Classroom Phenology: Using the Environment as a Source of Data and Observations

Carrie Otis
Minnesota Internship Center
English Language Academy
Minneapolis, Minnesota
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In this semester-long activity, students will record daily temperatures, precipitation amounts, observations of weather patterns, shadow length of a set object, and other observations. Students will also do a season-long weekly observation of a schoolyard tree. Students will maintain a classroom phenology binder as a class, and create individual nature journals for their own observations. The data students collect will be used for various extension activities in math and science. For example, students will compare their data through graphing and calculations with the data found in the Weatherguide calendar. Students will also use this data to support science texts about seasons, phases of the moon, and weather phenomena in urban Minnesota.

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Learning Goals

1. Students will observe and become aware of their natural world through quantitative measurements and qualitative descriptions.
2. Students will organize their data in tables, graphs, and paragraphs.
3. Students will analyze their data by comparing it to averages on the Weatherguide calendar.

Key Concepts:

1. Observing the natural world through science. In particular, observing weather patterns, plant life cycles, and sun/moon cycles.
2. Using the scientific method.
3. Becoming familiar and comfortable within nature.

Key Vocabulary:
-Scientific method

Context for Use

This activity can be adapted to most grade levels. It fulfills the standard for History and Nature of Science, and extensions can be done to incorporate more or less complex math, writing, and presenting. Ideally, this activity could be set up early in the year, and students would be "trained" in collecting data. This includes how to read a thermometer and a rain gauge, and how to record the information in the phenology binder. Pairs of students would be assigned days to collect data, and do it independently of the class. Weekly, the class could go out together to collect the daily measurements and do individual tree observations.

Necessary equipment includes a "weather station" that is undisturbed and has a thermometer and rain gauge (or graduated cylinder). Other resources include the Weatherguide calendar from the Freshwater Society and Kare 11, a binder for keeping phenology notes, and nature journals for the students.

Description and Teaching Materials

This activity is a semester-long study of the environment around the school. The goal is that students will practice being scientists by collecting data from and making observations of their environment. At the beginning of the semester, students will learn how to read thermometers, a rain gauge, and how to use a ruler to make measurements. They will then collect daily data from the schoolyard. My suggestion would be to assign pairs of students to collect the data, so the entire class is not disrupted daily. (An alternative would be to do a weekly study as a class if your students are too young or not so trustworthy!). Students collect the temperature, rainfall amounts, and length of the shadow of a set object over the semester. As the data comes in, it can be used in a variety of ways. Student can find averages, standard deviations, and ranges from a given month. These values can be compared to averages found in the Weatherguide calendar. Values can be graphed or plotted, and even compared from year to year.

In addition to the quantitative measurements of the natural world, students will also do a qualitative study through observing the phenology of a schoolyard tree. Their observations of the tree, and other Earth Science unit topics, will be recorded in their personal nature journals.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Promoting students as scientists is a valid way to get results...Students often think that only old guys can be called scientists, when in reality anyone who studies science is a scientist. This includes students (regardless of their age), teachers, and old guys.


Ongoing assessments will occur throughout the semester. Reflection on the quality of data collecting, having students work in groups or individually on graphing the data, comparing student data to recorded averages, and student presentations on findings will be used.


K. III. B. Describing daily and seasonal changes in weather.
3. I. A. Understanding science is a tool for investigating the natural world.

References and Resources