Immersing yourself in Oregon's natural landscapes is an epic way to observe nature, but it's not the only way. For our own safety and the safety of the most vulnerable in our population, many of us are spending all or nearly all of our time indoors. Though it can be easy to disconnect from nature in these circumstances, we encourage you and your children/students to use this as an opportunity to notice the little ways that nature colors our lives as we look out our windows, walk our dog around the block, or watch a spider scamper across the ceiling.
The BEETLES Project at the Lawrence Hall of Science uses "I Notice, I Wonder, It Reminds Me Of" prompts to support exploration of outdoor areas. We recommend that you read the whole lesson if you are a teacher or outdoor educator planning to lead students in nature observations, but here are some main ideas and questions to give you an overview of the approach.
You can use this three-step process to guide all sorts of interactions with the natural world. It's great for walks in the woods or desert, but it also works for watching out the windows as trees turn green in the spring, birds land on power lines, or clouds blow past. If you take the time to support students in learning this approach, you will be able to rely on it time and time again in future activities.
Compare two areas with different biodiversity. Here are some examples of areas you might compare, either by visiting them if it is safe to do so, or by looking out a window:
Compare and contrast the biodiversity in each area. Here are some options for how you might make these comparisons. Choose whichever option you prefer, or design your own method for recording what lives in each area.
Here are some questions to think about (and write about in your journal, if you want):
Scientists who study weather and predict weather changes are called meteorologists. Meteorologists use a variety of tools to help them understand weather changes. Make your own weather station to observe temperature, air pressure, wind speed, and rainfall!
Consideration: Rubbing alcohol (optional) should only be used with adult supervision.
Make your own cloud: Have you ever wondered how clouds form? There are several types of clouds, but they all have something in common: they are made of water. You can use household materials to make your own cloud in a jar.
Consideration: In this activity you will need a half cup of very hot water. Please handle with caution with an adult’s help.
GLOBE Observer: Your observations can help scientists track changes in clouds in support of climate research! To participate, just download the app, go outside and follow the prompts in the app to observe your environment. Photograph clouds, record sky observations and compare them with NASA satellite images to help scientists understand the sky from above and below.
Consideration: GLOBE Observer requires access to a smart phone and ability to download an app.
Let’s experiment with different surfaces to see how they affect water flow!
Want to try and build your own watershed model? You can build a model inside or outside!
Who doesn’t like getting their hands a little dirty? Explore differences in soil types and composition in this neat and simple Soil Stories activity.
Want to do more soil experiments with the soil in your yard or nearby open space?
For the soil erosion demonstration, you will need three plastic bottles. Please enlist the help of an adult in setting up the structure for the soil erosion activity and use care when cutting bottles.
For the soil texture analysis, you will need a mason jar or plastic jar with a lid.
How to observe arthropods:
Arthropod behavior (making an ethogram):
If we take the time to really watch the arthropods around us, we can start to notice lots of interesting behaviors. An ethogram is a record of animal behaviors. Find a live arthropod to observe and use this ethogram sheet to record what the arthropod is doing. Or, you could make a similar sheet in your journal!
Variation 1: Are you able to observe an area where many arthropods are visiting, like a plant with flowers on it? Instead of making repeated observations of a single arthropod, make repeated tallies of the arthropods you see. For example, every fifteen seconds, count how many bees, how many spiders, and how many ants you see.
Variation 2: If you can’t view a live arthropod’s behavior, observe a video of an arthropod. To keep your focus on the arthropod, turn off the sound if there is any narration or music playing in the video. Here are two videos to try:
While most pollinators, such as bumble bees, mason bees, and honey bees are docile, it is important to be careful and give them space when observing them as they pollinate flowers. People with allergies to bees and pollen should take particular care.
Build a Mason Bee Home
When people think of bees, they often think of honey bees. Did you know there are approximately 500 species of bees living in Oregon? You can follow these instructions to build bee habitat to encourage them to pollinate the plants in your neighborhood!
For more information about Mason bees and keeping them, check out:
Pollinators are everywhere in spring, but they keep moving! Finding them means you have to look closely and pay attention. If you have access to a yard, a window, a patio, or balcony, watch for flies, moths, bees, small birds, or other possible pollinators. Observe any activity you see, especially if there are flowering plants in sight. If you can get close to the flowers, look closely - you’ll probably see some pollinators!
Oregon has an active statewide community of bee enthusiasts. Check out the Oregon Bee Project for information about garden plants that attract bees, field guides to identify different species of bees, and an ongoing project to map the bee species people see around the state.
Go on a flower search.
Dissect a flower.
Considerations: Flower dissection requires scissors or a knife/scalpel. An adult should supervise.
Make a pollen trap.
Drawing and observing a tree in detail is a great way to learn more about trees, their parts, and their important role in the ecosystem. You can observe trees in detail even from your window! In The Closer You Look (en español), students will draw and write from memory about a tree, then head outside or to a nearby window to closely observe all the parts of a tree to see how much more they learn when looking closely.
The Closer You Look - Compare your ‘from memory’ tree to the real thing!
En español: Cuanto más cerca lo veas, mejor
Creating a bird feeder and placing it outside is a great way to attract birds that you can observe closely, even through your window! If you have a yard, the feeder can be away from the house, or some feeders can even be under the roof overhang or on a window sill. The following links contain several different plans to build bird feeders, from recycled everyday materials, or more involved plans if you have tools and wood to use. Other links have ideas for things you might have in the house that birds would eat.
Simple Bird Feeder Plans:
Bird Food Ideas: