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Field Trips in Alberta’s Grasslands


It was a beautiful day last Friday and I went for a walk on Calgary’s Nose Hill. I noticed there were several school groups doing their field trips for the year. Late May and early June are very good months for field trips: the weather is usually fine, the students are ready for a break from classroom activities, and it is a great opportunity to collect data from a primary source. When I was a classroom teacher, I used to take field trips to this area myself.

Very recently a biotic geographer mentioned that he had observed over 50 species of flowering plants growing on Nose Hill since he saw the first spring crocuses. I found in my early years of field tripping that I was very tempted to tell my students about every flower, shrub and tree that I knew in hopes that they would be as excited as I was to observe the natural habitat. Alas, I soon realized that after you get past about four or five, the students’ eyes just tended to glaze over. Yes, the keeners were all dutifully making notes, but in general the entire goal of the field trip vanishes if the main take-home lessons are obscured by trivia.

When I was working with my colleague Glenn Doerksen, we developed a way of focusing the students on just a few features of the biome so that when they return from the field trip they are more likely to remember the key points. Yes, the keeners will continue to identify every species possible, but hopefully, all students will return from the field trip with the basic desire to continue learning about our natural environment.

One of the ways I encouraged student observations on a field trip was to have them compare different communities. Nose Hill, like other parts of the grasslands, has a number of coulees which are made up of microclimates that lead to differing communities on their north-facing and south-facing slopes.

Glenn and I simplified our field trip worksheets to focus students on identifying in general the abiotic and biotic factors. As in the example shown, we used a few squares on the field trip worksheet where the student could make notes. As I was reminiscing about field tripping on Nose Hill, I thought that if I were doing this today, I would probably be turning this old worksheet into a phone app. I bet most students carry a device of one sort or another. Why take paper and risk it blowing away in the wind when digital photos or videos could be placed directly into an app or digital document.


If you take up my challenge to create a field trip app, please let me know. I would love to test it out. In the meantime have a great field trip season, summer holidays are not that far away!

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Field Trips in Alberta’s Grasslands

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