Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blueberry Buddies and Lessons from the Land

Lia (from Skedaddle) and I packed up our boys this morning and made a trip to a favorite top secret blueberry location. Like hunting grounds, fishing holes and gold claims, favorite berry crops are kept between close friends in Alaska. The boys did all the hiking on their own. After the adventure, in both houses, pie became the fate of the wild grown alpine fruit. Out of ALL the blueberry recipes in my cookbook, The Joy of Blueberries: Natures Little Blue Powerhouse, pie always seems to win... well it ties with the blueberry coffee cake.

Some concepts that can be taught through berry picking and the requisite baking after:
  • Estimating - estimate how many berrys are in your container then count them.
  • Volume - pour berries from a smaller container into a larger one
  • Ecology - food chain, paying attention to where the berries are found on the mountain side - are they near streams? high in the rocky areas? low in the boggy areas? Is this habitat to other creatures?
  • Topography & Geography  - bring a compass or a gps device to record your coordinates, pay attention to the terrain and elevation gain as you hike.
  • Measurement & Fractions- baking
  • Democracy - let the students or members of your family vote on the fate of the berries... pies, smoothies, muffins etc...
  • History - in my family's case blueberries are an important part of our history, my great-grandmother owned a blueberry farm in New Hampshire, as did many other 1st generation Finnish Americans. Berry's are also a part of the subsistence culture of Alaska from it's Native peoples to the gold miners fighting off scurvy in the long winter months.
  • Literary connections - as I mention in an earlier post Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey is a favorite in our house. Blueberry Shoe, by Ann Dixon, a local author is another.
  • Nutrition - There are many benefits to eating berries - antioxidants and fiber are just the beginning.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Nature Walks and Journaling with Toddlers - Start Young

While I am a strong believer of free play, both my son and I are needing some structured activities during the day. I have this fabulous book I just found in all my teaching materials collecting dust in the garage: 365 Days of Creative Play: for children 2 yrs. and up. It is full of simple things to do each day. Most are pretty straight forward and some are easily modified for your own family's needs or the materials you happen to have on hand.


While I've always planned on creating a nature journal with my little guy it was the extra boost I needed to get going. The prompt was simple - collect things outside and glue them to a piece of cardboard. The teacher in me took it a little further. Journaling and scientific observation require a few mandatory steps:
  1. Date, time, location
  2. Drawings, glued in specimens, photos or written observations
  3. Labels
We collected our specimens on our 10 am amble down the Chester Creek Trail near our home. I initiated collecting the first few items and modeled putting them in our collection container (aka bucket). Soon the bucket was full. We stopped to watch a Stellar Blue Jay swoop through the under brush of the forest. A squirrel chattering high in a tree had us scanning the canopy until we spotted it. Many stops along the creek were made, but no fish were spotted. Some trees were rushing ahead of the rest to change color.

When arriving back home we took a break for a well earned snack and then went to work making our first entry into our ecology journal. We looked at the calendar to find the date and the clock for the time. I wrote that in. The little bear glued in his specimens and we labeled them. I wrote down a bunch of labels and he got the hang of it and started scribbling his labels next to his specimens. While labeling things we took a closer look at many of the leaves, the patterns of the veins and the holes where some sort of creature must have had a good lunch. We hypothesized about what type of animal might make such wholes and concluded it must have been a caterpillar like in Eric Carl's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I think we may begin trying to collect a few specimens from each Taiga Trek. It would be interesting to see the variety that comes from different locations and various seasons.

  1. We used thick pieces of water color paper. Card stock would work to. I chose a more rigid paper so it doesn't bend and bow when holding it up under the weight of the specimens.
  2. Elmer's Glue
  3. Nature specimens collected from our walk
  4. Pencil to label the specimens and record other pertinent info.
  5. Since each page is rather bulky with many 3-d objects glue to them we are using a box or an old rubbermaid tote to chronologically organize our entries. This way we aren't squishing everything every time the book is closed.
Very Hungry Caterpillar365 Days of Creative Play, 4E

Monday, August 22, 2011


If you happen to live in New England their is a phenomenal partnership happening between fisherman and classrooms - the Adopt-a-Boat program. Through this relationships students are able to experience science and technology first hand, in a real life setting through collaborating with a fishing vessel's crew. Not only are the scientific principles such as sampling, data collection, they see first hand what professional collaboration looks like. The benefits don't stop there. Students also see how interconnected the world is: how the number of fish you catch has an effect, not only on the ecosystem, but on the sustainability of a food source and the larger economy.

When teaching back home in Rhode Island for a year, I had the honor of meeting the director of the program. His enthusiasm for the partnership was contagious and the excitement the students, teachers and most of all the fisherman was electric. The fishermen were empowered by sharing their knowledge and being seen as experts. The teachers were thrilled to have such a rich opportunity to teach their students in an integrated context and the students were engaged because they were making real life connections.

