The Days They are A-changing:
Learning to be Observers

How do you and the world around you change as your tulips begin to grow and flower? You might be surprised to learn that with each day that passes your world changes ever so slightly. Using your eyes, your ears, and even your sense of touch you can observe and investigate spring as it advances through your hometown. Follow along and make the most of your springtime observations this year.

Being Keen Observers
the relations between climate and periodic biological phenomena (as bird migration or plant flowering)

Credit Gayle Kloewer
Tulips emerging out of the ground might be the first highlight that signals springtime. But, wait, is this true? Whether you are awaiting the emerging of your tulips or already watching them grow out of the garden bed you can begin to open your senses to springtime Phenology.

Asking Questions
Did you ever think that a tulip once securely planted in a cold and frozen winter bed will one day pop out of that soil? What makes that happen? What is going on around the rest of the schoolyard? Are any of these things related?
Take a daily or weekly walk outside and gather information to help you become better observers of spring. As you observe ask yourself some questions: What do you notice about...? How is it different than...? What did you observe that leads you to think...? Good questions can help you to examine real evidence.
Each time you go outside to observe your tulips and other phenology related to spring focus on something special. Take the time to observe closely. Use your journals to record descriptions and pictures. Challenge yourself to make 5 new observations each time.

Brainstorming Lists
Before you go out the first time brainstorm with your class and list all the kinds of observations and measurements you can make to capture the changes in the world around you. Make a chart and post it in the classroom as a reminder throughout the season.
Each time you observe you will notice that things have changed. Watch for changes and think about how they may be related.
Credit Lynn Berens
Redwinged blackbird
Credit Ann Cook

What can your class add to this list of things to observe and measure?

In the Tulip Garden:

  • Soil temperatures
  • Plant height
  • Plant growth rate (measuring the change over time)
  • Plant leaf and stem color
  • Number of leaves
  • Evidence of disease or pests

Around the School Yard:

  • Trees leafing out: measuring leaf size
  • Wildflowers blooming
  • Kinds of birds at the feeders
  • Bird activity
  • Insect activity
  • Playground activities

In My Life:

  • Clothes I wear
  • Activities around the house

The Big Picture:

  • Sunrise and sunset times, daylength
  • Air temperatures, high and low


Try This: Using Your Observations

  1. Create a graph showing daylength as time passes this spring. Add your observations to it on the proper dates and formulate a theory that supports what you see.
  2. Was there a time when it suddenly warmed up enough for you to wear shorts for a few days? What other phenomena did you observe during that time? How are these things related?
  3. Compare and contrast the growth rates of your tulips with any of the other observations you made (ex. number of birds you counted, high daytime temperatures).
  4. Organize your observations into a timeline and evaluate what you see.

Try This: Focusing on the Details
  1. Up-close look
    Closely observe your tulips with just one of your senses and write or draw about it in as much detail as possible. Now add another sense, then another with descriptions. Later discuss how your descriptions got better.
  2. Imagine that you are an insect observing a particular plant or plant part. Visualize how you would see things differently and record your ideas in words.
  3. Use a hand lens to get up-close to a plant and sketch what you see. Try an art lesson: Visit Focusing With O'Keefe on the Detail