Learning by Looking Closely at the Natural World

To Look Closely: Science and Literacy in the Natural World
By Laurie Rubin
(Stenhouse, 2013 – Learn more)

buzzell r to look closelyReviewed by Rebecca Buzzell

Laurie Rubin draws you into the world of her young students as they explore the world outside their classroom through observation, journaling, poetry and discussion. Although Rubin taught first and second grade students, there are many ideas in To Look Closely that any K-8 teacher can adapt and use.

Rubin gives advice for how to start nature study with your students, and takes you through a 3-season exploration of the natural area behind her school. She also shares the outdoor classroom through the eyes of her students – bring to light the natural curiosity and love of learning that young children all possess. Rubin includes some excellent websites to explore as you launch your own outdoor learning experience for your students.

to-look-closelyClear steps and exemplars

This book is perfect for new teachers, as it outlines the learning process and also shows exemplars of student work. Rubin shares what works as well as what didn’t work so well – and what she learned from the unsuccessful experiences.

Rubin celebrates her students and looks for those teachable moments that occur when things don’t go exactly as planned. For example, Rubin recognizes her students for discovering “moments of science,” which are duly recorded on a chart in the classroom. She recalls a little girl’s tearful declaration – on the last day of school as the buses are pulling up at the end of the day – of not having a moment of science of her own. Rubin asks her to email any moment of science that she finds during vacation – and in doing so, discovers a powerful way to extend her students’ connections to nature and learning in their own yards.

Rubin will inspire experienced teachers, as well; especially if the outdoor classroom is something that you’ve been thinking about but have never tried. In my own case, I felt validated by reading Rubin’s book, as I love taking my students outdoors – whether for exploration of the vernal pools and woods around my school or to simply sit outside to do some reflective journaling with my writing students. 

A 7th grade story

One of my favorite outdoor experiences was taking a group of 7th graders out to the back soccer field to do some spring nature journal writing. As I reminded the kids to be quiet so we wouldn’t scare all the wildlife away, some of the kids were rolling their eyes and snickering. After all, what on earth would we possibly see on the soccer field? Duh, Mrs. Buzzell… 

As we entered the field, a frantic peeping horde of grey and brown baby wild turkeys scattered in every direction! We all froze and crouched down, as the harried mother bird called to round up her bewildered, flappy balls of fluff. The students were engaged and excited – as much as you would expect younger students to be. After that, my students utilized their best stealthy “spy-mode” walk to enter the field. Over the years, we’ve discovered turkeys, turtles, frogs, toads, dragonflies, snow fleas, and small invertebrates that we scooped (temporarily) from the vernal pools. 

As students increasingly plug in to smartphones and tablets, it is more important than ever to expose them to the outside world. If you aren’t sure how, then get your own copy of Laurie Rubin’s To Look Closely and begin your journey today. Your students across the grade levels will thank you for it! 

Rebecca Buzzell is a 7th grade science and language arts teacher at the Nottingham Elementary School in Nottingham, NH.  She is a graduate of Plymouth State University and a member of Phi Kappa Phi honor society.  Rebecca has two blogs she maintains for her students: Mrs. Buzzell’s Science Spot – where students can view videos, read current events and learn more about current areas of study; and BuzzWriters – with grammar tips, author interviews, book news and other literature-related information relative to middle school students.


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