By Linda Rasmussen
The new school year is finally here and I’m so excited to begin introducing my students to the natural world around us. I will help them understand our planet using every resource possible. My hope is that when they understand our world, they will appreciate and love it and then, will take care of it forever!
How do I intend to accomplish this goal?
I connect my students to the phenomena of the world through children’s literature! Here is an example of how I do this:
My students and I start our school year by reading, I’m In Charge of Celebrations by Byrd Baylor. This book takes the children on a journey to experience the phenomena of the desert. Baylor celebrates dancing whirlwinds, hawk’s nests in cliffs and shooting stars in a night sky. Her words open my students’ eyes to these ever present wonders around them and primes us all for our first outdoor adventure into the schoolyard. The observations we make about the birds, bugs, rocks and plants that we encounter will become the first page of our “Nature Celebration” Journal.
Abigail finds a moth in our garden and brings it inside to introduce it to the class! The children race to our entomology picture book tub and after some research, make a discovery. It is a sphinx moth!
Our class picture books are categorized in tubs by science themes The picture books we read and the discoveries we make together, guide our learning adventures about our planet. To gain important insect information about Abigail’s moth we read Crinkleroot’s Guide to Knowing Butterflies and Moths and for fun, Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly. Now, to meet a few famous entomologists, we grab Small Wonders: Jean-Henri Fabre & His World of Insects and Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. My students’ knowledge of the natural world is growing day by day!
Just after Abigail finds her moth friend, Tyler finds a monarch caterpillar clinging to a milkweed stem. They are finding and celebrating nature every time they step outdoors, so of course, it is back to the entomology picture book tub and a few more books make their appearance: Mrs. Carter’s Butterfly Garden, Migration, and The Monarch’s Progress. A copy of Wendy Cochran’s poem Butterfly graces our wall so we can chant it together during our Morning Meeting.
The children’s discoveries inspire them to learn about metamorphosis, differences among species, habitats, needs for survival, adaptations, migration and more!
Tyler’s sighting of a monarch caterpillar was the perfect discovery! It led us to our first two Citizen Science Projects with Journey North. The first project, Monarch Watch, has the children counting monarchs in all stages of metamorphosis in our schoolyard. We send the data to the scientists of Journey North. The second project, Symbolic Monarch Migration , asks the students to design paper, monarch butterflies decorated with goodwill Spanish phrases. They are mailed off to the children in Michoacan, Mexico. The paper butterflies will decorate classrooms in the high mountains while the real butterflies are over-wintering in the Oyamel trees right outside and then the children in Michoacan will mail them back north to us in the spring; representing a symbolic monarch migration!
These units give them the information they desire and so much more. They are becoming even more familiar with the plants and animals that dwell in a desert habitat. They are learning all about our San Diego County Sweetwater Marsh by creating a giant mural of all the bio-mass that lives in the environment we pair this activity with a field trip to the marsh) ). The students also perform a reader’s theater play for their kindergarten buddies about the changing chaparral regions in Southern California and how these changes effect some creatures and others are able to survive.
These EEI units dove-tail perfectly with our outside discoveries in our schoolyard and our phenomenal picture books. The EEI units inspire us to invite interpretive park rangers from Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area in to our classroom. The rangers bring the desert to us on this reverse field trip and reinforce our adaptation lessons through the examples of the Ocotillo cactus and a Merriman’s kangaroo rat – two species that have adapted perfectly to live in the desert environment. This “field trip”gives the children the opportunity to experience the phenomena of the desert first hand – a region they have previous knowledge of thanks to the Byrd Baylor book they read at the beginning of the year. Our activities have come full circle!
Do you know why carnivores have eyes that face forward and herbivores have eyes that face to the sides? The students in Room 101 now know why!
What a gift we teachers have been given! We have been honored as creators and curators of our students’ learning adventures. We can create a dynamic environmental-based curriculum by weaving together outdoor schoolyard adventures, specials guests, field trips, citizen science projects, dynamic EEI units and phenomenal picture books!
For a list of the books and projects mentioned in this article, and much more, click here.
About the Author
Linda Rasmussen teaches third grade at Highland Ranch Elementary School in San Diego. Rasmussen received her master’s degree in curriculum development from San Diego State University and spent most of her career in Poway Unified School District, where she earned the title of Teacher of the Year. Lifelong learning is important to Rasmussen, and it’s a value she tries to pass along to her students throughout her 33 year teaching career. During her summer breaks, she enjoys learning from children in other countries. Rasmussen’s latest adventure took her to the Peruvian Amazon where she discovered and studied the adaptations of indigenous birds, animals and insects alongside children of the Maijuna tribe.