It’s spring once again and the world is coming to life. It’s during this time of year that I notice how my students gaze longingly out the classroom window.
They’re restless and their thoughts are rarely on the work in front of them. I don’t blame them. I want to be outside in the sunshine as well. There’s something about spring sunshine that’s so inviting. That’s why learning in the outdoors can be such an amazing experience.
Saving nature based units for the spring can be a fantastic way to finish the year. There are so many amazing topics to cover. Students can investigate ecosystems, food webs, and the water cycle. Not to mention many other parts of the natural world.
Nature journals are a fun and relaxing way to teach students about the natural world.
Using nature journals is a less conventional method of learning but it incorporates many different skills. Students have to observant. They must search for details and formulate questions. The experience is more self-directed for children. It offers them the opportunity to make their own observations about the world. Students will surprise you with how insightful they can be.
Nature Journals are a collection of writing, art and observations that document an individual’s learning. Nature journals require students to investigate nature, and study the fine details. They might investigate the stages involved in a blooming flower. Perhaps students become curious about which birds first return to the area after winter. Content is just as important as the art involved. Students should ask document their observations. It is then our job as teacher’s to assist them in developing questions about their observations. Students should inquire into the why and how of natural phenomena.
The trick to using nature journals successfully is to guide their investigations. As teachers it’s important to keep students focused while they are outside.
When working with a younger grade your focus may be investigating the signs of spring. While older children might investigate the parts of different spring flowers like the stamen. A grade 7 class could investigate spring plants and flowers. Then look into how each plant was classified, using its proper scientific Latin name. Student could analyze the flower names and look for patterns in the use of Latin scientific terms.
Nature journals are also useful when investigating ecosystems like a pond or wetland. If your school is located near a natural space like a park you’re lucky. You have easy access to areas where the children can easily observe nature. Arranging to meet up with a conservation officer or a park official can enhance the learning experience even further.
Students love to investigate the variety of life within a pond. They use skimmers to collect animals from the pond and study them with magnifying glasses. Students then use phones or tablets to take photos of the creatures. We then download all our images and create eBook nature journals.
By mixing nature and technology teachers can try to bridge the gap between nature and modern life. Students who are less comfortable in nature can find a way to connect with the learning. It’s amazing just how much life exists in a healthy pond. Sudents are always amazed.
Nature journals are similar in format to classroom based inquiry. The documenting of nature through journals requires students to gather information. They must then wonder about their observations and formulate questions to drive their learning. Three skills are fostered when utilizing nature journals in the classroom.
Question asking skills = Wondering (classroom discussions and question walls are examples that foster this skill)
Communication skills = Explaining (students can explain each other’s journals to show communication of their learning)
Whatever topic you choose to investigate nature journals will make the experience memorable. The tool is unique in that it mixes hands on activities with learning content. Students always surprise me with the things they discover. I’ve learned a great deal about teaching with nature journals. Taking students outdoors isn’t always an easy activity to manage but it is rewarding.
Resources for Teaching with Nature Journals
Clare Walker Leslie – clarewalkerleslie.com
The Smithsonian – smithsonianeducation.org
The Sierra Club – vault.sierraclub.org
Earth Rangers – earthrangers.org