Author:
Sandy Benton, Karla Koch
Subject:
Earth and Space Science, Environmental Literacy and Sustainability, Life Science
Material Type:
Unit of Study
Level:
Lower Primary, Upper Primary
Tags:
  • Binoculars
  • Environment
  • Environmental
  • Hand Lens
  • Inquiry
  • Inquiry-based Instruction
  • Nature
  • Near Nature
  • Observation
  • Outdoors
  • Place-based Education
  • Questioning
  • Science
  • Wonder
  • at home
  • at-home
  • backyard
  • first grade
  • first-grade
  • place-based
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution
    Language:
    English

    Education Standards

    Becoming Better Observers: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Becoming Better Observers: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Overview

    This series of 5 high-quality, standards-aligned, inquiry-based activities have been field-tested by first grade students and families of Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science during Safer At Home orders. These activities encourage students to use natural areas around their homes and in their neigbhorhoods as they improve their science observation skils. The materials used are ones generally available at home and the activites require little preparation on the part of caregivers.Created as a part of a WISELearn OER Innovation project, Connect, Explore, and Engage: Using the Environment as the Context for Science Learning was a collaboration of the Wequiock Children's Center for Environmental Science and the Wisconsin Green Schools Network. One of the goals of the project was to create standards-aligned lessons that utilize the outdoor spaces of the school (as well as those of the students' homes).  

    Each section of this resource is an individual activity. While each activity builds on the previous ones, it is possible to use them individually.

    The observation protocol "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe" has been adapted from that of the BEETLES Project.

    The title image was used with permission and is courtesy of Joe Riederer.

    Activity 1: I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe…

    Essential Question: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Location: Indoors and outdoors when you are ready

    Materials needed: Internet connection

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (follow the child’s interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Adults and children should watch this video, “Outdoor Activities: Making Science Happen...Outdoors,” together to learn the inquiry routines of “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe.” These routines will be used in each of the following activities, so it will be important to take time now to learn and practice them. The more you use them, the more you will find yourself using them in your daily life, outdoors, indoors, and while watching a nature video. Pay particular attention to the segment (at 5:03) on using the routines while viewing video clips. 

    Try the routines while watching the Decorah North Bald Eagles Live Webcams or Madison Gas and Electric Peregrine Falcons. You may want to bookmark this site to repeat the inquiry while the eaglets grow.

    Be sure to emphasize that your child uses the complete sentence starters provided.

    For example, if your child says, “the eaglets are fluffy,” you can prompt, “I notice that the eaglets are fluffy. Where do you notice the fluff?” If your child states, “a dandelion” in response to what the eaglets or situation reminds him/her of, you can restate, “The feathers remind me of dandelion fluff. What about the feathers remind you of dandelion fluff?” The purpose of these routines is to develop the language and routines used by scientists and great observers. As adults, it is important to model the routines and thinking that we want children to use.

    Here's a helpful list of things that you might say to support your child in making observations, asking questions, making connections, and developing scientific explanations for science phenomena.

    Routine

    Prompts to Support Deeper Thinking 

    (Pick and Choose As Appropriate)

     

    Adapted from BEETLES Project 

    Best Friends Forever (BFF) Questions

    I Notice….

    What else do you notice?

    Can you say more about that?

    Can you use your sense of (smell, touch, hearing, sight) to notice even more?

    What do you notice about the shapes?

    What do you notice about the parts?

    How is it similar/different than…?

    I Wonder….

    What else do you wonder?

    What makes you wonder this?

    It Reminds Me Of...

    Can you say more about that?

    Does it remind you of anything else?

    What makes you think that?

    How is it similar/or different to…?

    I Think Maybe...

    Can you say more about that?

    What is your evidence?

    How can you be sure?

    Reflect: How did you enjoy watching the Eagle or Falcon Webcam? How did using the routines help you learn about the eagles or falcons? What routines were easy for you? What routines were trickier?

    Optional extension: Try these inquiry routines while observing outdoors.

