Say Cheese! Journaling With Live Animal Cams

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SWBAT create detailed field journal entries, using the video from live animal cams.

Big Idea

Students apply field journaling skills using high interest visuals generated by live animal webcams.


5 minutes

Note to teachers: This lesson makes use of live animal web cams so make sure you have access to computers or tablets with internet capabilities.  A Google search provides many places to access live animal cams but here are a few links I like: 

Smithsonian National Zoological Park

Monterey Bay Aquarium

San Diego Zoo

Animal Planet (has ads but lots of live action that makes it a great resourse)

Earth Cam (scroll down and click “Animals & Zoos”)

As students enter the room they view an animal cam that has a high level of organisms and action, such as Pacific Reef Cam (high level of clarity and action but video ads pop up) or Kelp Forest Cam (no ads but not as much clarity).  

Today we will be practicing our field journaling using live animal web cams.  You will be able to choose from a large variety of animals but I want you to look several of the options before choosing a cam.  What you see on each cam varies greatly depending on the time of day and type of animal.  Remember, animals can move in and out of camera range but once you select a cam to use you must stick with that choice.

I then draw students’ attention to the cam feed displayed on the screen.

Some of the cams will only have a small number of animals to observe, 1 or 2, but some have a large number of active animals.  Consider the feed we are currently viewing, how would someone approach making journal entries with so much activity?

Students come up with a variety of answers that will work, but I prompt until students' suggestions include focusing on one single animal, tracking what it does for a set amount of time, and focusing on one location while tracking all animals that go there. 

Using a Google doc, I share the links with the students to make accessing the cams quick and easy.


30 minutes

Remind me, what type of information do we include in journal entries?

Student answers should include such items as date, conditions, drawings, observations, thoughts, questions, interpretations, description of background/environment and conclusions.

I give students some time to go through the different camera options.  Once students select a cam they should begin documenting the experience. 

I encourage students to find a format that works for them; for example, some students feel using bullet notes to get information written quickly and adding a more detailed paragraph later is easier than using sentences throughout the observation process.  Most students will need to be reminded to make drawings.

I monitor to ensure students are logging such information as the type of animal/area of focus, date, time of day, questions they have and observations they make.  As I hear students make comments about struggles or questions they have I remind them to put those comments in their log.  This builds on Science and Engineering Practice 1 - Asking Questions and Defining Problems, specifically asking questions that arise from careful observation of phenomena, models, or unexpected results, to clarify and/or seek additional information.

Following the observation session, about 20 minutes total, I provide students with copies of Marie Magnuson’s “Tiger Cub Diary” excerpts. 

This is a set of excerpts from animal keeper Marie Magnuson’s online account of the birth and growth of a litter of Sumatran tigers at the National Zoo.  Read through this account.  As you read, underline descriptions of fact - that's evidence. Circle or highlight inferences the writer makes - those are her interpretations of the facts.  Also, box or highlight in a different color the writer’s feelings/personal thoughts on the subject.  Remember, if you use different colors please include a key so we know what the colors represent.

Discuss the students’ findings as a class.  I like to project the entry on the screen and highlight student findings as they share, making sure they correctly distinguish between observations and inferences.  This helps students develop their ability to analyze and interpret data, which is the focus of Science and Engineering Practice 4.


10 minutes

Now look back at your own entry.  Using the same method as you used for the tiger diary, identify facts/observations, inferences and personal thoughts/feelings.  Construct a well-written paragraph(s) on what you saw using the live animal cam.  Use the tiger cub journal as a model for your own writing.

When students are finished writing, encourage students to reflect on their writing by considering the following sentence stems:

  • The behavior I observed is...
  • I believe the reason(s) for that behavior is...
  • The evidence that supports that conclusion is...
  • My writing would be stronger if...
  • I could learn more by...


This lesson builds students skills described in Science and Engineering Practice 8 - Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, specifically their ability to communicate scientific information in writing by having them write in multiple ways for a variety of purposes (which is also aligned with common core standard W.8.10).