Category Archives: LS 2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics

New England Stone Walls: A Photo Scavenger Hunt

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What is Comprehension?

Recently, I was in a first grade classroom, where the teacher was introducing a non-fiction text about the desert. He began by asking the students to share what they already knew about the desert. The students’ responses were sparse, and not very encouraging to the teacher.

So we took back the readers, passed out big pieces of drawing paper and art supplies, and asked the kids to draw everything they knew about the desert, THEN tell us, instead. The results (in pictures and words) were phenomenal: camels, oases, chameleons, dust devils, heat waves from the sun, and many other details that the students could not articulate before drawing. We were astounded at what these 6-year-olds knew about deserts.

What does this tell us?

This tells us that, in order to understand something, we have to first envision it in our minds, and (sometimes) in front of us. It also tells us that many students can envision something well before they can talk about it.

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Winter Nature Walk: Looking for Patterns (Winter Study 1)

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There’s nothing like a nice nature walk to help you gather new ideas for future nature studies. We have had an unusually warm December, and took the opportunity to take a great, long walk with with the dog, to see what is happening in the world around us, to clear the indoor cobwebs from our heads, and to just enjoy the outside air.  Here are the potential nature study topics that our walk generated:

All Kinds of Patterns

[by Kim M. Bennett]

Stone Walls

Here in New England, stone walls are as ubiquitous as sandy beaches are on the seashore. Geologists at the University of Connecticut study the patterns of stone walls in the Northeastern United States, because they teach us about the underlying bedrock upon which are towns and villages are built. Farmers of the early colonies could only move the glacial rubble so far, so the patterns of the rubble they could move tell about the patterns of the glaciers that formed the rubble.

Geology Patterns in Connecticut

$16.95 at Barnes & Noble

A few years back, we read Stone Wall Secrets, by Robert M. Thorson, a fictional account of a young boy, and the stories his father tells him about the natural history of his farm, as they sit upon the stone wall that surrounds it. I bought a teacher’s guide  to accompany a study of the geology of Connecticut several years back.

Connections: Geology, mineral cycle, weathering, Ice Age

An Ecological study of moss and lichens

There is an old belief that moss grows more heavily on the north sides of trees. As we walked, my husband even quoted this little gem. I remember that some of my college companions conducted an ecological study of this, to determine if it was true or not. I can’t recall! But it would be a fun thing to study, and easy for the winter, since moss stays so green all winter, here.

Connections: Ecology, forest biomes, mosses & lichens, population studies

Fractals: the math of natural patterns

Have you ever doodled in your notebook, creating branching patterns that branch again, then branch at the branches, and so on, and so on, until you run out of paper? If so, you are experimenting with fractals.

The science of fractals has turned observation on its end. It was once believed that, the closer you looked at something, the simpler the design, and, if you could look closely enough, you would see the simple geometric building blocks of every design. What we have found, instead, is that closer looks reveal increasing complex designs that often look like miniature versions of the larger design (think about fern fronds, or the branches on the oak tree in the photo, above, to see what I mean).

We might have to visit our post on “The Mathematics of Nature: Fractals,” adding a study of the branching patterns of oaks in our back woods.

Connections: geometry, number series, drawing, botany

The Patterns of exercise and our bodies

It is easy to stay shut in during cold weather where we live. But getting outside and moving is good for body, mind and spirit. Plus, we can count it as physical education and health, when we homeschool!

There are tons of apps for smart phones that let you log in and measure how many footsteps you take when you walk, how far you hike, your heart rate, and other data. Kids love these apps (heck, I love them!), and graphing is an important part of both math and science instruction. (As an adult, I find it helps me keep on an exercise schedule, if I am monitoring these things).

I downloaded My Fitness Pal to my smart phone — many people I know find it to be the most fun and easiest to use. Maybe my son could graph his parents weight as a function of how many miles of hiking we do this winter? Hmmm…

Connections: health, fitness, exercise, anatomy, graphing

Flowering schedules

Garden journal imageI saw this great little gardening journal template in Microsoft Word. It had places for notes, and photos, and lists (ooohhh… I love lists…). And a little section at the beginning of each month, where you record what plants are blooming.

What a great year-long idea for a child’s nature notebook!