    Activity 2: I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of Hike

    Essential Question: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Location: Indoors, and outdoors when you are ready

    Materials needed: Paper (or nature journal), pencils, crayons

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (follow the child’s interest); this activity can be repeated for several days.

    In Activity 1, you learned how to use “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe” to learn more about eagles or falcons. In this activity you are going to practice them on a nature walk. While you practice “I Noticed..,” you will really focus on using each of your five senses. 

    Here's a warm up activity called “5 for the Mind,” to get you ready to use your senses to help you “Notice.”

     


    5 Breaths

    Find a safe, quiet place outside. This can be done sitting or standing in a circle or spread out. 

    Trace your breath in and out while tracing your five fingers from base of hand to tip of fingers (inhale as you trace up and exhale as you trace back down), repeat on the other hand. 

    5 Senses

    Press your fingertips and palms together as you focus on each of the 5 senses: 

    • Pinky (touch)

    • Ring (taste)

    • Middle (hearing)

    • Pointer (smell)

    • Thumb (sight)

    Head out on the nature hike together. Stop along the way to notice and observe things of interest to the child and to you. Practice each of the  “I notice, I wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe” routines each time you stop.

    Optional hike focus: To build on the learning in activity #1, you may want to make observations on birds and their young, or focus your attention on single species of plants in various stages of their life cycle.

    Reflect: At the end of the hike reflect on what was interesting, how the routines helped to learn more about things in nature.

    Ask the child to write about the experience.  Encourage your child to use the sentence stems in his/her writing.

    Activity 3: Using a Hand Lens to Notice Even More

    Essential Question: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Location: Indoors and outdoors when you are ready

    Materials needed: Internet connection, hand lens (magnifying glass), paper (or nature journal), pencil, crayons

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (follow the child’s interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Becoming expert observers takes practice, and sometimes special tools can help us to make even better observations.

    Today we are going to learn to use a hand lens to see things we might not have noticed.

    Take a few minutes to watch this video “Hand Lens Introduction” as Kevin Beals (BEETLES Project) shows children how to use a magnifying glass/hand lens properly.

    TO REDUCE RISK OF WILDFIRE, PLEASE NOTE THE SAFETY INSTRUCTIONS WHEN USING A HAND LENS OUTDOORS.

    When you have watched the video, take a look at something in your home without the magnifier--maybe a piece of fruit or vegetable in your kitchen, or a piece of your pet’s food.  Be sure to use “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, I Think Maybe” routines while observing.   Parents, use the BFF Questions from Activity 1 to help children notice even more.

    Now use that hand lens, and find the “sweet spot” where you say, “Wow!” Talk about what you notice now.  Keep using your exploration routines along with all of your senses. Take time to draw what you see. Label your sketches, using words and numbers.

    When you are ready, head outside to observe things in nature that you might use explore first without the hand lens and then with the hand lens. Ideas could include: a pine cone, a bird’s egg shell found on the ground, a seedling, an insect, a feather, a rock, and so on.

    Reflect: Talk about how using the magnifier changed what you noticed.  What surprised you when you used the hand lens? What questions or connections did you make because of what you saw with the hand lens? Record your thinking on your paper or in your nature journal.


    As an alternative, or in addition to a hand lens, you can use a smartphone as a magnifier: Watch as science teacher Joe Riederer shows us how to Use Your Smartphone as a Magnifier. Give it a try!

    Activity 4: Zoom In!

    Essential Question: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Location: Indoors and outdoors when you are ready

    Materials needed:  Binoculars, paper (or nature journal), pencil, crayons

    Time required: 15 minutes or longer (follow the child’s interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Spring is a great time to observe the growth and development of young plants and animals and to compare them to adult plants and animals. In Activities 1-3, you have observed objects that either cannot move on their own---leaves, rocks, and tree bark. Perhaps you observed animals such as your dog or cat or even insects. Even if birds and other wild animals could be approached, it is unsafe--for them and for you--to get too close. That’s where binoculars come in handy for zooming in!

