Is It Spring Yet?

by Ana Maria Caballero McGuire, Children’s Education Fellow

March 7, 2016

Boston teachers search for signs of spring

Is It Spring Yet?

Smelling skunk cabbage

Boston teachers examine skunk cabbage.

Boston educators went out into the landscape searching for signs of spring this past Saturday, and boy, were there many! Among the chirping birds noticed, the red-winged blackbird made an appearance, as did a very sleepy screech owl in its hole. A pair of possible nesting ducks and geese were also enjoying a leisurely swim. Teachers were fascinated by the large, silvery white catkins of Salix gracilistyla, the Rosegold pussy willow, and even more intrigued by Salix gracilistyla var. melanostachys, the black pussy willow, growing along Meadow Road.  A stomp through the wetland revealed dozens of skunk cabbages, their brownish-purple spathes poking through the muck, alongside wild onion and the emerging tips of irises and cattails.  Snowdrops, crocuses, hyacinths, and daffodil greens peppered the ground underneath leafless trees with swollen buds. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise,’ a cultivar of witch-hazel, beckoned a closer look at its delicate and curly petals.  Yes, spring is everywhere to be found.

Upon returning to the Hunnewell Building lecture hall, teachers engaged in a lively discussion centered on helping students identify testable questions for self-directed investigations. The new Massachusetts Science standards, along with Next Generation Science Standards, require  that students engage in the practices of science. “Effective inquiry-based learning motivates students to ask questions and design scientific investigations related to their own interests and observations,” (Morgan and Hiebert, 2010).

Teachers looking for spring

Searching for signs of spring along Meadow Road.

By starting with an outdoor exploration that raises questions for children to explore, teachers can help students frame testable questions that will lead to meaningful experiments. Younger students learn to identify testable questions from a pair of choices, and can use sentence stems to help frame their own questions. Older students benefit from re-writing untestable questions in an effort to more deeply understand their structure. Repeated experiences with outdoor exploration, asking questions, and discussing possible avenues for experimentation leads to better science learning, and engagement with the practices of scientists.

Join the next Arboretum for Educators on April 2.

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