Learning Module

Ecosystem Observer

As Ecosystem Observers, students build curiosity and connections to local outdoor spaces and learn to make scientific observations. Through their practice, they deepen their background knowledge on an ecological topic, collect observations in the field, and generate questions and hypotheses. Students choose a Nature Note format that they want to create to share their findings with others. Written Nature Notes can be submitted to GMRI’s Findings from the Field.

Otisfield Elementary student April 2020

Learning Outcomes

Through Ecosystem Observer, students will be able to...

  • Make detailed observations of the natural world
  • Develop background knowledge that is relevant to their observations
  • Develop a tentative explanation or define a question related to an observation that is rooted in background knowledge
  • Communicate their findings

Time Estimate
11 to 15 class periods


Learning Space

Ecosystem Observer supports students in making detailed observations that may be submitted as Nature Notes. You can find great examples of Nature Notes generated using this resource in the current volume of Findings from the Field.

Ecosystem Observer was designed at the start of the 20-21 school year. Check out the Nature Note module for more detailed lessons and rubrics designed for facilitated in-person instruction.

Step 1: Recognize your Ecosystem Observer Strengths

This step is designed to introduce students to the idea of scientific observation and get them to think about what they bring to their role as an ecosystem observer.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 2: Find an Observation Spot

In this step, students get outside, begin to connect to their local environment, and use their senses to look closely.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 3: Choose a Topic for Further Investigation

Students choose local ecology topics, drawing from their observations and interests.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 4: Build Background Knowledge

Students build background knowledge related to their chosen topic that will give context to their observations and help focus their attention for future field site visits.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 5: Make your Observation Plan

Based on what they have learned and the observing students have already done, students will develop a plan for getting out and collecting their ecosystem observations.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 6: Collect your Observations

Students get out to those observation spots, look closely, and record what they notice. Ideally, they will be able to conduct more than one observation.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 7: Put it All Together

In Step 7, students pull together their observations and background knowledge, sharing how relevant background knowledge helps them come up with possible explanations and pose questions about what they observed.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 8: Choose how to share your observations

Students choose how they will communicate their findings, choosing from a variety of formats to create their "Nature Note". Written Nature Notes may be submitted to Findings from the Field.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 9: Organize your Thinking

Step 9 leads students through planning how they will communicate their detailed observations in their Nature Note, regardless of the format they choose, making sure that students are connecting what they noticed to background knowledge to support their questions or ideas.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 10: Create your Nature Note

Students develop their Nature Note, using a checklist with the essential elements to guide them. This checklist corresponds to the rubric used for submissions to Findings from the Field.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 11: Review your Nature Note

Students use the checklist from Step 10 to review their own or a peer's work and then revise based on the feedback.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages

Step 12: Share your Work and Next Steps

Choose how students will communicate their observations and ideas with an authentic audience. Suggestions for this include and are not limited to submitting Nature Notes to Findings from the Field.

Teacher Guide | Student Pages