    In this short video, Ann Pellant shows us How to Use Binoculars. Watch the video first, observing Ann and then watch it again with your binoculars in hand, pausing the video as you adjust your binoculars, step by step, so that you can view distant objects closely.

    SAFETY FIRST! AVOID PERMANENT DAMAGE TO YOUR EYES! NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN--ESPECIALLY WHILE USING BINOCULARS! 

    If you have a bird feeder in your yard, you may want to first practice observing animal visitors (birds and squirrels, for example) without the binoculars and then with the binoculars. You may do this from a window while indoors, or from a quiet seated position outdoors. Be sure to make your movements slowly so as not to scare away the animals you wish to observe. 

    Use the “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” observation strategy. Be sure to whisper your thoughts aloud, as this will help you remember what you are thinking. Grownups should use the BFF prompts from Activity 1 to support the child to make even more detailed and thoughtful observations.

    When you are ready to use the binoculars, remember to keep your eyes on the animal and slowly bring the binoculars to your eyes. Make fine adjustments to focus if needed. Repeat the “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” observation process above with this close up view.

    What did you notice, using the binoculars that you did not see without them? When you use the binoculars, you might not notice all of the components of the animal’s habitat. For example, if I am looking at a red-wing blackbird at my feeder using binoculars only, I might miss noticing the group of trees that the bird flies into to perch. I might miss that a hawk is sitting on a sign post nearby or that the blackbird flies from my feeder to the cattail marsh nearby.

    Be sure to view first without the binoculars, take in the whole natural environment. What do you notice? Think about ways the environment is important to your animal. 

    Take a hike looking at the whole natural environment, and then zooming in with your binoculars at an animal or other object. Record your observations, questions, and connections, and ideas using sketches, words, and numbers.

    Reflect: What part of this learning experience was easy? What was challenging? How did looking at objects through binoculars change the way you think about the animal?

    Activity 5: Putting It All Together--Zoom In, Zoom Out

    Essential Question: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature?

    Location: Indoors and outdoors when you are ready

    Materials needed:  Binoculars, paper (or nature journal), pencil, crayons

    Time required: 30 minutes or longer (follow the child’s interest); this activity can be repeated.

    Through each of these activities, you have practiced being a great observer using the “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” strategy. You have learned to use a hand lens and binoculars to notice even more and to give you a chance to observe things from many points of view, perspectives. 

    In this lesson, you will be looking at a plant or animal from three levels of focus: life size, a magnified close-up (use either a hand lens or binoculars), and a more distant view. You will record all of these different scales on the same page.

     

    In the middle of your page, draw a view of your subject that is exactly life size. If the object is larger than your page, only draw a part of it. On your page, be sure to observe out loud “I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of” and jot these ideas on your page. Be sure to use words and numbers to support your observations. Grownups should use the BFF questions to support the child in this process.  Here’s an example from one person’s yard.  Bird journal entry

    Grownups, as tempting as it may be, it is important that we not talk about the artistic qualities of your sketches or the child’s sketches. Also, it’s important that we not put ourselves down as being unable to draw.  Instead, use the sketches for communicating observations.  To the child you might say, “I noticed that you sketched the bird’s feet as they are clasped around the tree branch? Nudge the child for a bit more, choosing just one thing to ask and then leave him/her to continue observing. 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The bird was the subject that was drawn first in the center of the page. A photo was taken of the bird at the feeder so that it could be studied and drawn first. 

    Next, a circle was drawn to show the bird’s legs and feet close up. A binoculars and camera were used to get zoom in details of the bird’s body parts.


     Finally, the natural environment is shown in the background of this image. Notice how the observer used sketches, words and numbers to record observations, questions, and connections.

    Reflect: How does observing, asking questions, and making connections help me understand things in nature? What did you learn during these activities so that you can be a better observer? What are some ways that you can continue to improve your learning while in nature?