We were very surprised to find the native witchhazel still in bloom (it peaks at the end of October here). At the end of January, some species crocus might bloom, if the weather is right. Then February can bring in some daffodils, plus the chamaecyparis. Before the peak bloom season, it might be a great time to start putting together a monthly bloom-time journal, to see patterns in when different types of plants bloom in your region.

[PS – Our seed catalogs started arriving last week. We’re very excited!]

Connections: gardening, diagrams, notebooking/journaling, botany

weather watching

We have always had an assortment of weather-watching equipment at the ready: an outdoor thermometer that looks beautiful and makes my husband very happy; a little rain gauge/weather vane that we fastened onto the porch support; rain barrels and other assorted rain measuring devices. These were fascinating for all of us. When you plot temperature, air pressure, wind speed or rainfall, you usually see patterns that reflect your region.

One year, my eldest and I used a cloud chart to forecast the weather. It certainly isn’t the long-range forecast we get on the news, but it’s pretty accurate within 24 hours, and fun for kids (and adults). There’s a great cloud chart that can be used to predict the weather available at Weather Forecasting Cloud Chart.

Connections: graphing, prediction, meteorology

Symmetry in nature

In fourth grade geometry, my son is learning about symmetry. This abstract idea is much easier to convey when you use real-life items in the natural world, to demonstrate it.

Take photos of objects and guide your children to draw lines of symmetry on the photos, rather than using 2D line drawings of geometric figures, only.

Connections: geometry, art/drawing

Fibonacci numbers

math wizardry patterns in nature1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… can you complete the series? And do you know why these numbers are important?

These numbers are Fibonacci numbers, and the string of numbers is called a Fibonacci series. Natural objects are divided into parts represented by these numbers, and beautiful paintings can be divided into sections that represent this series. The number of needles in a bundle of pine needles, the winding of a vine around a pole, the number of scales on a pine cone … all contain Fibonacci numbers.

Read more about Fibonacci numbers, the Golden Proportion, and fractals in Math Wizardry for Kids (a favorite of my eldest son, a real math whiz).

Connections: mathematics, art, proportions

Rainfall

I was just commenting yesterday that we were in the middle of a huge dry season. I spoke too soon! It absolutely poured today. Even yesterday, our hiking was limited on the nature trail because of exceptionally soggy ground.

The woods behind our house has low-lying spots that are the vernal and autumnal nesting spots of spring peepers. We usually start hearing these little fellows around March, around the time when we start to see skunk cabbage poking through the slush and leaf litter. My eldest now serves on the town conservation commission, so he makes it his business to know all about our vernal pools.

All you need to measure rainfall is a flat pan, like a roasting pan or plastic shoebox, and a ruler. To convert between snow in the winter, and water, take the pan inside, let the frozen precipitation melt, and then measure (some people divide by 10, but this varies with the type of snow you get).

Connections: weather, measurement, observation

So What Will We Study?

Tough choices! Here’s what we decided:

  • the patterns of temperature and precipitation (so we can do some graphing)
  • snowflakes
  • using Fibonacci numbers to draw vines
  • predicting the weather through cloud watching

Here’s to a great (and mathematical) winter!

Happy Holidays!

~Kim

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What is Hibernation? An Activity Using Discussion Frames (November Study #3)

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A discussion frame is an organizational tool that helps learners prepare a well-supported argument. By considering both sides of a provocative issue or claim, students are better able to build a case to support their own stance on the issue.

In this lesson, students will use a discussion frame in a group activity designed to help them compare hibernation and sleep. In the process, they will learn the defining characteristics of hibernation, and the different types of hibernation exhibited in the animal kingdom.

This lesson will also demonstrate the use of a simple monitoring technique using colored index cards, which students and teachers can use to check on student progress in discussion groups

discussion frame compare and contrast

Photo credit: (c) Michael Himbault, 2010 via Creative Commons

Materials Needed

  • Copies of the discussion frame (one per group of students)
  • Non-fiction resources (texts, articles, web resources) on hibernation and sleep
  • Writing tools
  • Colored index cards (red, yellow, green) – one set per table group

autumn nature study

Background Information for the Teacher

Before assigning the task to students, you will need to do your own research, to determine the following pieces of information:

  1. Are sleep and hibernation the same thing?
  2. What are the essential features of hibernation that I want students to understand?
  3. What key vocabulary do I hope that students uncover during their research?

