An Ecologist Is Born: An Integrated Experiential Learning Activity

Article excerpt

During a discussion about local wildlife, I was startled when one of my wife's second grade students could not identify a cardinal perched outside the classroom window. Even more disturbing, no classmate could help the student name the bird. Second grade teachers have their hands full teaching reading, writing and math skills; thus incorporating science and technology into an already busy day is difficult. When an opportunity to explore science does arise, movies, weekly readers, and newscasts tend to focus on topics for which students have no direct experience, such as rain forests, glaciers, and polar ice caps. Important issues as these may be, young students cannot comprehend rain forests and other far away places without understanding or connecting to local forests and wildlife. Once a child attaches a name to an organism he or she has personally seen, suddenly that animal exists and has needs, creating the beginnings of ecological literacy (Sobel, 1996; McIntire, 1984).

The Project

Early childhood teachers can introduce ecological literacy by creating a book integrating language arts, science, and technology, while making students aware of the natural world outside their backdoors. The following describes a project done annually for the past 10 years in one second grade classroom, created to accommodate the (then) new Ohio science standards without taking time away from the core subjects. This project incorporated the following skills and benefits:

   Language Arts skills: Spelling, sentence
   construction, book structure
   Technology skills: Keyboarding and
   using search engines

   Science knowledge: Students
   explore local animals and plants,
   learn the names of things in nature,
   giving those things relevance, the
   beginning of ecological awareness

   Students create a keepsake publication

The book project began the first week of school and continued until the last week, taking place during the weekly computer lab instruction time as well as in the classroom. In August and September, students practiced keyboarding skills and learned to type with two hands. Animal research began in October and the final steps were completed in May.

Students were introduced to some animals and plants living in Ohio by reading age-appropriate picture books and visiting the Enchanted Learning website (see the resource section at the end of this article). Students explored animal and plant classifications, habitats, and sources of energy, recording the information on a class chart. Any questions students had about the animal or plant were immediately researched and discussed.

The following animals and plants were studied:

Non-migratory bird--Northern Cardinal

Migratory bird--Eastern Bluebird or American Robin

Non-hibernating mammal--White-Tailed


Hibernating mammal--groundhog

Non-migratory insect--Red-legged locust

Migratory insect--Monarch butterfly

Deciduous tree--Buckeye tree

Evergreen tree--Eastern White Pine

Two crops--sweet corn or field corn and winter wheat

Student's choice of any other local animal --independent work effort

The Students' Research

The following sentence frame formats guided students with their research and writing:

   The (name of animal) is a (adjective
   describing animal such as non-hibernating)
   (classification, such as
   mammal) living in Ohio. It lives in
   (type of habitat, such as forest). The
   (name of animal's) energy sources
   are (list the foods eaten by the animal)

To write about the trees or crops, students follow these writing prompts:

   The (name of tree) is (an evergreen
   or a deciduous) tree living in Ohio.
   Its habitat is (include type of soil
   and region--such as moist soil in
   valleys and hillsides). The (name
   of tree) gets its energy from the sun,
   and water and minerals from the soil. …