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.
- Cactus Desert
- Night Sky
- African Savanna
- Arctic Tundra
- Coral Reef
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
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).
- “A Simple Meter Square,” Smithsonian Biodiversity Science in the Classroom
- “Backyard Nature Study: A Surprise Visitor,” Homepreschool and Beyond
- “Cycles of Life in an Urban Habitat: Changes in Biodiversity,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
- “Down the Rabbit Hole,” The Tiger Chronicle
- “Earth Day 2006,” Earth Day
- “Ecology,” cstone.net
- “Helping an Old Friend: Our Own Backyard,” Houston Teacher’s Institute
- “Inquiry for Everyone: Authentic Science Experiences for Students,” ERIC
- “Insects Don’t Bug Us,” Muhlenberg College
- “Insects: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” Designing Effective Projects: Project-Based Units to Engage Students (Intel)
- “Let’s Get Physical!” Tulare County History
- “Life Underground,” Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute
- “Living Books for Biology,” Green Apples Blush
- “Nature Study in Your Own Backyard,” HarmonyArtMom
- “Nature Study,” Dottie’s Homeschool Universe
- “New Landforms Work and a Fun Introduction to Biomes,” Our Montessori Homeschool
- “One Small Square,” Diack Ecology.org
- “One Small Square: Backyard,” Dr. Judy Science Solutions
- “One Small Square: Outdoor Hour Challenge #9,” Harvest Moon By Hand
- “One Small Square: Take Two,” Blue House Academy
- “One Square Meter,” America’s Rain Forests
- “Our Curriculum for 2012-13 (*Not* Back-to-School Blog Hop),” Boasting in My Weakness
- “Our Librarian Won’t Tell Us Anything!” Upstart Books
- “Our Nature Study,” Discover Their Gifts
- “Science Fact and Fun: Making Sense of It [Teacher’s Guide],” Discovery Education
- “Social Studies Curriculum, Grade 2,” Flemington-Raritan Regional School District (NJ)
- “Soil Microhabitats Field Study,” Muhlenberg College
- “Spreading the Feast: School Plans for 2010-11,” Amongst Lovely Things
- “The Clear-Your Shelves Curriculum Plan for Eliza for 3rd Grade,” Confessions of an Erratic Homeschooler
- “The Outdoor Classroom, School Ground Greening Newsletter, 2007/2008,” Toyota Evergreen
- “’The Soil Around Us’ Project,” YouthLearn
- “Underground Adventure,” The Field Museum
- “Unit 3: Composting,” CalRecycle
- “Wild Links,” Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- “Wild TV,” PBS.org
- “Wildlife Garden,” Exploring Iowa’s Natural Resources
- “Winter Insects in One Small Square,” Hodgepodge
- “Winter Nature Study for Families,” HarmonyArtMom
- “Worms,” CreativeCurriculum.net
- “Your Backyard Monarch Companion e-Study Guide,” Curriculum Choice
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.
- “A Balanced Whole in a Charlotte Mason Education,” Wildflowers and Marbles
- “Activities for Preschooler-K (Ages 3-5),”Acorn Naturalists
- “Green Spring Gardens Teacher’s Resource List,” Fairfax County, Virginia
- “Pre-K Teaching Times,” Bright from the Start
- “Publications and Websites,” Milton Outdoor Classrooms
- “Resources for Educators and Parents in the Hay Creek Watershed and Hopewell Big Woods Area,” Hay Creek Watershed Association
- “Summer Reading, Summer Camping, Summer Science,” NSTA Blog
- Dig In! Hands On Soil Investigations (Glossary), National Science Teachers Association
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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Posted in Life Sciences, LS 2: Ecosystems: Interactions, energy, and dynamics, LS 4: Biological Evolution: Unity and diversity, Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
Tagged backyard, biomes, center-based learning, charlotte mason, Creative Curriculum, ecology, elementary science, homeschool, inquiry, investigations, lesson plans, meter square, nature study, One Small Square, quadrat studies
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?
- 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.]
- mixed bird seed (or seed of your choice)
- 1-cup measuring cup
- Trace the bottom of the pie pan onto each sheet of construction paper; cut out the two construction paper circles.
- Place one circle inside the bottom of each pie pan.
- 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.
- Place the pie pans on the ground in a place where birds frequently come to visit and feed.
- 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.
Why is it important that the feeders be exactly like, except for color? In this experiment, which is the independent variable? Which is the dependent variable?
Would the experiment be different if you used a different kind of food, such as suet or fruit? Why or why not?
Why is it important to put the same type and amount of food in each feeding station? Would the experiment be different if you used a hanging feeder instead of a ground/platform feeder? Why or why not?
How will you know that the birds were attracted to one color over the other? How can you directly measure this? How could you indirectly measure this? Which way is better? Why?
Would your results be different if you used a different kind of bird feeder? Why or why not?
Would you get different results if you used a different kind of food? What if you colored the food, instead of the feeder?
- 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?
- dependent, independent variable
- direct, indirect measurement
- scientific method
- 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?
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:
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:
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:
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:
- A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Core Ideas, National Research Council, 2011
- “Explore Science with BirdSleuth, The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology” [accessed July 7, 2012]
- “All About Birds BirdSleuth 2009-3 Article: Young Students” [accessed July 7, 2012]
- “Do Birds Care What Color Their Food Is?” Science Bob’s Blog, January 27, 2010
- “Extending Our Senses: Indirect Measurement,” Arbor Scientific, September 1, 2003
- Big Backyard Magazine (ages 3-7) and Ranger Rick Magazine
Posted in Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation, LS 4: Biological Evolution: Unity and diversity, Planning and Carrying Out Investigations, Showing Cause-and-Effect Relationship
Tagged 1.MD.4, 2.MD.10, 3.MD.3, 4.MD.2, 5.MD.3, 6.SP.5, adaptation, advantage, birds, cause and effect, color, dependent variable, direct measurement, experimental design, feeding behaviors, independent variable, indirect measurement, investigations, K.MD.2, SL.1.5, SL.2.5, SL.3.4, SL.5.4, SL.6.2, SL.K.6, W.1.3, W.2.2, W.3.2, W.4.2, W.5.2, W.6.2, W.K.2