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Lessons & learnings when taking students on bushwalks

Written by Ben Newsome on February 11th, 2016.      0 comments

Lachlan swamp bushwalk
Lachlan Swamp boardwalk trail in Centennial Parklands

The great outdoors offers so many learning opportunities for students!
Unfortunately for some kids, going on a bush walk with their teacher represents one of the few times in their lives that they have been allowed to head 'into the wild', which means taking them outside your classroom is your chance to inspire them to understand their local environment and to take notice of the world around them. Of course, you need to do your due diligence in respect to student safety but the pros really do outweigh the cons.

The following briefly lists some of the teaching opportunities that you might discover when you head up that mountain trail:

 
  • Look for the little things. You'd be amazed at the amount of biodiversity to be found in leaf litter.Just have the kids wear gloves plus use tweezers and sorting trays. For those looking at relative abundance you could do a comparison between leaf litter found underneath different tree species or between completely different vegetation types. For those wanting a bit more rigor you could bring a quadrat to create discreet sample sizes.

    quadrat on leaf litter
    Quadrat on leaf litter

     
  • Speaking of little things, bring along some ice cube trays, spoons, dipnets and trays and you could spend quite some time sorting through a variety of aquatic organisms. If you have an identification book with you it can very much help with those tricky ID's - we use Williams, W (1980). Australian Freshwater Life - Invertebrates Of Inland Waters. MacMillan Education. We have an awesome time doing this activity when running holiday science programs at Centennial Parklands!

    Water scoops in Centennial Parklands    Sorting aquatic organisms on a tray
    Try scooping amongst the reeds and riparian vegetation for better results.
     
  • Take readings of relative humidity, temperature and more as you ascend a mountain. You'd be amazed how the data points change on given bush walk and it's these physical parameters that help affect plant and animal distributions.

    Hygrometer in a rainforest
    Taking humidity readings in a forest
     
  • Go spotlighting! Keep to a well formed track for safety and bring along a torch to look in the trees for arboreal mammals. Possums are a classic to find in the Australian bush but you might find even more reclusive creatures. This activity can be really engaging for kids but you'll need to highlight the importance of being quiet or most animals will be hidden well before you get to them. If there is a nearby stream in the right area you might be able to look for Platypus too.
     
  • Whilst spotlighting you could also listen for frogs. Bring along a smart device to record the sounds and then work out what you heard back at the classroom. This activity is ideal if you happen to have a naturalist with you, but if you don't there are apps that can help you too (check out the Australian Museum's frog field guide for instance).
     
  • Keeping on the same track as listening for frogs, you could also do the same for bird life. Bring along a pair of binoculars and a copy of local bird identification book to help - we use Knight, F. & Pizzey, G. (2005). The Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Harper Collins.

    Tawny frogmouth
    Tawny frogmouth found in Sydney

     
  • Incorporate some mathematics! For example you could measure the height of trees using a clinometer. Simply squeeze the trigger you get an angle of your eye to the top of the canopy. With a bit of trigonometry you can a relatively accurate idea of the height of your tree stand.

    Measuring heights of trees
    Using a clinometer at Minnamurra rainforest
As you can see there is no shortage of teaching opportunities when taking students out into environment. Start with the end in mind, i.e. what are they going to learn and what data can you use when you get back to class? If you carefully balance the learning opportunities with the simple pleasure of being outdoors your students will appreciate the natural environment more and your future lessons will have much more context.
If you can't get your students out into the wild, we can also visit your school for a lesson in ecology and biodiversity with our primary school incursion program 'little life'.

All the best!


Ben

Ben Newsome
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