Learning Through Birding

Students with Binoculars Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Students with Binoculars
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

Student Journal Pages Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer Student Journal Pages
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer

I’m a fledgling birder, with a less-than-soaring Life List. However, after being inspired this summer by the amazing new Merlin App my dad and brother introduced me to, I wanted to learn more. When preparing to start another year teaching 2nd-grade at USU’s Edith Bowen Laboratory School, I decided to integrate birding into my curriculum. I knew that studying birds could be as simple or as complex as I desired, which seemed perfect to help all my students make learning gains and make special discoveries throughout the year.

I reached out to Hilary and Jack, who are local experts and members of the Bridgerland Audubon Society. They were happy to meet with me, give me resources, and help me brainstorm ways to make the world of birding come to life for my students. However, the fun really started when I kicked off everything in my classroom. There was immediate buy in from my students, and as soon as 25 bright eyed 2nd-graders were screeching the “CONK-LA-REEEE” of a Red-Winged Blackbird, I knew I was hooked as well.

My sequence of instruction, which usually lasts about a week per bird, starts by utilizing AI technologies and The Cornell Lab’s comprehensive birding website to develop an informational and narrative passage about a specific bird, which is used to address language arts standards. After this, students create a writing piece about the bird, which sometimes is informational, but sometimes is a creative piece that incorporates characteristics or habits of the bird. We incorporate mathematics in meaningful, context-based ways that has some relationship to the bird. For example, our class learned that Black-Capped Chickadees can remember over 1,000 seed hiding places! Therefore, students created and solved a fun math problem: “If a Black-Capped Chickadee had 1,000 seeds hidden, and during the winter ate 20 seeds a day, how many days can she eat until her seeds have run out?” Finally, each student makes a single page on that specific bird that goes in their journal. Each page requires the student to draw a picture of the bird, label three distinguishing parts, create an onomatope for the sound, and write two interesting facts about the birds.

To bring the birding knowledge to life, we developed multiple field experiences aimed at observing birds and identifying them. So far, kids have found the Black-Capped Chickadee, Red-Winged Blackbird, Townsend’s Solitaire, and Red-Breasted Nuthatch. These birding experiences give students a new sense of purpose and intentionality in the field. We recently went to King’s Nature Park in North Logan’s Green Canyon where they made discoveries with their eyes, ears, and even binoculars! As we trudged up a slope, one kid glanced to the side of the trail and noticed bundles of small, blueish/purplish Juniper Berries clung to their host, and, recalling a fact they had read in class, announced “Look, Juniper berries! I bet this will be a great place to see a Townsend’s Solitaire because I know they love to eat these!” These kinds of connections are what every teacher hopes for, and I am grateful to be flying on this learning journey right alongside my students.

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Outdoor Education in Utah!


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver, https://wildstore.wildsanctuary.com/collections/special-collections/kevin-colver
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University https://edithbowen.usu.edu/
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski & Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah: https://wildaboututah.org/author/joseph-kowlowski/

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah, June 22, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-about-nature-journaling/

Identify the birds you see or hear with Merlin Bird ID, Merlin App Download, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://merlin.allaboutbirds.org/