Third Grade Nature Detectives

ACES Staff

March 26, 2013

Third Grade Nature Detectives

In environmental education class Aspen Elementary School (AES) third grade students have been learning about what it takes to be a naturalist detective in the winter. Ask any AES 9 year old, and they’ll tell you that you can look for animal clues in the snow to help create a story of who has been out and about. Nibbled pinecones mean a pine squirrel has been chomping away in the trees up above. Scat along the trail means a coyote has been trotting around looking for dinner. Long rubbings on aspen trees mean elk have been busy scratching their teeth to consume the bark. Large bird nests mean the magpies have been winterizing their homes. One of the best ways to figure out “what’s happened here” is by looking at animal tracks. “Perfect steppers, “ “hoppers,” “bounders”, and “waddlers,” – did you know that these patterns are the way we categorize how animals move? These days AES third-graders are experts on animal tracking patterns.

 Turkey, Coyote and Pine Squirrel Tracks    Beaver tracks heading into the water

Outside of the environmental ed classroom at the elementary school, AES students have had the opportunity to come to Hallam Lake to practice their detective skills. One-half of their field program is spent making tracking cards with the prints and patterns of the four animal movements. These include the perfect steppers (elk, deer, coyote, fox, people and several others), hoppers (snowshoe hares, pine squirrels, and mice), bounders (weasel and pine marten), and waddlers (porcupine, beaver, and raccoon). Their new tracking cards help the students in the second portion of their field trip as they adventure out into the snow to track animals around the preserve. 

 Exploring the Hallam Lake Nature Preserve

While stealthily walking around Hallam Lake, students look for behavioral animal clues and for their tracks. Using the “four P’s” of tracking (print, pattern, place, and pressure), these students solve many mysteries in the snow. So far this year the visiting third graders have identified the tracks of a wild turkey, geese, ducks, deer, elk, coyote, fox, pine squirrel, magpies, and many others, all at Hallam Lake!

We hope that these students are as excited about tracking as we are and will be eager to show you the tracks and signs of animals in your backyard or out on the slopes! 

~ Betsy DeFries, ACES Educator at Hallam Lake


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