Green, yellow, orange and red leaves of the autumn season.
Natural cycles are occurring all around us all the time-- but do you notice them? Place-based observation cultivates childrens’ innate sense of wonder while learning about data collection, ecosystems, climate, and plants. This series incorporates resources about leaf color change from the Natural Inquirer and Green-Down Data Collection Protocol from GLOBE to start off the school year engaging upper elementary students with seasonal change. These can be used as-is, or can be grounded in a year-long observation routine of a study site using GLOBE’s What Can We Learn About Our Seasons?.
Leaf color change is a beautiful and often grandiose natural process that is easy for students to connect with and access. Most noticeable in northern temperate ecosystems, it is an easily trackable natural cycle which most students will already be familiar with, providing a great entrance to the material. Perhaps they have enjoyed jumping in leaf piles or catching leaves, collecting different colored leaves or watching a tree change color over time. Through engagement with these resources, students will be involved in tracking changes over time, while learning skills such as scientific observation, data collection, graphing, critical thinking, and making predictions, among many others. Content includes life cycles, plants and photosynthesis, energy, habitats, and ecosystems. For a full list of skills and content, you may refer to the student outcomes section of the GLOBE materials, or the NGSS Alignment at the bottom of this blog post.
These autumn lessons work well as a foundation for observing natural changes throughout the rest of the year. Learning about seasons through repeated observation in a particular location is a fun way to connect with nature around the school and learn to recognize seasonal patterns. Throughout the year, students integrate connections between physical, biological, and cultural markers of the seasons. This activity uses 1-3 class periods per month throughout the whole year, providing continuity between seasons and resulting in a cumulative display of their findings and experiences that they can be proud of completing.
To integrate these resources, start the year with the first three steps of What Can We Learn About Our Seasons? (on page 3): selecting a study site location, doing a class brainstorm, and completing the first month of observations. Make the large display chart and add the first month to the chart.
In the autumn, read the article Are You Red-dy to Change? from the Natural Inquirer. Learn about a leaf color change study from Vermont and talk about why these predictions are important. Discuss the study as you read, using the discussion questions throughout the article. This lesson can be enhanced using the interactive puzzles associated with the article on the Natural Inquirer website. This lesson can take 1-3 class periods.
Data collection time! Now that you have study sites established for tracking seasonal change, and learned about leaf color change, students apply their new knowledge by collecting qualitative leaf color change data using the Green-Down Protocol. Start the protocol two weeks before expected green-down, which will vary depending on your location. Green-down can be observed in trees and shrubs as well as grass. Use whichever protocol is most relevant to your site. This protocol requires visits at least twice a week until the leaves have dropped or stopped changing colors (the protocol is outlined on page 8/9). After setting up the experiment (see page 4/5), the data collection takes only 30 minutes each visit, not including transport to or from the site. A site close to school makes this protocol easier!
After green-down has occurred, continue going to the study site and adding to your seasonal change chart throughout the year (1-3 class periods per month). When time is available, observe patterns, make predictions, and explore relationships on your seasonal change chart using steps 4, 5, and 6.
When the chart is completed at the end of the year, complete the seasonal change activity using steps 7 and 8, relating previous knowledge of the seasons, integrating learning about seasonal transitions, and reflecting on the year you’ve shared together.
With these excellent resources, it is easy to bring the natural world into your class curriculum. Regardless of how you choose to integrate them, let the power of observation and curiosity lead to valuable learning about the world around you!
**Check out the “GLOBE Grandma” videos on Green-Down from the University of Alaska Fairbanks GLOBE Partnership: https://sites.google.com/alaska.edu/arcticandearthsigns/globe-grandma
**Have an idea about another GLOBE-Natural Inquirer crosswalk? Share it with us and if we publish your work, receive a stipend!**
Elementary and Middle School GLOBE - NGSS Alignment
*For a more in-depth description of how NGSS Practices fit into the GLOBE Model for Scientific Research, see ‘A Guide to Connections between the GLOBE Program and the Next Generation Science Standards.’
Acknowledgement: This material is based upon work supported by USDA Forest Service Eastern Region (Agreement no. 20-PA-11090100-026). Any opinion, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USDA Forest Service.
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