Rocks and Rhymes! A Geoscience Activity Combining Field Notes and Poetry

By Jackson, Julie; Dickinson, Gail et al. | The Science Teacher, January 2010 | Go to article overview
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Rocks and Rhymes! A Geoscience Activity Combining Field Notes and Poetry


Jackson, Julie, Dickinson, Gail, Horton, Danielle, The Science Teacher


"Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses--especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else."

--Leonardo da Vinci (Adair 2007, p. 99)

Current research encourages science teachers to connect new learning with prior knowledge, student interests, cultural experiences, and classroom activities across disciplines (Donovan and Bransford 2005; Bransford, Brown, and Cocking 2000). Field-note poetry is the product of our efforts to combine current research in learning and cognition with integrated geoscience and language arts activities. In this article, we present a fun and effective instructional activity that teaches students how to record detailed field notes and sensory observations that become the framework and inspiration for poetry.

Looking at the world: Observat ion

Making observations is an important science-process skill, and gathering evidence from observations is a key element of inquiry (NRC 2000). The National Science Education Standards state that when direct experimentation is not possible, "it is important to maintain the spirit of inquiry by focusing the teaching on questions that can be answered ... using observational data" (NRC 2000, p. 189). Because many geoscience concepts are not accessible via experimentation, geoscientists value observational evidence. As a result, students must move beyond simply looking at objects and learn to make high-quality observations. In observation activities, this transition occurs when teachers begin a lesson with basic tasks and gradually include more complex visualization tasks in combination with open-ended questions and qualitative expressions.

Journaling in nature

Recordkeeping is a fundamental element of scientific investigations, and scientists use field notes to record their observations while working outside. Field notes can range in style from structured to free form, and they should include the date, time, weather conditions, and location in each entry. They also frequently include lists of observations, measurements, and sketches.

The field-note poetry exercise in this article uses semi-structured field-note entries and can be used in any outside location that supports instruction, such as a pond, field, local park, or flower garden.

Scaffolding observation opportunities

The art of observation begins when we immerse ourselves in the surrounding textures and tones of life (Dunleavy 2008). Observational skills improve with practice, and teachers should strive to provide students with opportunities to make observations. We start with a familiar locale for students: our school grounds. Students begin the field-note poetry activity by recording basic information in their field notes--such as site location, date, time of day, temperature, and weather conditions--and noting anything unusual.

Next, we ask students to describe the topography, types and distribution of vegetation, location and types of water sources, and the flow rates and quantity of water. We also ask them to note the

* location and types of human influences;

* location, types, and interactions of wildlife;

* evidence of wildlife (e.g., prints, scat); and

* types of rocks and evidence of their weathering and erosion.

Students then draw a "T" chart in their notebooks. One side of this chart is labeled "What I see" and the other is labeled "What I hear" (Figure 1). We give students 5-10 minutes to record their visual observations and another 5-10 minutes to record their auditory observations.

Beginning with a well-known location highlights the difference between a casual glance and scientific observations. Students are generally surprised by the details they notice when given an opportunity to study a place that they encounter daily. After this experience on campus, students are better prepared to make observations off school grounds.

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Rocks and Rhymes! A Geoscience Activity Combining Field Notes and Poetry
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