Citizen Scientists

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Glen Urquhart was founded upon the conviction that children learn best in classrooms that extend beyond four walls into the surrounding natural world. Our curriculum is enhanced by students’ engagement with GUS's campus, which is designed to celebrate and promote environmental awareness. As Head of School David Liebmann points out, “Our twenty-three acre campus and greenhouse and the beautiful coastline, woods, and water of Massachusetts are our classrooms.” 

The second grade theme, Where Do I Live?, offers a fine example of how that philosophy inspires a rich science curriculum. Second graders begin their thematic study by investigating the natural world in their own backyard and learning how local plants and animals satisfy their basic needs. They explore GUS's expansive wooded campus to investigate the parts of a tree, the impact of the seasons on a tree’s growth, the stages of a tree’s life cycle, and how animals use trees for food and shelter. They travel off campus to explore other local habitats and variations in the natural environment of the region. In art, they bring their observation skills outdoors to draw detailed tree sketches. In the studio they further integrate their tree study with oil pastel and watercolor resist paintings. 

The second graders recently returned from the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary, where they identified and learned about the life cycles of plants and animals in this region. Second graders are naturally curious and what better occupation than to set that curiosity loose upon their very own place in the world? “Exploring the woods, children start to ask questions that guide their learning, make connections about the natural world, and share insights with each other,” explains second grade teacher Elliott Buck.

“Students participate in their learning by considering questions like  ‘What do you see?’ ‘What do you think?’ ‘What do you wonder?’ Encouraging students to think deeply about topics they have some prior knowledge of helps to spark new ideas and questions. We are able to guide them using inquiry-based learning strategies we studied at Harvard Project Zero,” describes second grade teacher Maggie Clark. “This, to me, is citizen science.”

Next week, second graders are heading to Joppa Flats to learn about adaptations in birds, bird migration, and plumage characteristics. They will see how birds are captured, banded, analyzed, and released. Then they will hit the trail at Hellcat Swamp. Students will be guided on a nature walk along the Dune Trail to discover the unique characteristics of that habitat and the plant and animal communities present.

The campus of Glen Urquhart lends itself well to a hands-on science curriculum for the upper school as well. As an example of Glen Urquhart’s spiraling curriculum, seventh graders also study trees, taking part in Harvard Forest, a project that collects data that will be used to determine how trees change over time. The students measure the diameters of trees at the same height and record signs of human disturbance on the ground. They send their data to Harvard. “Having students do the work is very cost-effective for Harvard and also means students are doing important, relevant work at a very young age,” observes seventh grade science teacher Emilie Cushing. Coming soon, seventh grade and second grade will collaborate to conduct an experiment on campus in relation to their tree study. Read about GUS Science in Northshore Magazine here.

Whitney Buckley