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Students' Interest in Nature Takes Flight

At Walnut Avenue School, Judy Grogan’s second-grade students are becoming ace birdwatchers and enthusiastic observers of the natural world with help of educational tools funded by a CFEE grant.

The grant funded binoculars, child-friendly bird guides, and new bird feeders for the school’s garden just outside the classroom window, enabling more detailed study of the birds and helping the students build their vocabulary for describing them.


“They used to say in the beginning of the year, those are ‘regular’ birds, or ‘plain’ birds. Now they know that there’s actually so many different names,” Grogan said.


The students hone their knowledge of bird species through in-class exercises and presentations. And they contribute their observations to Project FeederWatch, a nationwide effort by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to track bird populations and the movement of species throughout the winter months.


They regularly see at least 15 types of birds outside the classroom in the school’s garden, and the students excitedly talk about them together.


“They’re observing and discriminating between similar things and asking, ‘How can I tell them apart,’ which actually comes up a lot,” Grogan said. “It gets them reading the books about the birds, then they want to look at the guides. They want to learn more and more. They feel good—‘Look at all these species that I can identity myself.’”


On a test, 86 percent of her students could identify 12 or more bird species, whereas none of them could do that on a test taken before the grant kicked in.


“It’s just good to see them learning to look closely at nature,” Grogan said. “It gets them to be more observant in general of nature.”


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