Slice of Life #2- Field Guide to NJ Species

Yesterday I shared an assignment that my students just completed that I think could be adapted to English classes at any grade level. Feel free to steal!

The Reading Zone

Last week I tried a new assignment with my 9th graders and I’m so proud of how it turned out! Our current unit is called Literature and the Land and we are focusing on nature writing.  Specifically, we began by studying writers like Edward Abbey and John Muir and moved to writers who focus on New Jersey.  Right now the students are reading excerpts from John McPhee’s The Pine Barrens. I’ve also been sharing picture books like Coyote Moon, Finding Wild, and Faraway Fox.

It’s too cold to go outside most days so I wanted to come up with a way for my students to learn about species found in NJ without forcing them to freeze.  I’ve always loved field guides so I decided to challenge them to create a field guide to NJ species. I borrowed a bunch of field guides from the biology teacher to use as mentor…

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Authors for Earth Day- Conservation and Books

How was I not already aware of Authors for Earth Day?  What an amazing concept!

Authors for Earth Day (A4ED) is a grassroots coalition of award-winning children’s authors and illustrators who directly mentor young readers by giving them “an authentic research project with real-world impact.”

Wow! The list of authors is available on their website and it’s a great list.  Visits are available year-round and visits costs the same as a regular author visit.  The difference is that in this case the author donates at least 30% of their fee to a non-profit conservation organization as chosen by the students. Their website has lots of information and all genres are represented.  I’d love to see some more YA authors on the list, but right now there are over 100 participating authors and they’ve done visits all over the world.

This would be a great way to encourage collaboration between different subject areas and to build enthusiasm for literacy and conservation.  It’s a win-win situation!

Get Those Kids Out of the Room:  Books to Get Your Students Outside and Immersed in Nature by Sarah Gross

Check out my post on The Nerdy Book Club today!

Nerdy Book Club

The onslaught of testing required by the No Child Left Behind Act has resulted in schools pressuring teachers to prepare students for tests, and time spent outdoors has suffered as a result. Nature-deficit disorder is a term used to describe the loss that children and teens experience when they are not given opportunities to have direct contact with nature.  Richard Louv coined the term when researchers began to realize the impact that nature had on children’s health and ability to learn.  Unfortunately, one way that schools have found more time for academics is by cutting recess and physical education, according to the National PTA survey.  Packed schedules after school, rigorous homework, and extracurricular activities too often keep my students inside, bound to their computers and cellphones, rarely giving them the time to be outside.

I am passionate about the need to do more interdisciplinary work in the classroom as a…

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Why this Nature Lover is Embracing Pokémon Go

27541305793_f19c00519a_bFor years I’ve lamented the fact that my students, of all ages, don’t spend any time outside.  They are over-scheduled, overworked, and over-parented (sometimes); there is no time to play outside. During my first year of teaching we went on a field trip to the local nature center and I can still picture a group of students standing on the bus steps exclaiming, “But there’s mud here!  I can’t walk in mud!”. They promptly pulled out their phones, tablets, and video games.  My current students have asked me to ban cell phones in our classroom because the temptation to Snapchat, play Clash of Clans, or send a text is just too much. And now there is Pokémon Go.

I somehow missed the Pokémon craze as a kid.  I think I was a little too old for it the first time around (or I was just too busy reading) so considered me shocked to find clumps of players wandering my local park.  My husband has downloaded the game and we’ve walked the dogs all over town in order to help him catch and hatch more monsters.  Last night we took a group dog walk at a county park, a county park that would normally be close to empty at 8pm, and stumbled upon dozens of people of all ages playing the game.  I could not believe it! There were shouts of “I missed the Jigglypuff!” followed by “No!  The park is red now!”.  They may not have been identifying local species, but they were spending a lot of time outside playing.

Then my SAT students started talking about the game.  Today, during a heatwave when it felt like it was over 100 degrees outside, half of my students took a walk during our break.  A walk!  Usually they just whip out their phones and put their headphones in their ears, shutting out the world.  But today there were no headphones!  No sitting at their desks!  One teen told me, “I walked 5 miles yesterday.  I don’t think I’ve ever walked 5 miles in my LIFE”.  I had to laugh at his exaggeration, but I understand what he was trying to say.  Suddenly these teens are walking around their neighborhoods and visiting local parks and landmarks.  They are meeting people in these places, friends and acquaintances, and walking together trading tips.  It’s beautiful to watch.

