producing an online bilingual field guide that would be continuously updatable.
Mr. Walker and Ms. Rivera began the project by arbitrarily dividing the schoolyard in half. The second graders took the west side, which included the grassy front of the school, a large shade tree, a parking lot, an outside play area, and a swampy woodlot where pools formed in the spring, providing a home for frogs.
The fifth graders took the east side, which abutted a street on one side and a sloping ravine that led down to a muddy, rocky stream.
Although the two classes worked separately, they agreed to follow a common plan: first identifying trees, then shrubs, and then flowers. The two groups met for an afternoon once a month to report to one another what they’d been doing and what they’d found. These monthly “biodiversity conferences” were popular with both classes. Mr. Walker and Ms. Rivera took turns providing snacks for the students, which they called “food for thought.”
In preparation for the monthly meeting, both groups of students organized their ideas for presentation, typically in printed handouts, posters, or pictorial form, and they worked especially hard on communicating their ideas clearly. They developed PowerPoint slides of what they began to call “interim reports,” “update posters,” maps, and sometimes even drawings of the leaves or insects they’d found.
During the first several months, the two classes cataloged trees, shrubs, and flowers. They found that identifying trees was fairly easy, but the students, especially the second graders, had more difficulty identifying shrubs and flowers. Mr. Walker and Ms. Rivera, in private conversations, grappled with whether they should or should not require the students to develop an explicit sampling plan.
They suggested that students be organized in mapping their sections of the yard, providing them with graph paper for a grid, but they did not insist on this (see Figure 2-1 for an example of the initial map). They hoped that the need for a more systematic plan would emerge from the students’ own questions.
In addition to trees and plants, they identified a few different kinds of animals, including two species of squirrels, one species of chipmunk, several species of birds, and many different insects. They borrowed a number of field guides from the local library (Peterson’s Field Guides were the favorite), which they used to identify different plants. Shrubs were difficult to distinguish from small trees, and flowers were hard to identify when they weren’t flowering. These became topics of intense conversation.
As they cataloged plant and animal species, the students faced several challenges. Using field guides as references was sometimes confusing, as the actual plants they found often looked different from the pictures in the guidebook. Mr. Walker and Ms. Rivera used this as an opportunity to steer students toward