No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard

No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard

by Jane Kirkland, Dorothy Burke, Guy Kirkland

View All Available Formats & Editions

The essential educator’s guide to helping students discover, observe, and record nature in their schoolyard—urban, suburban, or rural—this book outlines a class, grade, or school-wide project connecting history, language arts, art, and technology. This is a complete source for place, project, and standards-based nature studies conducted under


The essential educator’s guide to helping students discover, observe, and record nature in their schoolyard—urban, suburban, or rural—this book outlines a class, grade, or school-wide project connecting history, language arts, art, and technology. This is a complete source for place, project, and standards-based nature studies conducted under current conditions of any schoolyard, with no need for a special outdoor classroom. Included are case studies, stories, instructions, and resources for getting kids into the outdoors.

Editorial Reviews

National Science Teachers Association
A worthwhile investment for the elementary/middle school science classroom.
Connect Magazine for Teachers
Highly adaptable to different regions and ages, this is an outstanding resource filled with excellent activities, resources, and information. Very detailed, it includes excerpts from teachers and experts. This guide is worth every penny!
From the Publisher

“Now Jane Kirkland extends her reach by helping educators to guide their students in the exploration and study of the plants and animals of their schoolyards. There is no greater investment we can make in our natural world than to plant the seed of knowledge.”  —David Mizejewski, naturalist, National Wildlife Federation, and television host, Animal Planet

“Highly adaptable to different regions and ages, this is an outstanding resource filled with excellent activities, resources, and information. Very detailed, it includes excerpts from teachers and experts. This guide is worth every penny!”  —Connect magazine

“This is the most comprehensive ‘creating a field guide’ book I've discovered. If you're an educator that wants to do this, but has any fear or reservation about how it's done, this is the book for you.”  —Tim Manger, founder, Green Sugar Press

Product Details

Stillwater Publishing
Publication date:
Take a Walk series
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 11.00(h) x 0.50(d)

Read an Excerpt

No Student Left Indoors

Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard

By Jane Kirkland, Dorothy Burke, Guy Kirkland, Melanie Palaisa

Stillwater Publishing

Copyright © 2011 Stillwater Publishing
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-9837671-1-4


What is a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard?

In This Chapter

What is a Field Guide Project? How Long Will it Take? What Skills Do You Need?

Who Will Participate?

What Materials Do You Need?

Which Disciplines are Involved?

What about Multiple Intelligences?

What Defines Nature?

What If You Have No Nature?

How Much Work Is This — Really?

A field guide to your schoolyard is a species account, a catalog of the animals and/or plants found in your schoolyard. Which plants and animals, how much information your guide contains about each, and who contributes to the guide are up to you.

Your field guide can be a small book about the birds in your schoolyard, created by a single class. Alternatively, it can be a comprehensive study and complete inventory to which the entire student body contributes over the course of the school year — or a living document that expands every year. Big or small, your field guide is what you need and want it to be to help you engage your students in an exciting and challenging environmental education experience.

Worth Repeating

They took all the trees and put them in a tree museum.
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em.
Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone?
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

From Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell

What is a Field Guide Project (FGP)?

In order to create a field guide to your schoolyard, you must first explore, observe, collect data, conduct research, and write about the plants and animals in your schoolyard. The entire process — from your first schoolyard observation to the creation of the last page of your field guide book — is what I call the Field Guide Project, or FGP.

A Field Guide Project is divided into three parts: planning; observation and data collection; and book creation. Here is a summary of those parts, or steps:

1. Planning. Here you decide who will participate in the field guide project and what information you'll gather for your book content. You'll also plan where, when, and how the observations, study, and research will take place and for what period of time. You'll determine some of the content of your field guide book and prepare a budget for your project.

2. Observation and data collection. This is when the project comes to life for your students. They'll explore your schoolyard and, with your guidance, they'll find, observe, and identify species of plants and animals. They'll take field notes and compile their findings. Every plant and animal found in the boundaries of your schoolyard and every bird flying overhead is a potential subject for your field guide. Your subject list can grow with every type of habitat or landscaping you find in your schoolyard, and with every season you observe and investigate.

3. Book creation. When your observation and data collection period is complete, you're ready to create the final book. Field guides can be hand written and created on construction paper stitched together, or created on a PC. You can include nonfiction book elements such as captions, a table of contents, an index, a list of contributors, and so forth.

Meet Don Jenny

I recently read an article in the Allentown, PA, Morning Call newspaper about Don Jenny, a school Maintenance Director at the Bethlehem Area Vocational Technical School in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Jenny, as a result of his nature observations, has made a difference in the lives of hundreds of students. He noticed that hawks found the rabbits on the school property as easy prey because there was no place for the rabbits to find cover. He stopped cutting a 2 acre area of the property so the rabbits could hide in the grass. As a result, he essentially created a new habitat, which bloomed with wildflowers and teemed with insects. The insects attracted birds, the grass provided cover for wildlife, and Jenny approached the staff suggesting the area become an outdoor classroom. With staff help and grant money, the school is now turning the plot into an outdoor classroom. Perhaps you have a Don Jenny among your staff or faculty.

