What Is a Field Journal?

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Objective

SWBAT identify the components of scientific journal entries and apply descriptive writing to their entries.

Big Idea

Students come to understand how important strong, descriptive writing is in science journals.

Warm-up

15 minutes

Keeping a field journal is an important skill for students to have and is the perfect way to blend science and writing.  With so much of the 8th grade content centered on the life sciences, maintaining a field journal allows students to experience what field scientists actually do while developing the strong observational skills needed for students to gather enough data to draw conclusions. Students will also have to develop patience as nature does not follow the fast pace that students have become accustomed.  Finally, field journaling is a great way to get students in touch with all of the life that is surrounding them on a daily basis and what a strong role these organisms play within our ecosystem. 

Hand out example copies of William Duncan Strong journal example to each student.  I also have How do scientists keep track of their work? (PowerPoint), that contains other journal examples running on the screen in the background.  I provide students with a minute or two to look over the examples.

What sort of book do you suppose these examples came from?

What sort of person would have written these?

Who would find this useful?

Students might compare these entries to a diary, if so I ask them to consider the following:

In what ways, exactly, is it like a diary?

In what ways is it different from a personal diary you would keep?

What kinds of things does the writer describe?

After discussing some of the uses for a field journal like the examples, call the class’s attention to the sketch of the hawk and the accompanying notes.

Is a visual representation, a drawing or a photo, the best way of making a record of something like this bird?

What are the advantages of writing about the bird as well?

What kinds of things could we write about in such a journal?

Challenge the students to read through Strong’s journal entry (if you have access to computers in your classroom, ensure students have a digital copy where they can use the zoom feature, if not, provide students with magnifying glass).

  Read through Strong’s journal entry.  Keep track of the information you discover such as:

  • Where is he during this entry?
  • What are the weather conditions?
  • How was he able to get such a good drawing of this bird?

Students will complain that the journal is hard to read, I respond now they know how I feel grading some of their work!  Encourage students to do their best to find out what they can from the entry.  After a few minutes discuss their findings, especially how they feel when they find out that Strong shot the bird for closer study.  Ask students if we still use those methods to study wildlife (sometimes, but technology has helped us get closer to live animals).

I explain to students that this is the sort of journal students will be keeping this year, which will be part classroom notes/learning, part field journal, and part self-reflection on/connection to learning.  Students will develop their own style, but all journals will have neatly written, descriptive writing (that others can easily read) and neat, detailed sketches, photos, and specimens when appropriate.

Connection to standards: By having the students investigate Strong's journal entry, I am able to build students ability to analyze and interpret data (SP4) while teaching them the introductory concepts of maintaining a science journal, which targets common core standard W8.10 - Write routinely over extended time frames and shorter time frames for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes and audiences.   

Practice

20 minutes

Give each student a blank index card and a handout that has pictures of several different birds, such as Bird Illustrations.

Each of you will choose one bird from the handout to describe, keep it a secret from those around you.  Use the blank side of the card to create a list of descriptions of the bird you choose.  You will then use that list to write a few complete sentences describing your bird on the lined side of the card.  You may NOT state the name of the bird or any information that is not in the picture.  Use the skills you have acquired in English class to create a well-written description that uses similes or other figurative language.

I give students 5-10 minutes to work on this.  I monitor students to ensure all are working but do not provide any assistance, just encourage them to do their best.  When they are done I have them put their name or initials at the top and place it into a box.  When I have all cards, I mix them up and pass them out at random making sure no student has their own card.

Students read their card and try to deduce which bird their new card describes, circling the phrases that seem especially descriptive or helpful.  I like to use the four corners strategy with each corner of the room representing one of the four birds.  I then have the students compare cards with the people around them to ensure they are in the correct corner.  I randomly call on a few people to read their cards and confirm they are in the correct space.  If they are correct, I ask them to share the words that best helped them to identify their bird.  If they were incorrect, I ask them to share words that might have been helpful.

Connection to standards: Students develop their ability to obtain, evaluate and communicate information (SP8) by critically reading scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural world and communicate scientific information in writing and/or through oral presentations. 

Wrap-up

10 minutes

Conduct a class brainstorming session in which students suggest words or phrases that can describe all of the birds (things like has claws, feathers, lays eggs, etc.).  Record the responses on the board.  Have students use this list as evidence to support an argument that answers the question, “What is a bird?”  For example, a student might claim that birds are great predators and they can support that statement with the evidence that birds have claws/talons on their feet and go on to explain how that supports the idea that birds are great predators.  The outline my students follow for this writing is as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Claim statement/answer to question
  3. Evidence 1 that supports claim
  4. Explanation of how that evidence supports claim
  5. Evidence 2 that supports claim
  6. Explanation of how that evidence supports claim
  7. Evidence 3 that supports claim
  8. Explanation of how that evidence supports claim
  9. Conclusion

Each of these points is 1-2 sentences.

Teacher note: If you have access to technology, I suggest recording this list on a Google doc that can be easily shared with the students in case they are not able to finish their paragraph during class.