Science and Teaching for Field Instructors

Leading Classroom and Schoolyard Experiences

Outdoor science programs–especially residential, multi-day experiences–can be transformative for students for many reasons. In addition to important social/emotional impacts (not a small thing!), students often return to the classroom excited about science, interested in nature, and excited about learning in general. Field experiences, by their nature, provide students with opportunities they can’t get in the classroom. To make the most of these rare outdoor opportunities, students should have pre and post experiences in the classroom that are connected to and coherent with their field experiences. If students arrive at an outdoor science program with experience in respectfully discussing ideas, making observations, asking questions, discussing evidence-based explanations, or evaluating evidence, then a thoughtful field instructor can build on those skills, and explorations in the field will be deeper and more rewarding for students. When students have further opportunities to continue using skills after leaving the outdoor program, they’re more likely to incorporate them into their lifelong toolkit of learning. Providing connections between outdoor science and classroom science helps ensure that students’ time outdoors doesn’t end up feeling like an isolated event.

BEETLES is in the process of developing four classroom activities that support the outdoor science field experience. We also recommend published curriculum (below) that we think is of high quality. Finally, BEETLES staff have extensive experience collaborating with schools and districts to provide custom support. Read the For Custom Support page for more information.

Pre-Outdoor Science Experiences for Classrooms

Activities to precede an outdoor science experience.

Post-Outdoor Science Experiences for Classrooms

Activities to lead after an outdoor science experience.

Garden & Schoolyard Experiences

Activities to lead in a garden or schoolyard.

Short, Stand-Alone Outdoor Science Activities Menu from the National COVID-19 Outdoor Learning Initiative.

Extended Sequences

Additional Resources

valuable tool to support remote learning and plans to return to safe in-person learning by maximizing time outdoors.

The National Outdoor Learning Initiative’s free online resource library of practical resources for moving classes and programs outside.

These 53 (free) activities are specifically designed to help students investigate biology and to increase their environmental awareness.

Activities and tools to engage children in outdoor learning, curated by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren.

MARE has been developing high quality, inquiry-based, hands-on ocean sciences curriculum for over 20 years. Their materials are designed to tap into students’ natural curiosity about the ocean to teach important science concepts while addressing state and national science standards.

FOSS has specific resources for outdoor learning called Taking FOSS Outdoors. They include a Folio and 9 minute video providing general support and advice for classroom teachers taking their students outdoors.

GEMS is a Math and Science Curriculum for classroom teachers with emphases on Life Science, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.

We recommend the following GEMS Guides for their focus on topics related to environmental literacy. (Or view all GEMS Publications)

