Monday, December 14, 2009

Class Summary

First and foremost, let me give a resounding "Thank You!!" for allowing me to teach your children this semester. It has been a wonderful journey for all of us. Exploring the natural world through their eyes has been just as much of an educational process for me as learning the material was for them. I am very grateful for the knowledge that I have gained from our time spent together this semester. 
Our goal was to learn basic ecological and biological principles. What is the food web? Who are the players? In particular, who are the players in OUR environment? Each week was spent reinforcing the class room knowledge by spending our time outside looking for living examples. Sometimes our explorations led us off into a completely different direction than intended but those were the lessons that stuck with the children the most. For example, one day we came across a dead mouse out in the church yard. We were at the beginning of the food web, discussing herbivores, when David stumbled across the mouse. This gave us a real life example of the decomposers that we wouldn't be covering for weeks to come yet we jumped into the topic anyway. Although our journey was never quite linear, we met all of our learning objectives for the semester in a fun, hands on way. 
          My personal goal for the class was to awaken the sense of wonder and awe that each child naturally has towards this wonderful world we live in while teaching them to be respectful to all living things (yes, even the bugs).  I believe that this personal goal was met if their enthusiasm and excitement for our class was any indicator. Our field trip to Weyanoke Sanctuary helped deepen their love of nature and solidified the lessons being learned in class. The weeks that followed were filled with exclamations of "Oh!! Remember we saw that at the sanctuary?!' You could see the lightbulb turning on above their heads as they made the connections. There are no words to describe the excitement that this brought to all of us in the class room. 
            Just because class is over doesn't mean that this journey must end for the children. You can continue to foster this love by encouraging them to do just a few simple things. One of the most encompassing activities that can be done is nature journaling. Let them choose their own journal and pen. Follow the ideas that the blog author gives such as writing their observations of the seasons changing. Another way to connect with nature in your own yard is to hang the bird feeders we made in class and have the children pick a time of day to maintain and observe the feeder. Have them write their feeding observations in their journals. The Great Backyard Bird Count starts February 12, 2010 and is a wonderful living example of how the food web works. Finally, here is a good link to some free life science resources that will reinforce what we covered this semester. 

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Week 2

The kids and I had such a great second class Tuesday! We couldn't have asked for better weather. A nice sunny day that wasn't too hot or cold makes for some great outdoors exploration!
We started off with a work sheet. We filled out our food chain as we reviewed all of the ecology terms we had learned last week. I was very impressed at everyone's good memories! The kids had fun answering my questions as we moved through our review. 
We moved onto our core lesson for the day once they finished their sheets. We covered the following terms:  biology, observations, scientific method, hypothesis, control group, variable group, and conclusions. Although I introduced the big topic of scientific methodology, we kept it light. We mainly discussed what observations are in biology and how we use our senses to make and record our observations about nature. 
The kids were ecstatic once it was time to head outdoors to play nature detective. Gabriel was our class photographer for the day (each child will get a turn through the semester). He took pictures of the various living things we found. The pictures serve as a method to record the data of our observations outside (or that is the goal at least).

Louis and David wrote down our observations. Most importantly, Ashley Berry was our class helper outdoors. Big thanks to Ashley - I couldn't have done it without her help ( If there are any parents who would like to take turns helping us outdoors in the weeks to come, we would greatly appreciate it! I won't be able to get the kids outside without an extra set of hands). As we walked around outside, we saw a slug, a spider eating a bug, a cricket, an ant, a butterfly and a moth. I asked the kids to make observations: what color was the slug? Did it smell? How big was it? Was it dry or sticky? Did it make any noises? This was the data that the boys were writing down.  You can encourage your children's observational skills by starting their very own nature journal. Try this link for some more ideas on this topic. 
           Finally, after we finished our game of nature detective, we had *just* enough time to head inside and begin our semester long science experiment. The first stage of this experiment is seed germination. Rather than planting seeds in the soil & waiting for them to bud, we are germinating them in a glass jar. It looks like this: 

We moistened the construction paper and placed the seeds on the paper. Then we folded the paper into a cylinder to fit into the jar. We allowed the construction paper to press up against the glass, thus holding the seeds in place. Next, we filled the jar with paper towels. 

These paper towels are kept moist throughout the germination process in order to keep the seeds wet. We will record our observations of the seeds' growth. If all goes according to plan, each child should have at least one heirloom tomato seedling to plant. Check back at this site for updates on how the seeds are coming along! 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Week 1

The objectives for our first class were to get to know each other, cover our one rule, and become familiar with the basics of the food chain. 

We made our own name tags out of mashed up pokeweed berries while the children shared with me what they thought we'd be covering in our class. I shared a picture and the story of how I had collected the berries from the pokeweed growing in my backyard. I explained that pokeweed is a local plant that is toxic to us yet provides food for our songbirds. As the children finished up the tags, I covered our one rule: respect. 

Respect will be a major theme in our class. As we explore the fundamentals of ecology and biology through the church grounds, I hope to foster and nurture a sense of awe and respect in the kids for our living world. Respect, however, starts with how we treat each other. I explained that if we raise our hands to speak and not talk over or to each other while someone else is speaking, then we are all being respectful. The kids got it and were quite overjoyed that I only had one rule. :) 

We moved onto our core lesson for the day. We covered the information on pages 8 - 12 in Wetland Food Chains by Bobbie Kalman and pages 4 - 12 in Life Processes: Food Chains and Webs by Holly Wallace . The children learned the following terms: photosynthesis, primary producers, primary and secondary consumers, food chain, food web, plant, herbivore, carnivore and omnivore. We discussed the three building blocks of life: sun, water, and air. Air is made up of a lot of gasses so we mainly discussed oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange. 

At this point, the kids were ready to MOVE! We would have headed outside for a game of nature detective but the weather was not cooperative. Instead we read The Seed and The Giant Saguaro by Jennifer Ward. Each child took a role in the book and romped after each other in a circle as I read. Their enthusiasm and energy was fantastic! Much to our dismay, we were out of time when the book was finished.