Introduction to the Nature Journal--Smithsonian in Your Classroom

In the lessons here, students exercise the observation skills that are essential to writing, visual art, and science. First, they try to use evocative language in describing pictures of birds from the Smithsonian'’s National Zoo. They go on to record observations and to make hypotheses as they follow the behavior of animals on the National Zoo’'s live webcams. They can watch the giant pandas, the tigers, the cheetahs, the gorillas, or any of a dozen other species.

These classroom activities are intended as a preface or complement to a project increasingly popular in elementary and middle schools--—the keeping of nature journals, whether on class outings or when the students are on their own. Included in the issue are words of advice for students from journal-keeping Smithsonian naturalists.

The term nature journal seems to resist definition until we realize that the broadest definitions all apply. In Keeping a Nature Journal, the most popular recent book on the subject, Clare Walker Leslie puts it simply: “whereas a diary or personal journal records your feelings toward yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature around you.”

With a subject as great as all outdoors, nature journals lend themselves to a wide range of expression. Sketches are often the most immediate way to capture the way things look. Deeper, written observations can be the basis for all kinds of creative writing.


Subjects: Science, Writing



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In the lessons here, students exercise the observation skills that are essential to writing, visual art, and science. First, they try to use evocative language in describing pictures of birds from the Smithsonian'’s National Zoo. They go on to record observations and to make hypotheses as they follow the behavior of animals on the National Zoo’'s live webcams. They can watch the giant pandas, the tigers, the cheetahs, the gorillas, or any of a dozen other species.

These classroom activities are intended as a preface or complement to a project increasingly popular in elementary and middle schools--—the keeping of nature journals, whether on class outings or when the students are on their own. Included in the issue are words of advice for students from journal-keeping Smithsonian naturalists.

The term nature journal seems to resist definition until we realize that the broadest definitions all apply. In Keeping a Nature Journal, the most popular recent book on the subject, Clare Walker Leslie puts it simply: “whereas a diary or personal journal records your feelings toward yourself and others, a nature journal primarily records your responses to and reflections about the world of nature around you.”

With a subject as great as all outdoors, nature journals lend themselves to a wide range of expression. Sketches are often the most immediate way to capture the way things look. Deeper, written observations can be the basis for all kinds of creative writing.

In the lessons here, students exercise the observation skills that are essential to writing, visual art, and science. First, they try to use evocative language in describing pictures of birds from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. They go on to record observations and to make hypotheses as they follow the behavior of animals on the National Zoo’s live webcams.

 

Common Core ELA Standards

Reading informational Text

RI-7

Writing

W-2

W-7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic (gr. 3); that build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic (gr. 4); use several sources, summarize or paraphrase information (gr. 5-8).

W-10 Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Students will create a nature journal page after following and recording the behavior of one species at the National Zoo. 

Background

In student nature journals, the outdoors is the stimulus for responsive writing and artwork. But the subject matter, of course, also matters. In form and purpose, student nature journals are not very different from field journals kept by naturalists in the “real world,” including the Smithsonian. Since its founding in 1846, the Smithsonian has devoted itself to research into the natural world.

 

Today’s Smithsonian comprises not only museums and the National Zoo, but also extensive gardens and woodlands and such facilities as the Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Virginia, and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. Field journals, in one way or another, have always been an important part of the Smithsonian’s collections and ongoing work.

 

See all of the background materials by downloading the pdf, Introduction to the Nature Journal Lesson Plan, available in the Resources area.

 

Opening Discussion

 

To give students a look at a scientist’s field journal, and to provide a model for their own work, hand out copies of the William Duncan Strong journal on the opposite page.

 

See all of the Opening Discussion materials by downloading the pdf, Introduction to the Nature Journal Lesson Plan, available in the Resources area.

 

Lesson 1

Words for Birds

In this introduction to descriptive writing in a nature journal, each student tries to use vivid yet concise language to portray one of the birds on the opposite page: 1) the roseate spoonbill, 2) the peregrine falcon, 3) the pinyon jay, or 4) the mallard. At the end of the lesson, the class comes together to consider a question: How can we describe what all of these creatures have in common? In other words: What is a bird? Color copies of the page are not necessary. Black-and-white images, in fact, might work better. Students will not rely on the most obvious descriptions, such as blue for the pinyon jay.

 

See all of the Lesson 1 materials by downloading the pdf, Introduction to the Nature Journal Lesson Plan, available in the Resources area.

 

Lesson 2

Nature in Motion

In this lesson, students follow the behavior of one of the species on the National Zoo’s webcams, all of which are at NationalZoo.si.edu/Animals/Webcams. The zoo has cams at the exhibits of its Asian elephants, cheetahs, crocodiles, ferrets, flamingos, giraffes, golden lion tamarins, gorillas, kingfishers, kiwis, naked mole rats, orangutans, pandas, sloth bears, and tigers. While the lesson can be completed in one class period, as a one-time activity, we recommend using it as an introduction to journal keeping. By returning to one scene over a period of time, students will have a record of many kinds of change: differences in the behavior of the animals from day to day, differences in their own views of the scene, and the growth of their writing and drawing skills.

 

See all of the Lesson 2 materials by downloading the pdf, Introduction to the Nature Journal Lesson Plan, available in the Resources area.

 

Introduction to the Nature Journal takes two class periods to complete.

Project Leader:

Country:
Subjects: Science, Writing

# of Students: 21-30
Age Range: 8-10
Collaboration: Email Exchange, Skype / Video Chat
Languages: English

About my classroom: BF Yancey is a small, rural elementary school of approximately 150 students in grades pre-Kindergarten through Fifth, located in central Virginia, USA. We are interested in communicating with other students from as many countries as possible regarding your school lunch experience. Do students eat in a cafeteria or common space? What foods are eaten for lunch at school where you live? Is the lunchtime meal prepared by the school or do students bring their own food from home? Are the meals sourced from local farmers and providers? What are the components of your favorite school lunch? We are especially interested in collecting photos of school lunches from around the world! Currently, we prefer to correspond by email and Skype, and to write at least 2x per month. We look forward to meeting you and learning about the food culture of your area.