Kids birdwatching

Educator Spotlight: Following the Journeys of Backyard Birds

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Amy Clapp is a K-6 science teacher at Salisbury Community School in Salisbury, Vermont. Amy has been teaching elementary school for 16 years.

Amy Clapp birdwatching
Photo by Wendy Money

Activity: Mapping Local Migratory Birds

Subjects: Science

Grades: K-6

Tell us about your activity. How long did it take and what did you need to prepare?

In this lesson, students learn about the birds that live in their own backyards. They learn how to identify birds, make observations at bird feeders, map migratory patterns, and use online applications to develop field guides.

This activity is possible to complete within a few class periods, but I like to use it as a year-long project that connects with other environmental lessons.

In the fall, students begin learning about birds. They also get used to noticing and recording bird behaviors at the bird feeder and around the schoolyard. Throughout the winter, students practice scientific sketching and writing as they begin developing field guides. They also research migratory birds that will arrive from other countries in the spring, and study their birds’ habitats in these other countries. Finally, students learn how to read weather maps and how landforms influence weather and climate.

When spring arrives, students map where the migrating birds go on their journey!

The following are some really helpful sites for getting started.

Kids birdwatching
Photo by Ann Rubright

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in their thought processes, behaviors, or perspectives?

Students have the opportunity to practice many skills—sketching, writing, studying maps, and learning about the weather.

However, the most important lesson students learn is developing an appreciation for nature. By watching birds throughout the year, students begin to understand the interconnecting networks among animals and their environments. They are amazed by the natural world when they discover the adaptations birds have developed to complete their migrations.

Any advice for educators who want to help students become global and interdisciplinary thinkers?

My biggest piece of advice is to be a global and interdisciplinary thinker yourself.

Also, get your students outside! This can take work, because many students don’t automatically know how to connect with the natural world. You can begin with very structured activities—like scavenger hunts. Eventually, your students may start to enjoy just being in nature. At that point, you have the opportunity to connect almost everything you do to the outside world—and it’s the most engaging hook ever!

kids handling birds
Photo by Carol Ramsayer

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or quote that inspires you in your personal life or in your teaching?

“The earth does not belong to us. We belong to the earth. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons and daughters of the earth.” (Often attributed to Chief Seattle, these words were actually written by screenwriter Ted Perry in 1971.) If I can live by those words and help my students connect with those words, then I feel I’ve done my job.

Get started with Nat Geo! Share your snapshots of birds on the Great Nature Project. Don’t know a hawk from a handsaw? Great Nature Project experts will help you sort that out, too!

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Do you know a great educator who teaches about our world? Nominate a colleague or yourself as the next Educator of the Week!

The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

4 thoughts on “Educator Spotlight: Following the Journeys of Backyard Birds

  1. Great work, Amy. Bird study is a powerfully engaging approach for kids. I use Journey North also, but for Monarch tracking.I think your statement, “My biggest piece of advice is to be a global and interdisciplinary thinker yourself,” is a very meaningful takeaway. Congratulations on being an educator of the week.

  2. Reblogged this on Otter Creek Audubon Society and commented:
    Congratulations to Salisbury Community School’s Amy Clapp for being featured in National Geographic’s Educator Spotlight. We are big fans of her classroom bird programs too.

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