Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Classroom Projects -- Part One
Nature Bulletin No. 609  September 17, 1960
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Daniel Ryan, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

The essence, the fundamental purpose, of the outdoor education program conducted by our department is stated briefly in the introductory words of a book -- Natural Science Through the Seasons, by J. A. Partridge -- which we use and recommend for teachers: "To initiate children into the romance and wonder of science, and to enhance their natural desire to get to know the world around them and find an explanation of its phenomena.

In this bulletin are a few examples of many projects that appeal to younsters and have proven successful in giving pupils more insight into their surroundings, including the flora and fauna, than can be obtained solely from books. These brief outlines are offered as starting points in areas of exploration and study. They may be supplemented by use of our nature bulletins, Partridge's book, the Golden Nature Guides, and publications by agencies such as the Illinois State Museum and the Illinois Office of Public Instruction.

(1) TREE MAP-- Make a map of one block on a suitable street, locating the trees in the parkway on one side (and on the private property if desired). Number them consecutively, identify, measure their breast high (4-1/2 ft. ) diameters, and collect leaf samples. Learn commercial uses if any. Study shape, branching, twigs, leaves, flowers, seeds, and bark. Make classroom tours regularly to record comparative seasonal changes.

Caution: Do not discourage anyone by stressing ability to identify. It is sufficient to recognize a bur oak as "the one with very rough bark, gnarly branches, and hard strong wood". Eventually they should learn to distinguish oaks from maples, elms, cottonwoods, etc., and tell why.

(2) TREE DIARY -- We have a bulletin (No. 406) on this project. The entire class may "adopt" a tree but competitive interest is increased if each of two or more groups adopts a different tree and keeps a diary of what happens: when it blooms, puts on leaves, bears seeds, and loses its seeds; what birds visit or nest in it and what insects when the leaves change color in autumn and when it becomes bare; broken branches or other accidents to it; how much its girth increases. Its twig characteristics, including the leaf scars and the buds may be studied; the kind or kinds and color of its flowers; the shape and sizes of its leaves; its value to people; everything about it.

(3) ONE SMALL WORLD - Select a small area, perhaps 3 ft. by 3 ft., in a place not likely to be disturbed and preferably one with various plants. If some are unknown to you, collect and press samples from nearby areas. The naturalists at our nature centers or general headquarters will identify them. Keep watch for blooming and seeding dates, and emergence of new plants. Collect specimens of insects that visit it. Dig a hole nearby and measure the depth of humus (if any), topsoil (what color), sand (if any), and how far it is to the mineral subsoil such as clay. Also on a nearby similar spot, conduct the next experiment (4).

(4) LIFE IN THE SOIL -- Mark a 12" x 12'1 square of ground. Carefully skin off the grass and other plants Remove the top one-inch layer of soil and place in a receptacle or on a newspaper. Do likewise with successive one-inch layers (6 or more). Assign 6 or 8 pupils to each layer to crumble and pick it apart (or screen it) to find and count every kind of animal life: ants, beetles, eggs, larvae, pupae, sow bugs, spiders, worms, millipedes, thrips, etc. Tabulate. Total. Multiply by the number of square feet in an acre or in a standard vacant lot. This can be done on various types of areas: vacant lot, old field, woodland, etc.

Additional projects will be outlined in Part Two, our next bulletin.

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