  • Animal DefensesPreschool–K: Beginning with an imaginary defenseless animal, this highly visual unit teaches children about defensive adaptations in the animal world. Like Hide a Butterfly, this is an excellent way to introduce biological concepts of predator/prey and help youngsters recognize defensive structures and behaviors.
  • Ant Homes Under the GroundPreschool–1: These delightful science- and math-integrated activities introduce young children to ant behavior using role-play, cooperative exercises, and close observation of live ants. A large poster is assembled in stages to highlight ant tunnels, food, social structure, and life cycle.
  • Aquatic HabitatsGrades 2–6: These engaging life science activities, in which students set up and observe living “desktop ponds” in the classroom, convey key environmental concepts and illustrate the interactive nature of living ecosystems. An excellent complement to Schoolyard Ecologyand Terrarium Habitats.
  • Buzzing A HiveKindergarten–3:This guide explores the complex social behavior, communication, and hive environment of the honeybee through activities that mix art, literature, role-play, and drama. (Live bees are not a part of this unit.) A nice entomological partner to Ant Homes Under the GroundHide a Butterfly, and Ladybugs.
  • Eggs Eggs Everywhere,Grades Preschool-1: This unit introduces young children to the wonders of eggs of all kinds, developing age-appropriate concepts in biology and life science. Activities combine literature, math, role-playing, drama, and art, and introduce sorting, classifying, and graphing.
  • Environmental Detectives,Grades 5-8: In this unit built around a fictional environmental-damage scenario, students learn of the interconnectedness of the natural world and the complexity of many environmental problems. Students consider pollution from many sources, perform chemical and biological tests to finger the “culprit(s),” and track changes in predator-prey relationships.
  • Hide A ButterflyPreschool–K:This guide introduces children to the basic concepts of protective coloration as they learn to identify parts of a flower, create a nature-scene mural, learn about butterflies, and talk about animals they may have seen in the wild. (Camouflage is also explored in Animal Defenses.) More.
  • Hot Water and Warm Homes from SunlightGrades 4–8: In this environmental unit, students build model houses and hot-water heaters to focus on solar power. They determine how windows can affect heat, and conduct controlled experiments. Connects well to Global Warming & the Greenhouse Effect.
  • Investigating Artifacts,Grades K-6: Making Masks, Creating Myths, Exploring Middens: This rich unit introduces children to the concepts of inference and evidence with activities relating to anthropology, archaeology, and diverse Native American and world cultures. Students sort and classify natural objects, make masks and create “myths,” and excavate a shoe box midden.
  • LadybugsPreschool–1: This popular unit uses the charm of ladybugs to present key science and math concepts relating to animal adaptation, ecology, and interdependence. Children learn about ladybug body structure, symmetry, life cycle, defensive behavior, and foods. Use of live ladybugs is optional. Great with Buzzing a Hiveand Hide a Butterfly.
  • Life Through Time,Grades 5-8: Through time-travel activities, students grasp the mammoth scale of geologic time and the major benchmarks in evolution, from the earliest single-celled organism to the most recent mammals. Evolving dioramas chronicle life-forms and habitats from five evolutionary ages. Ten color backdrops included.
  • Matter: Solids, Liquids & Gases,Grades 1-3: In a succession of intriguing hands-on learning station activities, students gather, apply, and reflect on physical evidence, just as scientists do, and learn what matter is—and what it is not. Students learn about the properties of solids, liquids, and gases, and apply this knowledge to common objects in the world around them.
  • Mystery Festival,Grades 2-8: This extremely popular forensic science unit features two imaginative and compelling mysteries, one for younger and one for older children. Students learn to distinguish evidence from inference, and conduct such crime-lab investigations as thread tests, powder tests, DNA comparisons, chromatography, and fingerprinting.
  • Ocean Currents, Grade 5-8: This companion guide to Only One Ocean provides fascinating, real-world insights into the causes and effects of marine currents. Students explore how wind, temperature, salinity, and density set water in motion. They learn how the ocean makes our planet livable and transports nutrients, people, and pollution. Makes a strong connection to Discovering Density.
  • Only One Ocean, Grade 5-8: This comprehensive companion to Ocean Currents interweaves the concepts of connected ocean basins, animal adaptation, and sustainable fisheries. Its highlight, a classroom squid dissection conducted by student pairs, leads to activities about ocean fisheries and diminishing resources. Students brainstorm and present possible solutions in a “world conference.”
  • Oobleck: What Do Scientists DoGrades 4-8: This immensely popular unit has been updated, but the strangely behaving substance called Oobleck still provides high engagement while students gain authentic insight into real-world scientific inquiry. Students are totally engaged in observation, hands-on investigation, a scientific convention, and spacecraft design.
  • River Cutters, Grades 6-8: This popular unit explores the concepts of erosion, pollution, toxic waste, and human manipulation of rivers. Students create river models, acquire geological terminology, and begin to understand geologic time.
  • Schoolyard Ecology, Grades 3–6: This guide is designed to nurture curiosity about patterns and interactions in nature, beginning with students’ immediate environment: the schoolyard and its inhabitants. Students develop sampling, mapping, and related math and environmental-writing skills. A great life science companion to Terrarium Habitats.