Each step of the FGP is covered in detail in the following chapters of this book: Chapter Two, Planning your FGP,Chapter Three, Observation and Data Collection and Chapter Four, Creating Your Book.

How Long Will It Take?

Your field guide can be a one-day project, a semester-long project, a year-long project, or a multi-year project. You can schedule schoolyard observations weekly, biweekly, or monthly. The more time you invest, the more opportunities you present for students to learn and participate.

The time you need is a direct correlation to the time you can invest. But even a one-day project should be revisited once a season. As birds and other animals move and migrate, as plants blossom and trees drop their leaves, your students will have the opportunity to experience seasonal changes.

What Skills Do You Need?

You won't need special skills for this project — but you might need to know how to choose and use binoculars and field guides (see Chapter Three, Observation and Data Collection) before you begin your project. If you're concerned because you don't have a science background, view the FGP as an opportunity to learn alongside your students. Your role in a field guide project is to motivate, plan, coordinate, and support your students — skills you've already mastered.

If you just can't get comfortable with the thought of teaching about nature, consider taking a naturalist-led nature or bird walk or two. Most local watershed organizations, Audubon chapters, birding, wildflower, and butterfly clubs hold regularly scheduled public walks. Many are free, and those that charge usually ask only a nominal fee. You can learn a lot during these walks. Most of the people who lead nature walks for nonprofit organizations are volunteers or get paid little for their services. They are people who do what they do out of love for nature — enthusiastic people who love their work and who will put you at ease with nature exploration.

Who Will Participate?

The FGP can be a class project, a project for an entire grade, or a project for the entire student body. During your planning stage you'll determine who will contribute what to your project. Those participants might include any or all of the following:

Students. Assignments can be made by grade or by task. You might have a group of illustrators, writers, researchers, and so forth. Lower grades can focus more in illustrations than extensive writing. Upper elementary, middle, and high school grades can create a more comprehensive guide with room for teams of writers, editors, researchers, fact checkers, photographers, illustrators, graphic artists, designers, cover designer, and indexers. In many ways creating a field guide to your schoolyard is similar to creating a yearbook. Consider consulting with your yearbook committee or school newspaper staff to solicit their input to your project. Why reinvent the process if someone in your school is already producing books?

Faculty and staff. Don't keep the field guide project to a single class — invite other teachers and their classes — at the very least, those at your grade level. Heck, invite the entire staff to participate: perhaps the school nurse can help students make posters about nature observation safety — with drawings and descriptions of poison ivy, how to avoid bee stings, and how to stay safe while exploring the outdoors. The librarian could help with research and book design. The rest of the staff could post their schoolyard bird sightings in a central location for everyone to see.

Parents, families and community members. Invite parents to observe the schoolyard and take notes for a few minutes after they drop off their children, or in the afternoon after school closes. Ask if families can observe during holidays and school breaks, or over the summer. If you plan to include a history page in your field guide, consult with parents, grandparents, and older community residents to help. Another good source for historical information is your local historical society, librarians and newspaper reporters. They might even contribute a story about a personal experience with nature or about a memory of your school property — perhaps from a time before the school was built. A bonus of community involvement is that it can nurture a stronger sense of place and a sense of pride for your students.


Consider creating a multilingual field guide to your schoolyard. Multi-lingual guides can benefit your ESL students and their families and help bridge language gaps in the classroom. Did someone say, "las plumas del pájaro de bebé están borrosas"? I sure hope this translates to "the feathers of the baby bird are fuzzy" or I might be in trouble here!

Worth Repeating

Include administrators (principals, supervisors, board of education members, etc.) in your field guide project because their inclusion can lend immediate perceived value to the project. Administrative support can help carry the project from year-to-year. Don't keep an important project like this within the walls of one classroom.

Christine Raabe Education Outreach Specialist Ocean County Soil Conservation District Forked River, NJ

In the end, you will determine who will participate in and contribute to your FGP: a group, club, single class, single grade, the entire student body, and/or community members and businesses. Keep in mind that as you invite faculty and administrators to participate, you're helping to secure the future (and hopefully the funding) of your project.

What Materials Do You Need?

You already have many of the tools you'll need for a field guide project. The obvious ones are: drawing and painting implements, paper, and art supplies. But at a minimum you'll also need binoculars and field guides.

Binoculars. You'll need at least one pair. Two pair are better. One pair for every two-to-four students is best. You'll need to know how to use binoculars properly. Learn about buying and using binoculars in Chapter Three, Observation and Data Collection.

