Staying Local – Investigating the Schoolyard
Posted: Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015
by Joey Noelle Lehnhard
Exploring a local schoolyard ecosystem is an accessible, engaging, and relevant way for students to investigate life science topics. Contextualizing ecology by investigating the life in your own schoolyard can be deeply enriching for students. It also allows students to later apply their learning to a variety of ecosystems including rainforests or the deep sea, which otherwise may be too abstract for elementary students. Spending time outside exploring and investigating their environment also contributes to conservation behavior later in life (Wells & Lekies, 2006). Informal science centers can help with resources such as locally relevant place-based curriculum, professional development, as well as by providing additional outdoor spaces for students to explore.
To learn more about an ecosystem, ecologists typically use a tool known as a quadrat to define a specific area where they collect biodiversity data. Quadrats are used both on land and in aquatic environments. Students can replicate this in their schoolyard. Scientists and students use this tool to count the number of organisms, number of different organisms, and/or percent coverage (i.e. 75% of the plot is covered by nonnative grasses) within the quadrat. Quadrats are great tools for elementary students as they help focus and manage the outdoor experience, ideally with groups of 2-3 students assigned to each quadrat. Traditionally, they are meter or half-meter squares made of PVC pipe. Small hula hoops and even stretched out wire hangers can function as quadrats – anything for which the area can be calculated will suffice.
A year-long quadrat data collection project is a great way for elementary students to practice authentic science outdoors. Each month during the school year, students can return to the same spot to take data on their quadrat. Students can explore a variety of topics in this way. Here are a few data collection ideas to get you started:
- Biodiversity–Students can take biodiversity data by counting the number of different species they find in their quadrat. Combining that data with rainfall and temperature data, students may be able to find patterns in how the seasons relate to the abundance and biodiversity of living things.
- Biotic and abiotic factors–If students are not quite ready for biodiversity, they can draw a picture of five things they see in their quadrat. Then, back in the classroom, they can classify the objects into living and nonliving things. Each month, they can count living and nonliving things and see if a pattern emerges.
- Needs of living things–Students can identify things in their plot that provide animals and plants with what they need to live. Back inside, you can discuss whether your schoolyard is a good home for plants and animals and perhaps decide to make it a better habitat for living things through a habitat restoration project.
- Adaptations–Each month, students can make a scientific illustration of one living thing they find. Then, they can connect its structures to functions that may help it survive in the schoolyard habitat.
- Their own ideas–Students may think of other questions they have about their area of the schoolyard. You can invite them to suggest a testable question to collect data on throughout the year.
- Human impact–Students can take data about human impact, such as the presence or absence of litter or invasive species. Students can count the number of pieces of litter they find and track that throughout the day, week or year. Then, you can discuss how we can all help keep our schoolyard healthy or even develop an action plan that will encourage conservation.
This type of long-term data collection project is in line with project-based learning and engages students in many Next Generation Science Standards practices, including asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, and analyzing and interpreting data. Repeated data collection over time can help students feel comfortable and confident taking data as well as engaging in science in the field. Using their own data to learn and practice analysis and writing may increase ownership and student motivation. And, learning more about their local ecosystem connects to students’ prior knowledge and contextualizes science concepts. This could also be adapted to support the NGSS Kindergarten LS1-1 Performance Expectation: Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
Wells, N. M., & Lekies, K. S. (2006). Nature and the life course: Pathways from childhood nature experiences to adult environmentalism. Children Youth and Environments, 16(1), 1-24.
Attend a Monterey Bay Aquarium teacher professional development institute and learn more about integrating field investigations into your curriculum. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/education/teacher-programs
Learn more about tracking litter with Instagram at http://litterati.org.
Joey Noelle Lehnhard is a Senior Education Specialist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and is a member of CSTA.
Posted: Tuesday, March 14th, 2017
The pre-publication version of the new California Science Curriculum Framework is now available for download. This publication incorporates all the edits that were approved by the State Board of Education in November 2016 and was many months in the making. Our sincere thanks to the dozens of CSTA members were involved in its development. Our appreciation is also extended to the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education, the Instructional Quality Commission, and the Science Curriculum Framework and Evaluation Criteria Committee and their staff for their hard work and dedication to produce this document and for their commitment to the public input process. To the many writers and contributors to the Framework CSTA thanks you for your many hours of work to produce a world-class document.
For tips on how to approach this document see our article from December 2016: California Has Adopted a New Science Curriculum Framework – Now What …? If you would like to learn more about the Framework, consider participating in one of the Framework Launch events (a.k.a. Rollout #4) scheduled throughout 2017.
The final publication version (formatted for printing) will be available in July 2017. This document will not be available in printed format, only electronically.
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
The 2017 Award Season is now open! One of the benefits of being a CSTA member is your eligibility for awards as well as your eligibility to nominate someone for an award. CSTA offers several awards and members may nominate individuals and organizations for the Future Science Teacher Award, the prestigious Margaret Nicholson Distinguished Service Award, and the CSTA Distinguished Contributions Award (organizational award). May 9, 2017 is the deadline for nominations for these awards. CSTA believes that the importance of science education cannot be overstated. Given the essential presence of the sciences in understanding the past and planning for the future, science education remains, and will increasingly be one of the most important disciplines in education. CSTA is committed to recognizing and encouraging excellence in science teaching through the presentation of awards to science educators and organizations who have made outstanding contributions in science education in the state and who are poised to continue the momentum of providing high quality, relevant science education into the future. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
CSTA is now accepting applications from regular, preservice, and retired members to serve on our volunteer committees! CSTA’s all-volunteer board of directors invites you to consider maximizing your member experience by volunteering for CSTA. CSTA committee service offers you the opportunity to share your expertise, learn a new skill, or do something you love to do but never have the opportunity to do in your regular day. CSTA committee volunteers do some pretty amazing things: Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Marian Murphy-Shaw
If you attended an NGSS Rollout phase 1-3 or CDE workshops at CSTA’s annual conference you may recall hearing from Chris Breazeale when he was working with the CDE. Chris has relocated professionally, with his passion for science education, and is now the Executive Director at the Explorit Science Center, a hands-on exploration museum featuring interactive STEM exhibits located at the beautiful Mace Ranch, 3141 5th St. in Davis, CA. Visitors can “think it, try it, and explorit” with a variety of displays that allow visitors to “do science.” To preview the museum, or schedule a classroom visit, see www.explorit.org. Learn More…
Posted: Monday, March 13th, 2017
by Joseph Calmer
Probably like you, NGSS has been at the forefront of many department meetings, lunch conversations, and solitary lesson planning sessions. Despite reading the original NRC Framework, the Ca Draft Frameworks, and many CSTA writings, I am still left with the question: “what does it actually mean for my classroom?”
I had an eye-opening experience that helped me with that question. It came out of a conversation that I had with a student teacher. It turns out that I’ve found the secret to learning how to teach with NGSS: I need to engage in dialogue about teaching with novice teachers. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching science in some capacity for 12 years. During that time pedagogy and student learning become sort of a “hidden curriculum.” It is difficult to plan a lesson for the hidden curriculum; the best way is to just have two or more professionals talk and see what emerges. I was surprised it took me so long to realize this epiphany. Learn More…