So this teacher will probably still ban phones in the classroom next year, especially because students requested it, but I will also encourage them to play Pokémon Go during lunch.  And after school. Maybe even before school. And we will talk about the parks they visit and what else they notice in those parks.  I may not love the fact that they are still glued to a screen, but any time spent in nature is time well-spent.  Time outside can help reduce stress and help kids and teens feel more connected to the environment.  I’m loving that! Pokémon Go might be the lure we need to get students outside and involved with the ecosystems in their own neighborhood.  Because they may start out with their faces looking at a screen but I hope that they will also start to pay attention to the landscape around them.  Maybe the next time they go outside they’ll leave the phone at home and go wade in that cool creek they found or climb that really weird looking tree.

Mad Hatter’s Tree Party- An Cross-curricular Idea from Erik Mollenhauer

Erik Mollenhauer is one of my teacher heroes.  I was first introduced to him during my student teaching when my incredible mentor teacher was raising monarch butterflies.  She had attended a Teaching and Learning with Monarch Butterflies workshop earlier in the year and encouraged me to take the workshop the next summer. (Tangent- the summer workshops are going on now.  If you are in NJ, NH, IL, or MD you should go to the workshop!).  The workshop, which uses the monarch butterfly to encourage teachers and students to become stewards of the environment, is interdisciplinary and cross-curricular.  It was life-changing PD for me and resulted in a fellowship to the monarch overwintering grounds in Mexico.

Today Erik is retired but still works to combat nature deficit disorder in children and adults.  The embedded video shows “The Mad Hatters Tree Party”, a celebration of trees and Alice in Wonderland, that he helped bring to life.   What a fantastic mash-up of science and English class!  I could see teachers and students creating their own version of a Mad Hatter’s Tree Party, maybe even matching up older students with younger students.

The Children & Nature Network posted this video earlier today on Facebook and said, “Retired educator Erik Mollenhauer says we face an “extinction of experience” sitting indoors all day, online and playing with our mobile phones. He thinks we’re losing a critical connection to the natural world”.

The Mad Hatters Tree Party from Ed Waters on Vimeo.

Science and English- Perfect Together!  STEManities is real, people!

A Great Interview with Sy Montgomery

Sy Montgomery is one of the best science writers today and I love her work so much.  If you haven’t added the Scientists in the Field series to your class library you must do so ASAP.  Her titles (and all of them, honestly) are must-reads!  In addition, her adult books appeal to many of my YA readers.

Because I’m a huge fan I love learning about the research behind Montgomery’s books.  A few weeks ago I stumbled on an interview posted on a blog, Notes From Kenya,  run by the students in the Holekamp Lab at Michigan State University, College of Natural Science.  Sy Montgomery spent time at the Holekamp Lab for a new Scientists in the Field book!  I know I can’t wait to get a copy of the book (The Hyena Scientist) and look forward to sharing it with my students.

The interview posted on the MSU blog is fantastic and highly recommended!

Finding Wild by Megan Wagner Lloyd

51eqk8xbibl-_sy401_bo1204203200_I have a new favorite picture book. Finding Wild, written by Megan Wagner Lloyd and illustrated by Abigail Halpin, is the perfect book to introduce children of all ages to nature.  I plan to share it with my high schoolers and can’t wait to do so!

Filled with gorgeous illustrations, Finding Wild is about the wonders of nature that surround us, whether we are in a city or the country.  Even if it looks like we are surrounded by concrete and steel we can find nature if we look hard enough.  Megan Wagner Lloyd’s text encourages the reader to spend time outside appreciating the wonder of nature, whether that is a forest or a vacant lot.

I plan to use Finding Wild as an entrance into our nature writing unit of study because the text is rich with imagery.  The illustrations are magical, with branches turning into snakes that feel like they might crawl off the page and greens and blues and yellows and reds poking out of sidewalks and forests.  It’s a must-have book for any teacher who wants to inspire students to “find wild” in their own lives.