Category Archives: LS 4: Biological Evolution: Unity and diversity

Taking a Sock Walk: a Strategy for Nature Study

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Take a sock walk to get a closer look at the seeds in your area. (Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012)

[This article is the first in a series to accompany the September Simple Science Newsletter. Click on the link for more information, and the other nature studies in the series for the month.]

Getting Kids’ Attention…

When it comes to things to observe in the environment, seeds are one of the toughest items to draw a child’s attention.

  • They are small (often very small…)…
  • They are often hidden…
  • They are brown…
  • They aren’t very flashy…

In the birding world, birders refer to the plethora of sparrows, inconspicuous warblers and other tiny brown birds as “LBJs,” or “little brown jobs.” Like our seeds, they don’t stand out, and tend to blend into the backdrop, as well as into each other.

Seeds might be the “little brown jobs” of the plant world. In short, if we struggle to get kids to notice things around them, anyway, we have to nearly bend over backwards to get them to pay attention to things like seeds. So, we develop engaging ways to get them to interact with their surroundings. Such as a “sock walk.”

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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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Indirect Measurement: Color and Bird Feeding

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Learning Focus:

Essential Questions —

  • What is the relationship between color and bird feeding behavior?
  • How do you quantify something that you can’t measure yourself?

Enduring Understandings —

  • Treatment effects can be measured using both direct and indirect means.

Focus for This Task:

  • Focus Strategy: Indirect Measurement
  • Targeted Skill: Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
  • Key Concepts: Cause and Effect
  • Core Ideas: Biological Evolution

The Learning Task:

Designing the Investigation:

  • Problem Statement: Does the color of a bird feeder affect bird feeding behavior?
  • Null Hypothesis: The color of the bird feeder has no effect on bird feeding behavior.
  • Alternative Hypothesis: The color of the bird feeder does affect bird feeding behavior.

 Do you think that the birds will eat from one color feeder more than the other? Why or why not? Which color, if either, do you think will attract birds the most? How will you know?

Materials Used:

  • two identical pie pans
  • construction paper (one sheet of green, one sheet of red) [You can use more than two colors with older students; make sure one of them is red.]
  • scissors
  • mixed bird seed (or seed of your choice)
  • 1-cup measuring cup

Procedure:

  1. Trace the bottom of the pie pan onto each sheet of construction paper; cut out the two construction paper circles.
  2. Place one circle inside the bottom of each pie pan.
  3. Measure one cup of mixed bird seed into each pie pan, making sure to push the seeds to one side to expose the color at the bottom of the pie pan.
  4. Place the pie pans on the ground in a place where birds frequently come to visit and feed.
  5. After 2 days, bring the pie pans inside. Measure the seed in each pan using a measuring cup.

 See the photo gallery, below, for questions to ask while conducting this investigation.

Results:

  • Record your results using a data table.

How would you set up your data table? What would be the column headers? What would be the row labels? What data would you put in the body of the table? How might you order the data? Why?

Key Vocabulary:

  • dependent, independent variable
  • direct, indirect measurement
  • scientific method
  • experiment
  • data
  • measurement
  • observation

Follow-up:

  • Did you use direct measurement or indirect measurement to determine the effects of color on bird feeding behavior? Explain.
  • What would be other direct ways of measuring your treatment effect? What would be other indirect methods?
  • What other factors might have influenced the results of your experiment? How could you change the experiment to eliminate these factors?
  • Could you change your procedure to more accurately measure your treament affect? How?

Grade-Level Considerations:

Pre-K/K:

Students who are very young are learning that objects have properties, some which can be observed directly, using their senses, others which can be determined using simple tools and tests. The focus for them is on honing their observational skills, and exploring measurement.

When conducting this experiment with little ones, ask them questions, like the ones below.

  • Which color do you think will attract more birds? Why?
  • What did you notice about the birds feeding?
  • Which feeder has more seed? How can we figure it out?
  • Why do we measure things?
  • If you were a bird, which feeder would you go to? Why?
  • What do you think would happen if we changed the color of the feeders? Why?

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 1/2:

As students enter the primary grades, they are learning that all living things have basic needs, in order to survive. They  begin to notice and can explain the connection between the behaviors of living things and their need for food and water. They are becoming more adept at the use of tools to investigate their world, and are learning to select the appropriate measurement tool for a given situation.

Simple experiments give primary grade students an opportunity to design and carry out fair tests to to investigate their world, and to practice recording their observations in various ways. As they work , ask students questions like the ones below:

  • Which color attracted birds more? Why might this be?
  • How could you figure out which feeder the birds preferred? What measurement tool would you need? Is there another way you could measure this?
  • If you wanted to find out if different colors attracted different birds, how would you change this experiment? Work with a partner to design this new experiment.
  • Use pictures, words and numbers to show the results of your experiment.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 3/4:

Children who are moving through the elementary grades are exploring the relationships between and interdependence of living and non-living things in the environment. They are beginning to understand that some behaviors of living things make them better adapted for their living conditions — that there is an underlying purpose behind the way that plants and animals respond to their environment. They are also moving beyond concrete to representational, and are using symbols and visuals to show ideas.

If this investigation is conducted with elementary grade students, ask them questions like the ones, below:

  • If this were a different environment (city, desert, beach), would you expect different results? Why or why not?
  • What other factors (environment, human activities, etc.) might have influenced the results of this experiment? Explain.
  • Draw a diagram showing the way you set up your experiment. Include a caption, and clearly label important parts of the feeding station.
  • Re-design this experiment, including a direct method of measuring the effects of color on bird feeding behaviors, in place of the method in this activity.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Grades 5/6:

Students in the middle grades are honing their skills as scientists, and learning to evaluate the validity of experimental methods and claims. Their experiments should focus on evaluating and selecting from among various experimental methods. They can be expected to produce more sophisticated arguments and presentations, based on data and resources.

When conducting this experiment with older elementary students, consider the following adaptations:

  • Measure the effects of color on bird feeding behaviors using the following measurement methods: weight of seeds before and after feeding period; number of feeding visits per feeder, during feeding period; average length of feeding visit per bird, during feeding time.
  • Which measurement method most accurately measured the effect of color on bird feeding behavior? Support your claim using results from your experiment.
  • Find an article online that discusses color and bird feeding. Summarize your findings in your report.

Common Core State Standards Connections:

Suggested Resources:

 

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