nature study “texts” among all users. These books get used so frequently in my house that they rarely get put away. I personally own all of these books, and highly recommend them, for any nature study setting, and any grade level. Click on the individual photos for information on ordering them directly from this page.

[Note: The field guides here are suitable for the northeastern part of the United States, where I live. Choose the field guide that matches your own region.]

Writing and Nature Study

Science and nature study provide rich opportunities for student writing. Here are some resources that you might find helpful, when pushing writing into your science instruction. nature study

Writing and nature study go perfectly together! (c) Simple Science Strategies, 2012.

Debra Reed, at, has created an amazing assortment of pages that can be used for science and nature notebooking and journaling. We have found pages for just about any topic you’d like to study, and have had a membership for many years. From now until April 30, she is holding several promotions. For more information, coupons and a free gift, click on the link, or ad, below. Free Nature Study Gift, 50% Coupon, & Prize Giveaway

  [Note: This post contains affiliate links. I received nothing for mentioning these products, and personally have purchased all of them for my own use as a homeschooler and teacher. I never promote a product I do not currently use or wouldn’t consider purchasing. ]


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The Essentials of Science and Literacy: A Guide for Teachers

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The Essentials of Science and Literacy. $21.88 at Barnes & Noble

Struggling to find time to teach science in a day full of math and language arts?

Trying to move beyond fun activities to authentic learning tasks that lead to big scientific thinking?

Wondering how to take your students beyond the superficial to the higher order thinking of a real scientist?

Get a copy of The Essentials of Science and Literacy.

Who Would Enjoy The Essentials of Science and Literacy?

  • Literacy support teachers who are in classrooms during science instruction;
  • Teachers in priority districts, where the traditional focus has been on increasing literacy scores;
  • Teachers who like to use an integrated approach to instruction;
  • Instructional coaches who are charged with helping teachers improve their practice;
  • Any teacher who wants to raise the level of rigor and engagement in their literacy and science work.

Read a review of The Essentials of Science and Literacy

For ordering information:

Click on the image, above, for information on ordering this text from Barnes & Noble.


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