Monday, December 10, 2012

Birding Basics

We have been diligently watching our feeders every Thursday and Friday for the past two weeks.  Along with noting weather conditions each day, the children have decided to perform their feeder observations at different times of the school day.  On one day they make observations for fifteen minutes in the morning while on the other day they watch for fifteen minutes in the afternoon.  They are interested in seeing whether or not time of day plays a role in the total visitor numbers and/or in the types of bird species who stop by. Many students are now adeptly calling out the species names without identification guides. Others are starting to be able to carefully track the actual visitor number from each species (without counting the same bird over and over during a given observation period).  It has been absolutely amazing to see the students' knowledge repertoire and critical observation skills developing so rapidly.  Even asking about why some bird species might prefer to feed off the fallen seeds (Junco) while other visitors swoop in quickly, nervously snagging a snack before taking it away to a higher branch to enjoy (Black-capped chickadee).

Along the way, in order to sculpt our noticing skills further, we have spent a fair amount of time describing and drawing what we see.  Paying particular attention to the diversity of plumage, markings, and assorted morphology -- characteristics that eventually lead us to key into which bird species we happen to be looking at.  By taking the time to draw and accurately color-in some common bird species on work sheets, the students are using identification guides and colored pencils to try and make precise renderings of our avian visitors.  Current favorites are the Northern Cardinal and the Blue Jay.

Up next, we will begin to talk about the different ways that scientists plot data.  We will learn how to visualize our raw data (by making graphs of our collected observations) and the ways that plots help us to look for patterns in our data.  The students will begin to make their own bar graphs, line graphs, and pie charts of the different species that we have seen. They will continue to hypothesize and to ask whether temperature, time of day, type of seeds, or placement of feeder plays a role in bird visitation frequency or in a given species being attracted to our offerings.  Ultimately, students will be introduced to concepts of variables (noun), and to begin to consider the difference between independent and dependent variables.

I look forward to showing you the graphs that they choose to create!

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