Field Guides. You need field guides to identify the plants and animals you find in your schoolyard. I recommend at least one field guide for each group of plants or animals you plan to include in your guide: trees, butterflies, birds, insects, and so forth. Field guides are for the field, not just the bookshelf. Your library might have field guides but you'll need a set dedicated to your project — available and accessible when and where the students need them. It's important to select the appropriate field guide for your students. You'll learn how to choose and use field guides in Chapter Three, Observation and Data Collection.

If you have the money, there's a plethora of tools to help with your project. You might want binders for data collection, weather instruments, journals, a digital camera, a scanner, photo correction software, and clipboards. But the operative word here is want; you don't need those things for your FGP.

As you consider tools and materials for your project, avoid items that encourage children to pick or collect living plants and animals. Read more about materials in Chapter Two, Planning Your Field Guide Project.

Which Disciplines Are Involved?

Like nature itself, the FGP is multidisciplinary. Figure 1.1 illustrates the disciplines interconnected in a Field Guide Project. A large part of your FGP is data collection through nature journaling and field notes which is also multidisciplinary as shown in Figure 1.2 on page 6. Here are some ways in which the FGP incorporates multiple disciplines:

Science, environment and ecology. Science is the basis of the FGP. Your students learn to think like scientists, act like scientists, and write like scientists. This is a great project to teach students species categorization and classification, adaptations, life cycles, habitats, ecosystems, watersheds, and the impact of humans on our environment.

Language arts, reading and writing. The FGP is a reading and writing workshop: students research and write about the species they discover. They learn new scientific terms, scientific names, how to write for their intended audience, and how to use nonfiction elements, or signposts.

Creative arts. Art plays a critical role in your FGP, whether your field guide contains illustrations, photographs, or both. Students will also design the layout and cover for your book.

Math. Counting and totaling species, mapping, measurements, statistics, charts, and graphs are just a few examples of the role math plays in the FGP.

Technology. Technology plays an optional role in your field guide. This is the perfect project for teaching students how to use their computers for research. Older students can learn how to use software such as desktop publishing, word processing, graphics, or digital photography programs as they design, lay out and construct the field guide. You might even want to create a database or spreadsheet to record your statistics.

Civics and social studies. There's a place for history in the FGP. Consider a chapter in your field guide about the natural history of the school property, how the schoolyard works (or doesn't) as a wildlife habitat, or even how the schoolyard can be improved. Community involvement and current events have optional roles in your field guide, too. If your school is newly constructed, consider a research project and chapter about how the construction impacted the environment and the community.

The FGP by Task

Assign FGP task groups for middle and high school students. Example groups are research, content writer, copy and technical editor, illustrator, photography, design and layout teams.

The Field Guide Project also lends itself to the integration of numerous educational strategies, theories, and techniques including, but not limited to:

Character building, values, and ethics. Students learn about environmental ethics, respect, kindness, and caring for the environment. They will witness the effects of human impact on our natural world.

Collaborative and cooperative learning. The FGP is a team project requiring students to collaborate and cooperate.

Community and place-based learning. The FGP has real-world context, linking the classroom to the community and environment.

Constructivism. Students gain knowledge through exploration and active learning in the schoolyard.

Curriculum integration, multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teaching. Environmental topics are interdisciplinary by nature. Content for the field guide is drawn from many subject areas; science, math, social studies, language arts, creative arts, and technology.

Direct instructions. The FGP provides opportunities for structured overview, lecture, and explicit teaching. Topics include science, the environment, ecology, social studies, current events, reading, writing, and research workshops.

Experiential learning. The Field Guide Project provides numerous hands-on learning opportunities through exploration and discovery.

Independent study. Autonomous writing in journals, computer-based research, and assigned questions can all be a part of the field guide project.

Indirect instructions. Research involved in the field guide project is a perfect example of reading for meaning, and the field guide itself is an exercise in writing to inform.

Interactive Instruction. The field guide project offers almost endless opportunities for stimulating debate and brainstorming, discussions, and cooperative learning across the curriculum. Students can be involved in discussions about the field guide content, research, development, and creation, while learning about the implications of those decisions.

Problem-based learning and critical thinking. A FGP is hands-on learning through inquiry and investigation. It offers opportunities for critical thinking, problem solving, and effective decision-making.


Excerpted from No Student Left Indoors by Jane Kirkland, Dorothy Burke, Guy Kirkland, Melanie Palaisa. Copyright © 2011 Stillwater Publishing. Excerpted by permission of Stillwater Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Jane Kirkland is the author of more than 50 books, including the award-winning Take a Walk® series. She is also a naturalist, a photographer, and a motivational speaker who visits schools, conducts workshops, and presents at conferences. She has appeared on Animal Planet TV, NPR, and PBS, and in such magazines as Family Circle, Green Teacher, Parenting, Parents, and Redbook. She lives in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >