Walking with Starfish, Math, and Journals


“From there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere!”  

Dr. Seuss, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish

Summer is one of my favorite times of the year.  I love being outdoors enjoying the sun, the beaches, the forests, city parks, and so on.  I think one of the greatest elements of summer vacation that I enjoy the most is spending time in nature with my 2-year-old and 6-year-old.  We love to explore together in nature alone by looking at the different types of trees, the variety of rock formations, the bubbling of a brook, and listening to the songs of seagulls flying overhead.  When we were walking along the marina the other day looking for starfish, an elderly gentleman commented on how being outdoors was the greatest education.  Thus, we were engaged in experiential learning.  I’m sure John Dewey, David Kolb, and Jean Piaget would be proud of us as we walked, witnessed, and wondered about the world around us.

During our little escapades, I also liked to throw in reading and math skills that my soon-to-be first grader and preschooler should know or review prior to the start of school.  When we saw some sort of sign, I would ask my first grader to read various words, and I would ask my preschooler to identify simple letters.  When we located starfish, I would have my preschooler to count how many he saw, and I would ask my first grader how many more she would need if we wanted to have 20 total.  These are grand moments that both my children adore.  Probably the moments that make me smile even more are when we return home, they ask to practice more math and reading.  I believe in experiential learning, and obviously, the power of movement during the learning process.

These learning and teaching experiences during the summer remind me of similar activities I use in my junior high English classrooms.  One of the activities is what I call Journaling our World.   During this activity, my students and I travel to various parts of our school campus and observe what we see.  For example, we might begin by walking to the library first.  At the library, students would have about five minutes to silently write down and observations that they see such as what types of posters were on the walls, what students and teachers were doing in the library, what sounds they heard, and so on.  After about five minutes, we would travel to a different location on campus.  The goal is to visit about five different places before returning to the classroom to talk about our observations.  The notes and the discussion lead to a journal entry reflecting on the community around them.  This is a wonderful activity to do at the beginning of the school year as students are starting adjust to their new environments.

A similar activity that I do is called a Vocabulary Nature Walk.  During this activity, I lead students to different locations outside of the school buildings.  For example, we might go to the track, the nature trail, or the grassy field.  Prior to this activity, we would have reviewed several vocabulary words from the most recent vocabulary list, so the words are fresh in the minds of the students.  Once outside, students would practice making sentences using the words in relation to the outside environment.  First, students would practice the sentences in their minds before sharing in a Think-Pair-Share walk.  After a few minutes of this activity, we would return to the classroom, where students would write down some of the sentences they heard before sharing them out for the entire class to hear.

Students love to escape the classroom, and I love being outdoors, so these activities are some of my favorite to do.


6 thoughts on “Walking with Starfish, Math, and Journals

  1. Very thought provoking post – I know just how critical it is to get outside w/my 2 and 6 year-old too! I think “education” writ large starts to compartmentalize physical movement as something “separate” in middle school (the end of recess, basically) – but I would argue that high schoolers, collegians, and we adults yearn for (need/require/must have) movement in OUR learning experiences too. Staff meeting? Go on a walkabout. Gather stuff, bring it back. Find places to sit quietly, alone, in teams, as one big circle. Boundaries? The outdoors helps us shed all that. Okay, I’ll be sharing this with my people! Eric

    • I agree that adults need, and are motivated by, movement. I think this is especially important during moments of intense training requiring deep thinking. Thanks for visiting my blog!

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