Wednesday, 17 July 2013

We can see birds, part three

I am fully in summer mode these days: the family and I swimming at the outdoor pool or nearby beaches, taking evening walks when the air is cooler, riding bikes and visiting friends. While visiting a friend and former teaching partner at her family cottage with the kids, my son and I went out for a paddle around the bay to look for the loons we knew to be around from their frequent calling at night. When we came home and I uploaded the photos, I was reminded of the magical day, back in May, when a walk with my class turned into an ornithology field trip through our local school environs.
Pause for binoculars: stopping to look at the loon in the bay.
Another day, a gathering of adult loons was surprisingly tolerant of us stopping to watch them.
Several posts back, I shared the story of one of our larger inquiries of the spring, including several smaller projects: birds became a major research topic for both my morning and afternoon classes.  Now, we Thornwood Kindergarten teachers are a sharing bunch, so news of what is happening in one class soon ignites interest in others. Ms. Croft sent a tweet or called on many occasions when one or more of her students wished to share their birding news with our class or visit to "consult the expert" (me with iBird on my phone) to hear what a given bird might sound like. The last post I shared, part two, was more of an overview of how the project unfolded in various areas in the classroom over time, including a look at how students were developing their inquiry skills through many self-started small group projects. I mentioned one particular day, however, that stands out as a day many students will remember:
"Last week, the morning friends and I went for a walk with our friends from down the hall: Ms. Silva's class. We had some exciting encounters, some of which are sure to show up in our Voicethread. The story of our bird-watching walk, along with some of the individual "I Can See Birds" books, will be the subject of part three".
That morning we packed our wagon with the usual must-have kit for walks: a bag of tissues, bandaids and hand sanitizer, plus students' personal water bottles. We also packed my old, dog-eared bird guide, binoculars, clipboards and pencils, and my phone with iBird (still the best birding app I know and worth $5.99). Our friends followed us across the bridge over the creek to the path we started listening in earnest to the birds around us. Now, having studied our local birds for months now, many of the students could identify the calls or songs of robins, blue jays, red-winged black birds and ring-billed gulls (all frequent visitors to our grounds). 

Ms. Silva's class by the bridge, gathered close to look and listen to feathered friends.
Watching and listening to the red-winged blackbirds and chickadees responding to iBird.

I knew from previous experience that some songbirds are more likely to search out the sound when they hear their songs or calls played or imitated. Nuthatches are very curious little creatures, so when I heard one "beeping" away, I gathered everyone close to see if we could call it down close to us. I couldn't have orchestrated a better response. The bird flitted down over our heads, called to us, flew from one tree to another over us in low, swooping arcs, and wasn't the least perturbed by the gasps and waving hands from the students below.

Crouched down low to observe the nuthatch.
While I played the nuthatch song, our heads swiveled back and forth as the little bird flew from one side of the path to the other, always answering. The students were enthralled, as I was. Several students wanted to capture the moment, and asked for photos (thank you to my lovely morning T.A. Mrs. P., seen above as the shadow hands holding the iPad, for taking the photos and encouraging the students to point out photo subjects!) but also grabbed the clipboards and got to work. E's fantastic eye for detail meant that he captured many of the field marks one looks for when identifying a red-breasted nuthatch: the funny downward posture, black cap, rust-coloured belly, long, thin bill. All this captured while the bird was in near-constant motion. S, meanwhile, began compiling a list of each bird we heard or saw during our walk. The list grew so long she had to flip the page over to write on the opposite side. Both students demonstrated how motivated they were to capture the experience for sharing later. Both artifacts and many more from this trip wound up in our "We Can See Birds" Voicethread (click to play) book.

E's observational drawing of the nuthatch.
S writing out the names of birds seen on our walk.
As we walked further down the trail to the bridge to take us back over Cooksville Creek to our local park playground, we continued to look in the trees and the sky for birds. 

A student requested I take this photo, saying: "Look! The plane is flying, and the bird is flying!"

The creek: sometimes meandering, sometimes forced straight by concrete causeways, is a wonderful place to investigate human activity and its impact on the environment. In spots where the water is forced to change its path, whether by change of level or a stone-filled section of rapids, litter is frequently found. Plastic bags snag on low branches, and all matter of trash gathers in swirling eddies or bubbling froth. It can be difficult to relate to air pollution, even for adults, but water pollution can be so very visible, and students notice this blight to their beautiful environment.

Peering at the pair of mallard ducks below.
Looking at the water, observing the trash. Note "E" holding the clipboard in her hand.

Studying the local outdoors is a huge source of inspiration for the science curriculum in Kindergarten. Wondering about how the ducks and other creatures manage to live when their water is full of trash is a question that could easily lead to an entire year's worth of inquiry projects. It is unfortunate, perhaps, that we were so close to the end of our year when so many students became concerned about littering and pollution. It is very fortunate, however, that only half of those students will be on their way to grade one in September, so the possibility of following these interests remains for next year.

From the Science and Technology expectations in the FDEL-K:

"Overall Expectation 3: demonstrate an understanding of the natural world and the need to care for and respect the environment

3.1 identify similarities and differences between local environments (e.g., between a park and a pond;
between a schoolyard and a field)
3.2 describe what would happen if something in the local environment changed (e.g., if trees in the park were cut down; if the pond dried up)
3.3 identify ways in which they can care for and show respect for the environment (e.g., feeding the birds in winter; reusing and recycling; turning off unnecessary lights at home; walking to school instead of getting a ride)".
Full-Day Early Learning - Kindergarten Program (draft) p. 121

We saw and heard many more birds on our walk back to class through the park. A particular highlight, though nearly impossible to capture in a photo without my zoom lens (at home that day), was a turkey vulture soaring over our heads towards the school. We followed it back, and after a period of play and snacks, we gathered together for our "share time" before heading home. Naturally the topic for sharing was all about what we had seen that morning.

J and S read the long list of birds we saw on our walk.

A red-winged blackbird.

 E drew her observations on a clipboard: ducks, nuthatch, and woodpecker are pictured.

My old, well-loved bird book: a gift from my parents many years ago. This book is even more precious to me now that my students have treasured it. F, my go-to "bird expert" in the PM class, surprised me by identifying the birds on the back from another bird guide. "They're hooded warblers", he said. I actually had to look it up to see that yes, he was correct. Warblers are notoriously hard to identify. Way to go, F!

This morning was another example, for me, of how important it is to take the learning outside. Not trikes and balls in the play-yard, though there is time and reason for these as well, but real exploration of what is happening just outside our door: this is planning in Kindergarten. I sign off now to go hop on my bike. To those in class for whom I promised this story: better late than never!