Rocuns hav clas and tay halp tam clam. The rocuns coud clam on the trees.
“Raccoons have claws and tail [that] help them climb. The raccoons could climb on the trees.” This is a first grader’s sketch and write done from observation of photographs in science class. Some children spent the bulk of their time adding details to their drawings, which resulted in sparse written descriptions but vivid images that (I feel) show many of the understandings about animal diversity and structural adaptations touched on in the lesson. One of the interesting parts about having to “grade” this work is that literacy and science are assessed within a single rubric, so children whose writing is less developed are penalized even if their scientific understanding is superior.
It seems unfair that drawings are not considered sufficient evidence of learning in science class. It also seems wrong that children who wrote what (to them!) were very obvious statements (“raccoons have tails”) received higher science marks than kids who turned in anatomically precise images showing these very tails in action. Sigh. Sure, drawings may require more interpretation and close observation from the teacher, and I can empathize with the impulse to rely on “writing to prove learning” across the content areas (and with such young children) while continuing to insist that it is misguided. Drawing is a way of seeing, the arts are a valid way of knowing.
Some online resources for science lessons on urban trees:
- Has pictures of tree canopy shapes, branching density, and subspecies lists grouped according to these features.
- The Forestry Images database can be used to search for species images in any size file, can download by batch.
- The Cornell Woody Plants database has brief descriptions of each species as well as images of leaves, fruits, buds, and canopy. The database can also filter using broad categories such as Big Trees in Winter, Plantations Maples & Shrubs, Broad-leaved Evergreens, Native and Invasive Plants, Pines, Spruces and Firs et al., Evergreens with Scales, and Spring Flowering Trees and Shrubs.
- The Central Park Tree “database” is not a real database, but it has brief descriptions of some common trees in the park, small images, and lists the spots where tree species can be seen in the park.
- A PDF fieldguide of Recommended Urban Trees designed to be used on a Cornell campus walk. However it has handy descriptions and interesting commentary on tree species, as well as line drawings of leaves, buds and fruit.
- Project Budbreak uses the power of citizen scientists to gather wide-ranging data about the timing of flower, leaf and fruit development and leaf drop, among other measurements, in common native trees and herbaceous plants in central New York.