What, No Science Lesson?
By Janice Byrne
Years ago, students in rural elementary schools were exposed to very little
scientific inquiry. One may ask why, but the answer is relatively simple.
Because the students were usually farm children, they learned the principles of
biology, meteorology and physics at home. For example, former Pioneer Sholes
School students describe learning about the relationships of weather and crops
from their earliest years, and of helping with planting before they were old
enough to enter school. Others describe how a tire swing taught them about the
period of the pendulum and--a pitchfork, the mechanical advantage of a first
All that has changed today as Illinois becomes increasingly urban and
suburban. Therefore it is important for children attending a day at Sholes
School to experience its rural character. Here are some simple activities
teachers have provided for this purpose:
Illinois Learning Standards: 12 A, 12 B, 12 E, 13 B, 16 E, 17B.
- Have the bus driver drop off the students at the barn so they can see the
rural setting and walk back to school. Ask them observe sights and sounds
enroute. Discuss these-and why the bell is louder outside than inside the
- Take a short field trip--literally into the field surrounding the
schoolyard. If you come early in spring talk about why the field has been
burned. Later, identify native prairie plants found there. Compass plant, Big
Blue Stem, and coneflowers are easily located.
- Watch for wild life. Blue birds occupy the bird houses in spring and
summer; bob-o'links (an Illinois rare species) frequent the pine trees in the
school yard; red tail hawks hunt field mice and rabbits; and deer graze freely
nearby. (Bring field guides.) What do you see? Where? Describe the
identifying characteristics and behaviors.
- Watch the weather. Chart the temperature throughout the day. (Bring your
own thermometers.) How does the temperature change? Why? What other weather
phenomena does the class observe? Is it always windy at Sholes School? Why?
- During the lunch break, hike to one of the other eco-zones to observe
different flora. Discuss how and why the oak grove is different from the
prairie restoration, for example.
- Go across curriculum to discuss how different cultures have utilized
plants and animals found at the forest preserve. For example, Native Americans
processed acorns as a major food source, used moth mullein as a moccasin liner,
and drank an herbal tea made from sumac berries.
- Record observations in the copybook.
Return to the Introduction.