Do not provide the answers to these questions to students, but use the information to guide discussion as students work, and when you debrief after the learning task.

What is Hibernation?

Most biologists define hibernation as “specialized, seasonal reduction in metabolism, concurrent with scarcity of food and cold weather (“Hibernation”. Bear.org. 2004-07-19. Retrieved 2012-11-27).

Some key physiological changes that occur in mammalian hibernation include the following:

  • Significant decrease in body temperature
  • Onset of a coma-like state, from which an animal has difficulty arousing
  • Cessation of eating and drinking
  • Cessation or drastic decrease in frequency of defecation and urination

States Similar to Hibernation

Estivation is a hibernation-like state that occurs during the summer, usually during extremely hot or dry periods.

Brumation is the term used to describe the winter physiological changes in reptiles, which cannot regulate their own body temperature. During this hibernation-like state, reptiles find refuge from freezing temperatures, as their surroundings cause decreases in their body temperature.

Torpor is a short-term period of reduced body temperature and metabolism, in response to diurnal or weather changes, such as extreme hot spells or the heat of the day in the desert.

So What is Sleep, Then?

While hibernation is characterized by significant changes in physiology, especially body temperature, sleep primarily brings on changes in brain activity, and only minor changes in physiology.

During sleep, heart rate and breathing rate decrease slightly, and body temperature decreases, but the changes that occur in these are not nearly as dramatic as the changes seen in hibernating animals, where one of the most marked changes is in body temperature. Sleeping animals can resume normal activities within minutes of being aroused, while an animal coming out of hibernation often acts sleep-deprived, and needs extra sleep over the next several days.

Conversely, a sleeping animal demonstrates dramatic changes in the amplitude and types of its brain waves, and different phases of sleep have their own characteristic patterns. Studies of the brain waves of hibernating animals show their brain activity looks much like the brain activity of wakeful animals.

Important Tier 2 Vocabulary Words:

  • Hibernation, sleep
  • Physiology, neurology
  • Rate, frequency, duration
  • Increase, decrease

Helpful Resources

autumn nature study

Building Background Knowledge

On the SmartBoard, on chart paper or on the board, write the word, hibernation. Invite students to share everything they think of when they think of the word, hibernation. As students share ideas, create a concept web, grouping like responses together (e.g., “sleep,” “body slows down,” “body temp drops” will be grouped together, as will responses like “bears,” “toads,” and other hibernating animals) – see diagram, below, for an example. It is not important to “edit” student responses at this time, as you will return to this concept web to revise it, after the students complete their research.

 

simple science strategies describing

Use a concept web to gather students’ prior knowledge about a scientific concept, such as hibernation. Ideas can be revised after further study. Image credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012

Post the completed web in view of all the groups.

A Note on Forming Groups

The focus of this learning task is on building an argument using evidence. This skill is accomplished through the use of cooperative structures which use discussion as an oral rehearsal for producing a written argument. So groups should be structured in a way to provide language models for students who are not as skilled in oral presentation, and to provide peer scaffolding for making meaning from a variety of non-fiction texts. See “Creating Mixed Instructional Groups” for more information on forming cooperative groups for activities such as this.

Cooperative Learning Strategies

Mixed ability instructional groups can provide peer scaffolding for comprehension, oral language and team building.

 

Having students assign team roles is helpful for all ages of student. Roles that will be helpful for this task include a time keeper, a recorder, a task master, and a materials manager. Some teachers add an encourager, wordsmith or illustrator, when working with groups of five. A wordsmith might be helpful when working with science texts.

The Discussion Frame: A Comprehension Tool

When posed with a provocative issue, students will quickly decide what their stance is on the issue. This is problematic, for several reasons:

  1. Their quick response is often based on emotion, misconception, or a limited amount of (often “popular”) information about the topic;
  2. Once committed to a view, it is difficult to persuade students of another viewpoint, even if their own turns out to be in error;
  3. The highest quality arguments anticipate alternative viewpoints, and prepare evidence to address these views ahead of time.

