Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Discovery Swap

This flexible, student-centered Exploration Routine guides students to search for, observe, research, and share discoveries about organisms. Discovery Swap can be used to focus on any type of organism (or phenomenon) you choose, such as macroinvertebrates in streams or ponds, plants, under-log organisms, insects caught with nets, or seeds. First, students explore an ecosystem in pairs, collecting and examining many organisms. Then, each pair chooses one organism to study through drawing and recording observations and questions in writing. Students also use tools such as field guides or identification keys (if you have them) to identify and further research their organisms. Then, in a Cool Organism Convention, one member of each pair stays with their organism, while the other member circulates to check out the other organisms. Students discuss their discoveries, questions, and ideas with one another and then, after a few minutes, pairs swap roles so everyone has a chance to look at other organisms and to share about their own.

Students will:
  • Observe and compare organisms (or phenomena) in an ecosystem.
  • • Practice making and recording observations through drawing and writing.
  • • Identify and research organisms, using identification keys and/or field guides.
  • • Discuss their findings with their peers.
  • • Optional: Think about organisms in an ecosystem through the lens of structure and function.

Note: Discovery Swap is best with some trusty field guides or keys for students to use on their own. Check out our list of recommended field guides.


Special Acknowledgements
We want to acknowledge Justice Outside for reviewing this session and supporting us to develop more equitable, inclusive, and culturally relevant instructional materials. Read more about our collaboration with Justice Outside.

Download Full Instructor Guide:
Discovery Swap
Watch Activity
Note: This video was edited to focus on how the instructor leads the activity; the actual activity is much more student-focused, and students spend most of the activity exploring and discussing ideas with their peers.