It's an Indoor Excursion, Mate!

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SWBAT apply their newly acquired field journal skills in a semi-controlled indoor environment.

Big Idea

Students apply their field journal skills while observing fascinating animals in captivity!


5 minutes

Note to teachers: In the lesson Say Cheese! Journaling with Live Animal Cams, students practiced completing a field journal entry with a focus on a live, unpredictable animal of their choice via webcams.  This lesson will build on that by having students spread out within the school building to observe the "living organisms" found in their school setting. Some students focus on specific areas or people, such as the locker area or librarian, and some students focus on other student groups.  This allows the teacher to walk around and monitor all groups to ensure they are on task.  Having students focus on other class groups adds an element of fun and surprise for students while providing a method for the teacher to “track” all groups to ensure success.

Prior to this lesson, set up locations and identify people within the school who are willing to allow students to be quiet observers.  Locations chosen should allow for students to witness action but also allow a vantage point for other student groups to “observe the observers”.  Areas within my school that work are the front and back of the locker area, library, cafeteria, and main hallway, with the front group watching the area and the back group watching the other group, see Indoor Excursion Locations for the area descriptions I provide to students.  Additionally there are some classrooms that have large picture windows that look out on a communal area; students can be assigned to those locations as well.

Yesterday we applied our field journal skills on live animals using web cams.  What challenges or insights do you have on the experience?

Discuss student responses, which will include such things as animals moving in and out of the viewing area, animals just laying still, too many things on which to focus, and empty animal areas.  I ask students how they dealt with those challenges and have them share strategies that worked for them so others can benefit from their insight.


30 minutes

How would your behavior have to change if you were there in person observing live animals in their own environment?

Student answers will likely include sitting still, being quiet and taking pictures or video to analyze later so they don’t miss anything.  

The culmination of this unit will have students answering a question that relates to how change effects an ecosystem.  I introduce this idea to students in this lesson so they can begin to gather observations they can use as evidence when they are completing that assignment.

Today we are going to practice journaling in a live animal environment very close by and hopefully we will witness some pretty exciting stuff.  Can anyone guess where that might be? (Listens to student guesses)  We are going to be observing Studentus Pubertus, otherwise known as middle school students!  Unfortunately, we are only able to view them in captivity within a place called school (pronounced to sound like ss-choule) so some of their behaviors are likely to be modified from the version of this animal out in the wild.

You and your lab group will be assigned to a location within the school.  Though you will be in the same location, each of you will be responsible for creating your own unique journal entry.  Remember, your goal is to observe the environment you are in without interacting or changing that environment.  Who can explain what that might look like?

I call on a few students to answer this question being sure to make the point that students should be quietly observing and documenting their experience. 

Once you have gathered some baseline information, I want you to begin to introduce subtle changes to your "ecosystem".  For example, if you are observing a large group of people working in the hall, what happens if you sneeze or drop something when you walk past them?  Don't be obnoxious with the change you are introducing, you don't want to get in trouble, just try something small and see how that changes the behavior you have been documenting.

Just as they did in the previous lesson, Say Cheese! Journaling With Live Animal Cams, I remind students that they can focus on either an area or an individual to document and we again review the type of information that should be recorded in a journal entry.  Once all of the directions are given and questions have been answered, I hand out students’ location assignments and instruct students to move quietly to their assigned location as soon as they are received. 

You should also be aware that some of the groups will have spies whose task it is to observe and document the workings of other groups so be sure to stay on task.  If you think you identified your observers, be sure to document it in your journal so you can use your evidence to support your conclusion but don’t forget your main focus is the assigned location. 

Note: Sometimes it is good to tell students upfront that they are being observed by other groups and sometimes not, it depends on the students.  I don't want anyone to feel I am trying to "catch" them, and on the other hand some students being observed as an invitation to act up for their audience. You just have to do what works for your students.

The groups assigned to document the other student observers receive a location assignment with an additional note.  For example, “Back of the library, observing the student group assigned to the front of the cafeteria”.  I give these groups their assignment last so I can verbally instruct them on what their assignments mean and answer any questions they may have before sending them to their assigned location.  I let them know that I don't want them using student names in their entry, but they can use letters or numbers to identify their “subjects”. (I select these groups carefully, choosing the students who are both responsible and kind as I do not want this to turn into a way to mock or bully any other student.)

While students are working, I monitor groups to ensure they are on task and including both sketches and verbal descriptions but I am not looking at what they are writing specifically.


10 minutes

Once field journaling is complete, I have students come back together in class for a debriefing session using the Indoor Excursion Debrief PowerPoint.  I begin by having students who were assigned to the same location compare journal entries.  I explain to students that they are to discuss something that they like about each person’s journal entry and something they feel could boost the quality of each journal entry. No one is allowed to repeat what someone else has said.  For example, if Shelly states that Mary could boost the quality by adding more details to her notes, Alice cannot say the same thing or “I agree” but might state that adding personal thoughts as to why something occurred would be a good addition.

I then regroup so we can discuss the information collected by the spies.  If students identified their spy, they are to go over their evidence and state what they could have done to better maintain their cover.  If students did not identify their observers, students go over the notes taken on the observed group. Finally, we discuss how the student's data might be used to answer a question about how change affects an ecosystem.  The video below is one student explaining how her data connects to this question.


Students enjoy this activity and it provides valuable feedback on how effective they were at observing without interacting or changing their environment.