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RMSEL Birds: A Neighborhood Guide

School: Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning

City/State: Denver, CO

Grade(s): 1

Format(s): Field guide: Natural science

Subject(s): English Language Arts, Science and Technology, Visual Arts

Project Overview

This field guide was created by 1st grade students at the Rocky Mountain School of Expeditionary Learning in Denver, Colorado as part of a learning expedition on birds.

Through fieldwork and text-based research, students learned about birds local to their school community.

Students wrote a tremendous amount of thoughtful text describing the size and appearance, voice and plumage, diet and body, and habitat and nesting of each bird. The students handwritten entries are included in the book – it is not typed – and the amount of text is uncommon for first grade students.

Notable in this field guide is the voice and perspective of the young scientists/authors, who give accurate information framed always in language and comparisons that would make sense to first graders.  For example, when describing the size of birds, measurements are given in relation to students’ own bodies. On page 3 a student says, “A downy woodpecker is 14-17 centimeters long. It is longer than my elbow to my wrist. It is shorter than my boot.”

Instead of using standard taxonomy, students developed their own way of categorizing birds. They chose the feet of birds and the different ways birds rely on their feet as the basis of their original taxonomy. Their innovative taxonomical categories include: climbing feet, killing feet, perching feet, scratching feet, swimming feet and wading feet. The categories created by the students are similar to typical general categories used by adults (i.e. birds of prey, shore birds, etc.), but also show fresh scientific thinking.

The students’ field guide was hand written and illustrated. The original dimensions of the field guide were 8 ½ by 7 inches. The binding was hand-sewn by students.

How This Project Can Be Useful

  • Extensive writing by first grade students – what might typically be expected by 4th graders; shows the untapped capacity of younger students
  • Charming student voice and personal style joined to an accurate field guide
  • Models scientific thinking in the original taxonomy of the book and the first-hand comparisons of bird bodies to the author’s bodies
  • Shows the power of hand-written text by young students – engages the reader in a different way
  • Sophistication varies page by page with student abilities, yet all the work is done with real care; it is clear that work went through multiple drafts and revisions
  • Highlights a format in which the work of each student can be individually assessed
  • The small size of the field guide makes is appealing
  • Includes a student-written glossary

Common Core State Standards

Standard Long Term Learning Target
  • With support from adults, I can revise my writing by adding details.
  • I can participate in shared research projects.
  • With support from adults, I can answer questions about things I’ve done or learned about.
  • I can write an informative/explanatory text.
  • With support from adults, I can produce writing that is appropriate to task and purpose.
  • I can use grammar conventions to send a clear message to a reader or listener.
  • I can use grammar conventions to send a clear message to a reader.
  • I can speak using words I hear in books.
  • I can accurately use 3rd grade academic vocabulary to express my ideas.
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