3rd Grade Naturalists Take on the World

ACES Staff

November 13, 2014

3rd Grade Naturalists Take on the World

What is a Naturalist? ACES Educators posed this question to 3rd graders at Aspen Elementary School (AES) early in the school year. Bursting with summer enthusiasm, the classes brainstormed: A Naturalist is someone who uses all of their senses to explore the outdoors; who employs scientific tools like binoculars and field guides; who cares about nature; who sleeps outside; who ventures out, well prepared, in all sorts of weather; who records what they observe; someone who loves to learn about the natural world, and who shares their knowledge and discoveries with other people.

Naturalists are also notorious for seeking out connections between the sciences, the humanities, and the places they’re familiar with. In 3rd grade ACES Ed classes at Aspen Elementary School we’re focusing on these inter-disciplinary connections. The school year will take students on a journey through geologic cycles and the components of the Earth, in a unit that covers the 3rd grade Colorado State Standards for Earth Science. Next, 3rd graders will venture into the snow to identify signs of animals in winter, and create their own tracking guides for local wildlife.  Following this unit, they will apply their study of states of matter – a Physical Science Standard for 3rd grade – to the way that water is distributed on our planet and recycled through evaporation, condensation, precipitation, percolation, and runoff. Finally, as they learn about wetland ecology, they will search for macroinvertebrate nymphs in Hallam Lake and use their findings as evidence to estimate pollution levels. The Colorado Life Science Standard for 3rd grade covered by this unit addresses the variation of life cycles across organisms and species. However, the ACES Ed wetlands curriculum takes the standard further, connecting to larger concepts of biodiversity, water quality, and the interface between human and natural communities.


Though the 3rd grade ACES Ed curriculum at Aspen Elementary School is guided by state standards, it is inspired by the practice of being a Naturalist. ACES Ed builds the foundation for lifelong learning in the outdoors. Connecting scientific fields, academic disciplines, school classrooms, and natural communities, our curriculum is imbued with a sense of curiosity and exploration appropriate for 8- and 9-year-olds.  

What is a Naturalist? As an ACES Educator at AES, I know I have succeeded if my 3rd graders light up when they hear this question, and respond immediately: That’s me!

~ Denali Barron, ACES Educator