I do a small curriculum unit on “being a naturalist” with elementary school students. I’m a sub, so I use this when I have a 3-day stint that has at least a free hour every day.
There’s a 2nd grade standard (& I think this is developed throughout K-5 standards) that aligns really well:
2. Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity
2-LS4 Biological Evolution: Unity and DiversityaaStudents who demonstrate understanding can:
2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
We review the concept of food webs and the potential diversity of life within one small spot. I usually ask them to guess how many different kinds of plants and animals people have seen within our city/county/state. They brainstorm what they’ve seen at their home or the school. Then I pull up the iNat map on the projector and let them choose which observations we look at. This is a hit with younger kids, who can usually use a map well enough to recognize notable locations (close to their house, the lake, the school, etc.)
I started on this coming from the Lost Ladybug Project and I still find that a useful lens as metamorphosis is a weirdly prevalent topic in elementary curriculums (or maybe the kids just like it most). We then discuss how different creatures might look different and be harder to notice depending on where they are in their life cycles. Timelapse videos of ladybugs or butterflies are usually a hit during this. I have sometimes had them draw the life cycle if we have enough time.
They’re usually jazzed about the idea of looking for animals at this point, so we have a guided discussion about what careers people have that might lead to them looking at animals or plants a lot. I then introduce the concept of being a “naturalist” and how anyone can do it anywhere - even KIDS. Like @madronyut, I have kids who might not get to go out and explore conventionally appealing places often, so my goal is to get them looking for animals in their backyard/on the sidewalk, rather than just when they go on a fishing trip. There are a few YouTube videos about being a naturalist that are sometimes helpful. Then I tell them that WE get to be naturalists.
At this point, everyone must solemnly agree to be a good naturalist: someone who OBSERVES without interfering. (Look very carefully at wild things, not pets, but make sure it is still there to live its life cycle and be observed by scientists.) There’s always the one kid who decides to pull the wings off the moths or whatever so I have found it necessary to be very clear about this and have a complete no tolerance rule.
Depending on age group, I pass out checklists or bingo and assign groups or partners to work in, and we hit a clearly defined area out near the field. If they see something on the list, they call me over and I try to take a picture on my cellphone. We don’t have tech for the kids to do it themselves and frankly, no one needs 8 year olds posting freely on iNat. Sometimes this involves me running across the field after a fast bee like an idiot and the kids get upset about missed pics but generally I can snag enough pictures for them to be satisfied.
After the designated time (usually 15-30 mins), we head back in. They practice sketching one of their observations and making some notes about it.
Overnight, I usually get a few IDs and can do the legwork myself on most things to at least a semi-satisfying degree to have “answers” for them about what we saw. (They don’t usually care if it’s genus vs. species, for example).
On the projector, I pull up the map again and orient them as we navigate to the school. We spend some time clicking on each observation, looking at the picture, and guessing what it might be before we review the identification. This is usually a chance to talk about what characteristics they noted (ie spotted, small) and how the name might relate.
We finish by anticipating future species they might observe as naturalists. Usually, this involves letting them choose a few more spots on the map to look at. Sometimes we talk about the state flower, etc.
I have to say, this is a huge hit and I’m always happy with its lasting impact on the kids - over the next few days-weeks I often find them “being naturalists” on the playground and watching ants, squirrels, etc. Great for curiosity and empowerment!