Each of these is a 4 session unit designed for the afterschool audience. If you have an afterschool program at your school, consider purchasing these kits for use by an afterschool leader. The environmental science kits recommended for pre-post outdoor science school are:

  • Colors in Nature, Grades 3-5: Children learn about how plants’ and animals’ colors can help them survive by exploring camouflage, warning colors, mimicry, and attracting colors.
  • Exploring Habitats, Grades 3-5: Children explore the habitat right outside their door and discover the animals that live there.
  • Predators and Prey, Grades 3-5: Children discover some surprising connections between predators and prey in their natural habitats.
  • Waste Not, Grades 3-5: Children learn about where our trash goes, how it decomposes, and how the choices they make can affect Earth.
  • Beach Science, Grades 3-5: Children learn how Earth’s surface changes over time and how these changes can be caused by natural forces or influenced by human behavior.
  • Fresh Water, Grades 3-5: Children explore the ways we use water in our everyday lives and how they can conserve this limited resource.
  • Food from Plants, Grades 3-5: Children learn about the different parts of plants and think about what plants and plant parts our food comes from. They learn about how to plan gardens of their own and how they can turn plants into delicious food.
  • Sunlight Science, Grades 3-5: Children discover visible and invisible parts of sunlight by doing engaging activities to investigate infrared light, visible light, and ultraviolet light.

There are also a variety of 5-ish minute videos designed for the audience of after school leaders, but they are great for educators in other contexts as well. They are particularly helpful for those who are new to instruction, such as interns. Here are some we particularly recommend:

Seeds of Science, Roots of Reading is a research-based curriculum that teaches essential science understandings while building a full range of literacy skills.

(Note: Seeds of SCience, Roots of Reading is no longer in publication, but the non-fiction books associated with the units can still be purchased at the Lawrence Hall of Science store.

We recommend the following units:

  • Aquatic Ecosystems, Grades 4-5: Students learn about ecosystems, including the flow of energy and matter in ecosystems, and human impact on ecosystems. They also learn to make connections, pose questions, use text features as they read, and to write scientific descriptions. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, such as interact, decomposer, evidence, and hypothesis.
  • Models of Matter, Grades 4-5: Students learn about the particulate nature of matter (atoms and molecules), phase change, and using properties to separate mixtures. They also learn to make inferences and use text features as they read, and to write scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, such as molecule, energy, evidence, and evaluate.
  • Planets and Moon, Grades 4-5: Students learn about the Solar System, the movement of planets and moons, and how science and technology advance our knowledge of space. They also learn to visualize, set goals, use text features as they read, and to write scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, such as orbit, gravity, evidence, and model.
  • Shoreline Science, Grades 2-3: Students learn about the properties of sand and other earth materials, erosion, organisms and the environment, and human impact on the environment. They also learn to make inferences and use text features as they read, and to write reports and scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, such as habitat, predator, evidence, and compare.
  • Soil Habitats, Grades 2-3: Students learn about decomposition, plant and animal adaptations, habitats, and the properties of soil. They also learn to make predictions, pose questions, use text features as they read, and to write descriptions and scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary, for example, organism, adaptation, evidence, and observation.
  • Variation and Adaptation, Grades 3-4: Students learn about biodiversity, relatedness among organisms, heredity, adaptations, and the fossil record. They also learn to make inferences, to use captions and illustrations as they read, and to write comparison paragraphs. They learn and use scientific vocabulary such as characteristic, extinct, evidence, and claim.
  • Weather and Water, Grades 3-4: Students learn about the water cycle, air and atmosphere, phase change, and weather patterns. They also learn to pose questions, think about what they already know about a topic, use text features as they read, and to write process descriptions and scientific explanations. They learn and use scientific vocabulary such as humidity, precipitation, evidence, and data.

Reading to Learn in Science, from the Science Education Research Partnership features resources that focus on two questions: (1) What’s the pedagogical basis for emphasizing literacy development in science education? and (2) What specific tips and tools can you put into play on Monday morning to help enhance your students’ disciplinary literacy?

Tools for Ambitious Science Teaching provides a “vision of ambitious science instruction for elementary, middle school and high school classrooms.” They define ambitious teaching as teaching that “deliberately aims to support students of all backgrounds to deeply understand science ideas, participate in the activities of the discipline, and solve authentic problems.”

The Argumentation Toolkit is a collection of resources designed to help teachers understand and teach scientific argumentation.