So, when using a discussion frame, students must use the text available to gather evidence both in agreement with and opposed to the central view or argument. Only when the teacher approves their evidence, is a group allowed to proceed to deciding on a stance on the issue. In this way, their view is more well-informed, has considered multiple possible views, and is prepared to address any dissenting views with appropriate evidence.

building an argument using evidence

 

The Discussion Frame: A Cooperative Learning Tool

Each group should receive the appropriate text materials (which, ideally, have been previewed by the teacher for their appropriateness for the task), as well as a copy of the discussion frame. If possible, enlarge to frame on 10” x 13” paper, to enable the whole group to more easily see the chart.

In the center of the discussion frame, have students write the statement: “Hibernation is simply a type of deep sleep.” (NOTE: When using discussion frames, using a declarative statement as the argument provokes more discourse than a question, which can lead to “yes” and “no” responses.).

You may print out the hibernation discussion frame, or the blank discussion frame, and edit as desired.

Provide students with enough non-fiction resources (ideally, previewed by the teacher for their appropriateness for the task), for all groups to have an assortment of reference materials to complete both the “Evidence to Support” and “Evidence to Refute” sides of the frame. They may use their concept web as a starting place for their research (as they will need to find evidence to support (or not) the ideas they have on the web. Remind students that they are NOT to take a stance until you approve their research.

building an argument using evidence

As a means of monitoring groups’ progress, pass out three colored index cards to each group: one pink, one yellow, one green. Prior to the groups beginning their discussions, instruct students to use the cards to indicate how their work is going: green if things are going well, yellow if they need clarification or some guidance, and pink if they are confused, or have reached an impasse in their team work. Periodically during the discussion period, use questioning to elicit a response from teams. Here are some examples of questions you might use:

  • [Before beginning]: “Show me with your cards how well you understand the task I have given you.”
  • [During discussion]: “Ok – just checking in. Use your cards to show me how well the team roles are going.”
  • [During discussion]: “Can I have your attention for a moment? Just doing a time check – use your cards to show me how close you are to finding evidence for both sides of the argument: green if you could stop now, yellow if you need a few more minutes to finish up, pink if you think you have a long way to go still.”
  • [After discussion]: “Ok – before we debrief: use your cards to show me how comfortable you are with the stance you have taken, how well you think you can defend it with the evidence you have. Green if you are confident, yellow if you think you have a good case, but could use some feedback, pink if you know that you need more or better evidence.”

Debrief

As students are winding down their discussions, pass word to each group, via the task manager, that each group should be taking a stance, based on their evidence, and that they should indicate what they feel are the three strongest pieces of evidence to support their stance (they do not need to write their argument at this time – just choose their evidence).

Begin by asking for a show of hands indicating whether the groups believed that hibernation was a kind of sleep, or not. Then ask groups to share what they thought were the most significant pieces of evidence. Project an image of the discussion frame, and record these pieces of evidence for all to see.

If time allows, discuss any evidence they recorded which they determined wasn’t strong or supporting evidence, and talk about why they decided so.

Return to the concept web, and invite students to revise their thinking about what hibernation is, and isn’t. Record changes to the chart in a different color.

 

building an argument using evidence

Photo credit: (c) Gilles San Martin, 2010 via Creative Commons

 

Possible Follow-up Tasks for Individual Student Research & Response

  1. Create a written argument, using the information on the discussion frame
  2. Conduct further research on any evidence which seems controversial or contradictory (e.g., black bears do not reach a coma-like state – are they true hibernators?)
  3. Conduct further research on one of the hibernation-like states (torpor, estivation, etc.)
  4. Create a double bubble map comparing hibernation and sleep
  5. Investigate the hibernation habits of an animal species of student’s choice, indicating specific environmental triggers and the animal’s response to them
compare and contrast

Image credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012

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The “One Small Square” Strategy: Mushrooms and Other “Fun Guys”

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[Edited and re-blogged from “A Child’s Garden,” September 2011. All photographs (c)2010-11, Kim M. Bennett/Simple Science Strategies.]

We originally completed this study last fall, but are re-submitting this for the current SSS Blog Carnival, because it made good use of the “One Small Square” Strategy, the focus strategy for Week 3 of the September Newsletter, and focused on mushrooms, the topic for Week 2!

Mushrooms love the wood chips in my flower bed (Hartford, Connecticut, 2011).

