It’s the end of the school year. The weather is nice and your students are cranky. Some of the standardized tests are behind you, but you still have a week or so of school left. How can you make the most of this time while allowing your students to enjoy the outdoors? This activity is a good way to engage students, help them apply what they learned during the year, and end the school year on a high note.
In the activity, groups of students conduct a field study of the schoolyard by observing living things and their habitats while recording data. Groups share their data, and together, your class can create a field guide to the schoolyard.
Next Generation Science Standards
- LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
- Science and Engineering Practices: Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Engaging in Argument from Evidence
- Crosscutting Concepts: Patterns, Stability and Change
This activity works best for students working in groups of 2 to 3 and takes place over 3 to 5 class periods as follows:
- Day 1: Observations45minutes
- Day 2: Analyzing Data45minutes
- Day 3: Extension Activities90minutes
Per Student Group:
- Graph Paper
- Tape Measures
- Magnifying Lenses
- Smartphone (or other cameras; optional)
- Field Guides
Preparation and Procedure
- Prior to the activity, walk through your schoolyard and identify specific areas for each group to study.
- The day before you start the activity, tell your students to wear proper clothing to work outdoors.
- Review safety tips with students that apply to working outdoors and observing wildlife. Students should not handle animals or touch plants in this activity.
- Gather all materials needed for the activity. If you wish to have students use their cell phone cameras to take photos of their areas, ask them to bring them to class for the schoolyard observations.
- Have students construct a table in their notebooks to record their data.
Sample data table
Date and time of visit Weather conditions Name of organism (sketch or take a photo if unknown) Description of organism Number found Other observations
- Have groups record the date, time, and weather conditions on the observation day.
- Have groups map their observation area on graph paper, drawing its boundaries and features, such as sidewalks, rocks, buildings, and other objects. Ask them to draw it to scale using a relationship (such as 1 square on the graph paper = 1 square meter or another convenient unit).
- Ask students to observe as many organism as they can find in their study area. They should spend some time walking and looking around, as well as some time standing and observing. If the ground is covered with grass, mulch, leaf litter, or gravel, have them observe it closely with a magnifying lens. They may also use binoculars to observe organisms in trees. If they are using cell phone cameras, they can take photos of the organisms for later use.
- Students should record their data in the table they created. If they do not know the name of an organism, they should sketch it, take a photo, and also describe it. Have them count or estimate the number of each type organism they find. They should also use a numbering system to indicate where they found each organism on their map by means of a numbering or coordinate system. In addition, they should record any other important observations in their data table.
On the day after the observations, have students analyze their data using field guides to identify names of the organisms and classify them into a taxonomic hierarchy according to kingdom, class, and family. Next, have groups share their findings and compile a list of the organisms found in each kingdom, class, or family.
Students can use their data in a variety of ways, depending on how many classes you wish to devote to this activity. They can create:
- A class field guide to the schoolyard that includes photos/sketches, classification, and other important information about each organism
- Food webs that include decomposers, primary producers, herbivores, and carnivores
- Graphs of the numbers of organisms in each kingdom, class, or family