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Friday, May 4, 2012

Taking Outdoor Science-Indoors!

Tadpoles feasting
During a science lesson yesterday about Vertebrates, the life cycle of a frog became a focus.  This of course led to a discussion about tadpoles.  In a weak moment, I shouted "Okay, tomorrow wear your old sneakers and jeans because we are going to go in search of tadpoles in the stream behind the school!"  The chairs went flying as the kids jumped out of their seats with joy. When the cheers died down, I instantly realized what I had done.

My lesson for the day was done as the students couldn't think about anything other than the upcoming science class outdoors.  Then came the questions and comments: "What about poison ivy? Last time I was in those woods, I got a bad case." "How long are we going to be out there?" "I don't have any old sneakers." "Wow, my mom can come because she knows all about poison ivy."  "Where are the tadpoles? Did you see them?"  I realized I was over my head on this one.

As a mom and teacher, I DO know how careful you have to be with your words.  In actuality I really thought it would be so fun to go outside in search of tadpoles.  The reality was that I needed to plan for an outdoor adventure of the science kind.  (Here is a great site that explains how to use the outdoors for science.) To really do justice to a lesson of this type, having a clear objective with careful planning is a must.

Interestingly, last evening on Twitter our elementary science chat group (#elemsci) was discussing "Outdoor Science".  Questions such as: What do primary students find fascinating about the outdoors? How do we tie this into their learning? and, If you can't be outside, how can you bring the outdoors in for a lesson? were discussed.  Little did I know how these would come guide me in the day to come!

I tried to sheepishly avoid any conversation about "the field trip". Some students remembered their sneakers, others were worried they hadn't brought them.  One by one, the students came to me to see if we were really trekking behind the school.  I felt awful about not taking them outside.

Then one child came to me and said, "You know, the third grade teachers have some tadpoles in their room."   I knew if I could somehow have my students observe THOSE tadpoles then I would once again regain their trust.  So I asked my colleague (thank you Deb for sharing!) if we could take a peek...she did better...she wheeled this large fish tank into our room when the kids were at recess.  Well, it was amazing as there were hundreds of tiny tadpoles swimming in that tank.  (Apparently, one of the third grade students got them out of their pool.)   This following video is what it was like when my students returned from recess to find the those little froggies-to-be in the classroom.

This excitement really inspires me to bring science to life for my students....allowing them real world experiences and providing opportunities for authentic learning.   I can't wait for Monday so that the students can really take time to make observations and learn about these creatures!


The Teacher's Guide:  Frog & Tadpole Lessons

Thinking Beyond the Classroom: 10 Lesson Ideas

Scholastic Outdoor Activities: Includes Skills and Objectives

Foss Video with Helpful Tips for Outdoor Learning


  1. Hi Nancy. Couldn't wait to get to the end of this post to see what happened! How nice it was the Deb just happened to have a few hundred tadpole on hand! Looks like there was a lot of excitement for the lesson. Thanks for sharing. Brightened my morning!

  2. Hi Carol Ann,
    The kids were really enthralled. After I took that video the kids really started looking into the tank. There were masses of tadpoles on a couple leaves of spinach. You could really see them feeding. There were two water bugs in the tank being pecked at by the tadpoles. Deb is hoping that they'll see the tadpoles eventually turn into frogs (which may take some time). Will keep you all posted.

    Thanks for commenting.

  3. Liz K. would be proud of you !!!!! Outside science is always fun for the kids and keeps them interested. What happened after they observed the tadpoles ???
    Wow, did this blog bring back memories ! Frogs were also in the first grade curriculum. We actually did catch tadpoles in the back of the recess yard. Had a ball !!! We also did nature hikes across the stream and into the meadow. That was when I was a young and brave/ foolish outside science teacher. Yes, PI is a concern. But what fun !!!! You need to find a parent /volunteer who will go on these adventures with you and your class.
    I wasn't surprised that Deb had the tadpoles in her room. Something to remember..... some tadpoles take 2 seasons to turn into frogs. Hope Deb has the 1 season kind.


  4. Hey Nancy!

    What an strike of good fortune with tadpoles on hand! That story about the third-grader finding these tadpolies in the pool made me think that it would be a great lesson to have students brainstorm other places they might find them and then investigate at least one place with their siblings or parents as a weekend assignment. They might not come back with tadpoles but they may find something else that could lead to a rich conversation about habitats and food chains/webs.

    The outdoors pose uniques challenges to teaching that often lead even bolder teachers to shirk expeditions in exchange for the controlled settings of the classroom. That being said, I still encourage you to try another time to explore the outdoors with your kids. It will probably be the highlight of their week!

  5. @Paula, I'm smiling now thinking of you and your class walking by my window on yet another science trek! The kids loved exploring the outdoors with you. You knew how to make teaching relevant and fun! You may have been young but not foolish - you realized the importance of giving the kids first hand experiences. Time for me do the same! Thanks for sharing!

    @Sean - It sure was a stroke of luck. What was even better was learning from the 3rd grade student as he explained how to feed and change the water in the tank.
    Your idea about questioning the kids about where else they might find tadpoles & sending them on an exploration with their families is brilliant. Love it and wished I had thought to suggest - Never too late.
    I'm not going to give up the idea of going outdoors. I love technology but sometimes, I'm too quick to use it over other methods. There are so many things the kids can do outside. I just need to make sure I have a plan before going.
    Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate it and your ideas!


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