We sure have had some wild weather here in New England at the end of the Summer of 2011. We have had so much rain that the crop of mushrooms sprouting up everywhere has been very interesting and incredible.

Fall, especially the Back to School time, is always a prime time to go mushroom exploring, with the warm days, cool nights and more frequent rain.  Also be on the look-out for mushroom cousins, the slime molds and actinomycetes, that you probably mistake for their more well-known family members. Here is a mushroom study that you can do for September.

 

Before You Go Outside:

Tiny shelf fungi on a dead tree. (Fenton-Ruby Park and Preserve, Willington, Connecticut, 2010.)

 

  • Read up on mushrooms. The Handbook of Nature Study has a very thorough discussion of many of the types of fungi that you might see on an expedition, on pages 714-727. If you read a little further, you can learn about their indoor cousins, the bread molds (pp. 727-728).
  • The Handbook of Nature Study website has an Autumn Outdoor Hour Challenge on Mushrooms that has excellent links to videos, notebooking pages and other resources.
  • Gather materials you might need for a mushroom study: clipboards and pencils, hand lenses, a long plant tag or flag to mark your mushroom spot, plastic food service gloves.
  • Read One Small Square: Practice Looking Closely at the World and  Outdoor Hour Challenge #9: One Small Square for descriptions of how to carry out the observation activity. 
  • Prepare observation sheets for each child. 
  • Review routines: “How to Work With a Partner.”
  • Teach safety rules about potentially poisonous plants.

 

Honey mushrooms in a shady flower bed. (Hartford, Connecticut, 2010).

Observing Mushrooms and Their Cousins:

A mushroom study lends itself well to a multiple-day observation, since the fruiting body of most fungi only remains for a few days, and changes considerably with time and the weather.

Step 1: Note the location of some fungi on a nature walk.

Some places to look include wood chipped areas of a school flower garden or playground, rotting logs, tree stumps, and places where a tree once stood. At this time of year, a whole crop can pop up literally overnight, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see any on a particular day.

Be on the lookout for the little “buttons” of some mushrooms that look like tan bumps before they sprout up the next day.

Step 2: Use the One Small Square technique to sketch what you observe.
Step 3: Mark the location with a stick or “flag” so you can find it the next day.

Step 4: Return to sketch changes for the next few days, until the mushroom collapses.

Mushrooms change very quickly from day to day, which is exciting for kids. Note the weather each time you observe (that day’s as well as the weather from previous days). These observation forms have a place to record the weather.

Each day you observe, ask the students some questions:

  • How did your mushroom change? Why do you think this happened?
  • What was the weather like the day before? How might that have affected the mushroom?
  • What type of weather do mushrooms prefer? If you don’t know, how can you find out?
  • Where are the mushrooms growing? What is the ground like there? Are there any trees around?
  • Do you see any insects around the mushroom? What are they doing?
  • Does your mushroom have a smell? (Make sure that children don’t handle the mushrooms without wearing gloves, because some poisonous mushrooms resemble harmless ones.)

Classroom Follow-up: 

Study the Anatomy of a Mushroom —

  • Enchanted Learning has a diagram of a gilled mushroom that students can label, to learn the anatomy of one type of mushroom.
  • The Mushroom Lady has a pile of activities that will get your kids really studying mushrooms in-depth.

Learn About Mushroom Relatives —

  • Here is a handy sheet of terms that you might want to study, so that you correctly distinguish between fungi, actinomycetes, slime molds and other fungus-like organisms.

Study Edible Mushrooms (and Eat Them!) —

  • Create a mushroom study station with stereoscopes and various edible mushrooms from your grocer’s produce department: shiitake, oyster, portabella, white button, straw, crimini…

Fairy Rings, Faerie Houses and Other Literacy Connections —

  • Study the folklore surrounding fairy rings and faerie houses.
  • Build a faerie house (or two or 10…) along your school nature trail or in your backyard garden.

Faeries and other woodland creatures — literacy connection!

Resources

One Small Square: Backyard. $2.43 at Barnes & Noble.