This is the description of the program taken from the Adopt-a-Boat's website,

"A collaborative effort between the fishing industry and educators, the Adopt-a-Boat program draws on the expertise and experience of commercial fishermen to help educate K-12 students. By partnering with classrooms, fishermen help educate students about marine ecology, the complexities of marine resource utilization, and the daily life of fishermen. Conceptualized and organized by New England fishermen, the MIT Sea Grant College Program and other cooperating organizations, Adopt-a-Boat works to present a balanced picture of commercial fishing, thereby building a citizenry enlightened about marine resources and the importance of coastal communities.

Adopt-a-Boat focuses on partnering fishermen with individual classrooms/teachers. Thus far, teachers from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts have participated in the program. Fishermen from Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, with a variety of vessel types, have also participated. Each boat is linked with a partnering classroom that may be in the same geographic region as the vessel's homeport or may be hundreds of miles away! The choice is yours."

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Art & Nature

Andy Goldsworthy is a world renowned artist, who's trademark is natural installations. These are some of the gorgeous books of photographs depicting his work. There is also a great documentary where he discusses his creations and you can watch him manipulate the natural world till he creates a final product. Creating natural installations after studying the remarkable artist is an amazing activity for students at any age. It is also a great lesson to do multiple times with a class over the seasons.

Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with NatureTimeWoodEnclosure

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Project CRISS

The ultimate goal of an educator is to teach the learner how to effectively learn on their own. Project CRISS is a program that teaches skills that can be applied in any content area. The focus is on metacognition, the idea of awareness and understanding of one's own thought processes, through providing strategies for organizing and processing information. Graphic organizers, reading strategies, mnemonic devices etc. Students need to have a tool box full of all kinds of strategies. More importantly they should possess  the ability to be able to choose the appropriate one for the task at hand.

Number Notes used to analyze & process info from the book Flat Stanley

Moon Journals

Moon Journals: Writing, Art, and Inquiry Through Focused Nature Study

Looking for something new and exciting to do this school year? Creating Moon Journals is the ultimate way to integrate science with art, writing, content reading... well just about every content area. I used this book as a spring board to get me started. I found some of the activities a bit too phoofy so I modified it as I went. Every year was different. When teaching multi-age I didn't want to do the exact same thing the next year so we took the premise and adapted to our plant study and made Tree Journals. The process of journaling helps fine tune observation skills along with the life skill of following through on a long term project. The result is a master-piece every child can be proud of. One of the keys to shaping this into a successful endeavor for all is modeling the process. Keep your own journal and share it daily with your students.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Berry Picking Expedition

"Kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk," were the sounds of berries hitting the bottoms of our tin pails. I immediately thought of one of my all time favorite books Blueberries for Sal, written and illustrated by the late Robert McCloskey, a true New England legend. He used those words of onomatopoeia to aptly capture the exact noise we heard today. The premise of the story is a little girl and her mom go picking blueberries at the same time as a sow black bear and her cub are also storing up for the long winter. Sal and the cub find each other's mamas and then their own.  It is no coincidence I call my son my "Little Bear."
 Blueberries for Sal (Viking Kestrel picture books) [Hardcover]

The Little Bear and I just got back from our first mini berry picking expedition of the season. Late summer, early fall - August is time for harvesting berries in Alaska. The variety is wide salmonberry, cloudberry, low bush and high bush blueberry, ligon berry, raspberry, strawberry, high bush and low bush cranberry, currants... the list goes on. The short little berry picker in our house has decided the fate of this first batch of berries... cupcakes! You typically find highbush bluberries is boggy areas around natural water drainages. That is where we found ours today.

I harbor an especially strong affinity for blueberries. Being 1/4 Finnish, blueberries hold a rather sacred place in that culture and my family.

What edible things grow wild in your neck of the woods? When do you harvest them? Do you discuss with your students or children how you relate literature to your own lives?

The Piggy Bank & The World Economy

The US economy and the domino effect on the world economy has been in the headlines for quite a while now. How do we bring home this information to our students? Teach them about personal finance and build from there. If we expect to raise and teach our children as citizens of the world. Why not start now. Use the piggy bank as the starting point.

Many banks and credit unions have educational outreach programs designed to talk about finances in the school. The national Junior Achievement program teams with local businesses to do just this sort of thing!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Poets on Place

Renowned poets Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry's works have helped shape and develop momentum for the place-based education movement.
"Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there."
"Nature is not a place to visit. It is home." 
"Our relation to the natural world takes place in a place, and it must be grounded in information and experience." ~ Gary Snyder
"A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other's lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves." — Wendell Berry