Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Lead Outdoor Science Experiences

Beetles provides three types of resources for teaching science outdoors: Student activity guides, videos, and additional instructor support materials.

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BEETLES Student Activities engage students directly with nature, encourage a scientific mindset, ignite wonder and curiosity, and help students “fall in love” with nature. Our activities are student-centered (not instructor-centered), include student discussion of science ideas, help instructors to be “guides on the side,” and empower students to continue exploring and wondering about nature after they leave an outdoor science program. BEETLES activities create opportunities for students to make and share connections to their lives. This makes instruction relevant for students and helps instructors better understand students’ lived experiences and cultural identities. BEETLES student activities are learning cycle-based–structured to facilitate students flowing through phases of learning. The activities are written to be “educative” for instructors. That’s why, along with clear step-by-step instructions, there’s information about pedagogy, science background, adjusting for different students, and connections to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). BEETLES materials are aligned with the vision of NGSS to provide students with “3-dimensional” instruction (combining science practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas) in science learning experiences in the outdoors.

Discussions and Discussion Routines

Exploration Routines

Routines that offer students skills for engaging with and exploring nature, and can be used repeatedly to explore different phenomena throughout a learning experience.


Activities that support students to better understand and participate in scientific investigations.

Assessment & Reflection

Activities that help students and instructors reflect on student learning.


Activities that support students in developing an understanding of concepts related to adaptations.

Ecosystems, Matter, & Energy

Activities that support students in developing an understanding of concepts related to energy and matter in ecosystems.

Gardens & Schoolyards

Night-time and Night Sky

Theme Field Experiences

A sequence of focused activities.

FAQs for Field Instructors

I like all of this BEETLES stuff, but I don’t know where to start. How should I start incorporating BEETLES ideas into my teaching?

It can be challenging to change any part of your teaching practice, but it’s even more challenging to change every part of your teaching practice at once. Take baby steps, and don’t change everything you’re doing right away. The skills required for leading student-centered, nature-centered, discussion-based, and learning cycle-designed experiences are important, but complex. One approach is to pick one skill to focus on at a time and experiment with it in your instruction. During instruction, pay attention to your actions and the engagement and response of your students. After instruction, reflect by yourself, talk to other instructors about your experiences, and make adjustments in your instruction. If possible, get feedback from a program leader, coach, or fellow instructor.

For some thoughts about developing and shifting a few aspects of instruction, read on:

  • Incorporating student discussion: Leading a whole group discussion is complex, and something to work up to. Pair talk is an easy way to begin to incorporate discussion into your instruction. Walk & Talk is a discussion routine that gets students talking in pairs and can also flow into whole group discussions. Read the BEETLES materials on Integrating Discussion into Instruction (including the Discussion Routines sheet) and the Talk Science Primer for more information on incorporating discussion into instruction.
  • Engaging students directly with nature: A good routine to start out with is I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of. It’s a simple but potentially transformative strategy for providing students with tools to directly engage with nature. NSI: Nature Scene Investigators is an activity rich in science exploration and discussion practices, but it can be challenging to lead effectively if you’re new to this stuff because it requires some skill in leading discussions and coaching.
  • Learning Cycle-based Instruction: To develop your understanding of learning cycle-based instruction, lead BEETLES activities and pay attention to what happens at each phase of the learning cycle. Focused Explorations, such as Lichen Exploration, Case of the Disappearing Log, Bark Beetle Exploration or Spider Exploration (coming soon!) are great activities to lead to get a feel for learning cycle-based instruction. Discovery Swap is a flexible, learning cycle-based routine which can be used to engage students in the exploration of different organisms or natural phenomena. But to develop your understanding of learning-cycle based instruction, it’s important to lead the lessons without changing the order of the sections.

I tried leading a discussion and it totally flopped...what now?

First off, don’t be too hard on yourself, and don’t stop leading discussions! It’s challenging to lead a good discussion, and sometimes even instructors very experienced in discussion lead one that “flops.” It takes time to develop the skills to lead productive discussions- but it’s worth the effort! If you’re trying to figure out what made a specific discussion “flop,” think back to what you said and what students did in response. Were there questions you asked that did get students talking a lot? What questions didn’t? Pay attention to what worked and what didn’t work, and use that to inform what you do in your next discussion.

Generally, developing your ability to lead productive, meaning-making discussions is a complex process. In addition to honing skills like asking broad questions that elicit student responses or following up on students’ ideas, it’s necessary to nurture a culture of respectful discourse within each group of students. For more information, read the BEETLES materials on Integrating Discussion into Instruction (including Discussion Routines sheet) and the Talk Science Primer.

Most of your activities say they’re for 3rd-8th graders, but I’m teaching high schoolers (or preschoolers) next week. Will BEETLES activities work for those age groups?

It depends on the activity. Routines can pretty easily be expanded up or down in ages. Focused exploration activities are also pretty flexible. Because this curriculum is student-centered, what gets discussed during each activity largely depends on what students discover and what they bring up- so activities can work for multiple age groups. For example, in a routine, such as I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of, the prompts are accessible to younger and older students, but the observations, questions, and connections students make during the activity will depend on the students. Younger students will likely make more simple observations and engage with more simple ideas, while older students will likely make more complex and detailed statements. An activity such as Lichen Exploration is also flexible because very young students can explore lichen and notice whatever they notice- so can older students. But you’d probably want to focus on introducing fewer concepts if you’re doing the activity with younger students. Activities that are more focused on concept development, such as Structures & Behaviors or Related & Different (coming soon!), are still somewhat flexible, but not as much. Look closely at the concepts being introduced in each activity, think about your audience, and decide whether some adjustments could make the activity work for younger or older students, or if it’s too much of a leap.

This activity looks pretty good, but I want to make some changes; is that ok?

Making thoughtful decisions when leading activities is an important part of being a good instructor. But, we recommend that the first few times through, you lead the activity as written, especially if you’re new to this style of instruction. These activities have been thoughtfully planned and written, and the specific questions, statements, and sequence of steps have been rigorously tested by field instructors. Leading the activity as written will help you get a sense of what the activity is all about. Once you’ve led the activity a few times, it’s fine- and even desirable- to make small, thoughtful changes in how you present the activity to best meet the needs of your students.

Of course, there are minor adjustments to an activity you may need to make to, for example, accommodate for your site, time constraints, or weather conditions. When making such changes, be sure to read the Teaching Notes included in the sidebars throughout the write-up and in the Instructor Support section- many activities have notes that explain the rationale behind certain steps or language, or notes on changes to the activities that have been found to be particularly effective or ineffective in field testing.