A voyage of scientific discovery is as near as your own backyard. There you’ll find a busy hub, full of creepers and crawlers, lifters and leapers, singers, buzzers, climbers, builders, and recyclers. It’s a place where children can smell, listen, look, and get a hands-on feel for life, all in one small square of land and air. Backyard is just one of the exciting, vibrantly illustrated volumes in the critically acclaimed One Small Square series of science and nature books for children. Click on the photo (right) for information on ordering this great addition to your homeschool or classroom science library. (Helpful hint: I had multiple copies for my science center).

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Biomes: Teaching With the ‘One Small Square’ Series

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I spent seven years of my teaching career as a third grade teacher in an urban school district. The elementary school where I taught was actually located at the edge of town, so we had a school full of kids from the city, attending school in the country. The children delighted in the horses that lived at the farm next door, and enjoyed just rolling in the grass and watching the butterflies in our nature garden.

While working on building nature activities to give the students experiences which they had not previously had, I stumbled upon the One Small Square Series of non-fiction children’s books, by Donald Silver.  Each 48-page book covers a different habitat, and guides kids through a close-up look at what you might find if you observed one small piece of that habitat.

  • Backyard
  • Cactus Desert
  • Cave
  • Night Sky
  • Pond
  • Swamp
  • Woods
  • African Savanna
  • Arctic Tundra
  • Coral Reef
  • Rainforest
  • Seashore

There are over a dozen titles in the One Small Square series, by Donald Silver. For the remainder of this post, I will focus only on Backyard, for the following reasons:

  1. While people reading the post might live in different parts of the country, and (hence) in different biomes, everyone has something that they can call a “backyard” – a patio, a planter, a parking lot, a school garden, a playground, or a park. The learning tasks in Backyard can be performed in any kind of outdoor area, including one of the other biomes.
  2. The Charlotte Mason Method of instruction recommends beginning nature studies with the child’s own surroundings, then moving to exotic locations. In all instruction, we do well to connect new information with what the learner already knows. See “Nature Study: Charlotte Mason’s Cure for Tired, Text-Taught Tots” for more on the Charlotte Method philosophy of outdoor education.
  3. Becoming familiar with the “One Small Square” method of nature study in one’s backyard makes the other studies easier.

 

One Small Square: Backyard, from $2.96 at Barnes & Noble. Click image for ordering information.

50 Helpful Links for Use With One Small Square: Backyard

Reviews

These two links provide helpful reviews of the series, one by readers through Google Books, and another from a homeschooler:

Cornerstones of Science provides excellent reviews of many fiction and non-fiction books that can be used in your science instruction. Search by title, topic, author, grade and reading level.

 

Lesson and Unit Plans

 

This section includes a huge variety of types of web links, from .pdf versions of lesson plans to print out and put in your public school lesson plan books, to laid-back, Charlotte Mason-style homeschool nature studies using Backyard, to  unit studies compiled by the National Park Service. You will find plans for preschool through high school students in this list. I think the list is exciting! And all materials are free.

[NOTE: While I did select only links that were relevant (i.e., contained actual lesson plans, included appropriate learning tasks, used Backyard as a “spine” and addressed important educational goals), a site’s presence on the list does not mean that all linked lessons will align with state or national standards (although many provide this information for you). The teacher always has to consider the needs of her own students, as well as any school or state requirements, when choosing lessons and curriculum. ]

 

Many who used Backyard as a basis for their lessons tied it into studies of soils, life underground and worms. For older students, the “meter square” links introduce the idea of quadrat studies, in-depth, scientific investigations of the plants, animals, soil, light and weather of a specific area used in the field of ecology. See also the Creative Curriculum link (which describes a center-based learning approach to teaching with the book).

Learn more about observing in your backyard in “Science Skills: Making Observations and Asking Questions Like a Scientist” (Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2009)

Resource Lists

 

Some links did not specifically include a lesson plan, but had other interesting and important information that might be helpful to a classroom or homeschool teacher, such as schedules for using the book, the role of nature study in a balanced curriculum, lists of materials to include in a comprehensive outdoor study program, and general information on nature study. Think of these as a “shopping list” for a teacher intent on infusing science into classroom practice.

Learn how to “look closely” in “The Power of Observation: Life in a Tiny Ecosystem” (Photo credit: (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2009)

For More Information…

 

All these sites, and others, can be found on my Pinterest board, One Small Square. New sites will be added as I find them.

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