Outdoor Learning Activities
Spring is in the air, and if your students are like mine, they're just itching to be outside. An outdoor classroom, whether a formal classroom area or just an informal gathering spot, is the perfect way to help students maintain focus as the school year winds down.
Plan your final quarter with several outdoor activities, and announce the dates to your students. You can also use the outdoor activities as a reward for positive behavior indoors.
A creek near our school attracts several different species of ducks, so I have my students develop an inquiry lab to study the behavior of the ducks. For example, the students developed a lab to determine if the ducks prefer certain grains over others.
If you do not have a pond or creek nearby to observe ducks and other waterfowl, consider using different kinds of bird seed and compare which species of birds prefer which seeds or which style of bird feeder. An extension of this activity is to observe and record the perching and feeding behavior of different bird species. Teach students to identify species and genders of birds with field guides. Vary the types of feeders you place on the school grounds to attract a wide variety of birds, or let students turn a 2-liter soda bottle into a bird feeder. Questions for students to consider are:
Where do the birds feed when on the feeder? Below the feeder?
How long do the birds spend feeding?
Do certain species only show up when other species are not present?
For migrating birds, when were the birds first sighted at school feeders?
What better time to study macroinvertebrates than in the spring? Ponds, marshes, creeks, and lakes provide opportunities to study invertebrates. All you need is an easy-to-use identification guide like the Carolina® Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Card Set, sampling nets, a container for sample water, and small containers to sort out organisms.
After identifying the macroinvertebrates in the body of water, your students can explore how macroinvertebrate diversity is used as a bioindicator to determine how healthy any water source is.
Water is not the only place showing signs of life. Spring is a great time to study soil macroinvertebrates too. Let students make their own Berlese funnel and then collect leaf litter and soil samples, separate the soil invertebrates, and identify them. If you would rather buy a kit, Soil Organism Biodiversity Kit is available. Encourage students to select a variety of sampling areas and then compare the types of species found and density of species among the locations chosen.
Have students walk around the school grounds or a nearby park to find a variety of flowers, identify their names using a field guide for eastern or western wildflowers, and create a table to list the characteristics of each flower. The sample data table below will help students identify leaf and flower characteristics necessary to identify the flower.
Once the table is complete, have students create a cladogram of the flower samples. They can tape the flower down in place of the flower name for the cladogram.
Select a wildflower to dissect. Have students tape individual parts (petal, sepal, filament, etc.) to a sheet of paper and label each part.
For more fun ways to learn in the great outdoors, you can plan field trips to a zoo, botanical gardens, or nature parks, or invite local experts to present to your class. Don’t forget that the opportunity to participate in “citizen science” projects abound. Do a quick online search for projects in your area. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great birding kit to teach students how to set up experiments and analyze data. This free activity for students to produce a school field guide can also begin a discussion about the importance of recording the natural history of the school grounds for generations to come. Activities like these not only teach and reinforce science practices but also help students develop a respect and appreciation for nature.
Flower shape and coloration offer a way to learn about the mutualistic relationship between plants and animals. By examining the characteristics, colors, and shape of the flowers, students can predict the type of pollination each flower performs and the most likely pollinator of that species. Have your students predict the specific pollinator that pollinates their flower. Students can then check their prediction through online research. If you’d like to bring this activity inside so students can mimic the role of bees, let students experience the growth, development and reproduction of Wisconsin Fast Plants® in about 40 days.