Boston educators entered the landscape this past Saturday (March 10) searching for signs of spring, and boy, were there many! Among chirping birds, the red-winged blackbird made an appearance, as did a few woodpeckers. Pairs of red-breasted robins hunted for nesting materials while evading a juvenile red-tailed hawk overhead. 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 mud, alongside wild onion and the emerging tips of irises and cattails. Snowdrops and daffodil greens peppered the ground underneath leafless trees with swollen buds. Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold Promise’, a cultivar of witch-hazel, beckoned all to look closely at its delicate, curly petals. Beside Faxon Pond, teachers were also fascinated with the male catkins of Corylus avellana, the European filbert. Next to these, a few female flowers were beginning to show their fuchsia petals. Yes, spring was everywhere to be found.
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). 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 event on April 7.