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I love teaching all topics in biology, but one of my favorite topics to teach is my unit on classification and taxonomy. This topic is one of my favorites because the diversity of life on Earth is simply amazing. The organisms that are alive on Earth today are the ones that “made it”. They changed and adapted to meet the pressures that our ever-changing environment placed on them. The organisms alive today succeeded, and the evidence of their adaptation to our current environment astounds me.
Take some time this summer to get to know and love nature. If you are a person who already “knows” nature, then you will be nodding your head as you read this article. If you never take the time to notice nature, then you are really missing out on a fantastic journey.
My childhood was spent in hot and humid Mississippi, with several weeks each summer in the crisp and cool northern peninsula of Michigan on Lake Huron. My mother was a biology teacher, and she introduced me to the beauty of the natural world at a very early age. Whether it was catching fireflies and putting them in a jar, or wading through a bog looking for bladderworts and pitcher plants, we were outside, observing and learning about nature, without even realizing that “schooling” was taking place. When my own two daughters came along and started to grow, I passed along the same nature lessons that my mother had taught me; however, as an adult, I now realize that the lessons go much deeper than just learning about science and nature. The time I have spent outside with my daughters has forged a bond between us that cannot be broken. As we tromped through woods, dug in the mud, and snorkeled at the beach, we made incredible memories that will forever make us smile. They are teenagers now and still love to spend time outside with their "mommy."
Summer is just beginning. Make the most of it. Get outside and experience the beauty that surrounds you. I have put together a list of possibilities that might help you make Mother Nature part of your summer learning plan. Try some of these with your children, with students, or by yourself. I guarantee that the lessons learned will be carried with you all your life!
- Plant seeds and watch them grow. I always make the planting and growing of seeds part of my biology curriculum because it is amazing how many of my students have never done this. Have a child make a small flower garden or vegetable garden, but start from seeds. It teaches curiosity and more importantly, patience.
- Go outside at night and catch fireflies.
- Watch a caterpillar grow into a butterfly. Find a caterpillar and place it in a large jar containing leaves from the plant where you found the caterpillar, replenishing with fresh leaves as needed. Be sure to punch holes in the lid of the jar! Keep the inside of the jar moist by sprinkling a few drops of water in as needed. It is wonderful to watch the spinning of the cocoon or formation of the chrysalis, and the emerging of the adult butterfly or moth.
- Take a daily nature walk. When my children were small, I gave them a brown paper lunch sack. It was their “nature bag.” Anything they found along the way that was interesting to them went into the nature bag. We live in an urban area and still found plenty of leaves, insects, seeds, and flowers. When you get home, look through the bag and talk about the treasures they have found. You may even consider having them use the materials in a craft project or scrapbook.
- Get a field guide and learn to identify the organisms in it. There are many possibilities here: learn to identify wildflowers, birds, butterflies, or frogs. My daughters and I love wildflowers. We take our wildflower field guide with us wherever we go. As we find a flower, we write the date and location in the field guide. Many years later, we still see our notations and laugh about the adventures we recorded in this book. On one particular page, my daughter recorded, “Mom fell in the pond!”
- Visit a national park. There is a reason why these particular tracts of land were set aside. They are amazing!
- Give your children a magnifying glass. Have them make a list of the living organisms they see, and have them describe how they are adapted to the environment.
- Set up several bird feeders. Fill them with different types of food and see what comes to the feeder. We have feeders filled with hummingbird nectar, thistle seeds, sunflower seeds, and plain birdseed. All can be purchased from Wal-Mart. Have your child keep a log of which birds come to the feeder and what they eat. Also, have them record the time of year they spotted the bird. It is fun to discover which are migratory when you see them at the feeder in early spring and again in late fall.
- Watch the bees around a flower garden. Teach your children that bees are our friends and explain to them that the bee is doing more than just feeding on the nectar.
- Watch a spider spin a web. It is incredible!
- Ant farms, ladybug houses, sea monkeys!! As my children grew up, some type of creature was usually present at our kitchen table. An ant farm is very interesting to watch during mealtime!
- Sit on the side of a lake or pond, and count how many turtles stick their heads above water for air. We just did this last night, and my daughters are 18 and 15! My oldest is off to college next year, and the time I spent watching turtles with her is simply priceless.
- Save a turtle. Our car stops for turtles. Help them across the road, please.
- Children love insects. Have your child look for insects and then identify the adaptations they possess that make them well suited for their particular environment.
- Go on a picnic. Drop a piece of food on the ground and see how long it takes the ants to find it. Watch how the ants communicate with one another to send the message back to the anthill that food is nearby.
Our children and our students will be responsible for making decisions about our planet in just a short number of years. We have to get them excited about nature. We have to make sure they understand how their actions impact our planet. Our students are the future caretakers of this beautiful planet, and there is not an "app" for that. I hope that when they are adults we will have taught them enough about science and nature that they can make informed decisions about how to take care of it.
I hope that you will visit my blog, Science Stuff, and become a follower. My blog has links to quite a few FREE products that can be fun activities for both middle and high school science students. I hope to see you there!
Amy Brown is the author of the Science Stuff blog. Amy has 27 years of teaching experience in high school biology, chemistry, and AP biology. Her blog is about ways to make your class more engaging and exciting for students. Her store on Teachers Pay Teachers contains 428 listings!
All photos provided by and copyright 2011 Amy Brown.
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