Institute of Human Origins - March 2024


Forums / Life Science / Tree Observations

Life Science

Tree Observations

Author Post
Maria Stickley Maria Stickley 365 Points

In my current elementary education science class, we are keeping records of tree observations. Each student chooses a tree that they observe several times a week, writing down their observations and taking pictures/sketching the tree. I think this is a wonderful activity to have students complete. By asking them to observe a tree multiple times a week, they tend to notice things about the tree that they never would have noticed had they simply walked by it. For example, I chose to observe an oak tree and I look more closely at the color, texture, leaves, surrounding soil, and the creatures that live on/around the tree. This activity can be used for other things as well, such as the moon. By having students keep a record of their observations, they are learning about the subject at a more in depth level, and have a record that they have written that they can go back and look at. We as humans tend to casually glance at the science of earth and space that surrounds us, not even realizing how fascinating it is. This activity gives us the opportunity to take time to observe it more closely, therefore learning a lot about it and ideally appreciating it more.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92186 Points

Hi Maria,
I am glad that you are sharing this activity with us. I found a couple of NSTA Learning Center resources that might help you when you do your student teaching and want to design this activity into your own 'discovering trees' activity for your future students. One article is called Teaching Through Trade Books: Talking Trees. Your text to link here.... What's neat about this article is that it shows ways to integrate reading and math with a science inquiry about tree observations. Specific children's trade books are recommended, and the science process skills of observation, classification and measurement are highlighted in lessons specific for students in either grades K-3 or 4-6. The other article is called, 'Discovering Trees: Not Just a Walk in the Park'. If your first teaching job is in an urban setting, this article provides an example of how to use the city's botanic garden as a year round classroom for observing seasonal changes.

I have used moon observations over time in my preservice teacher program, too. There is an article in the Learning Center describing this activity, too: 'Bringing Moon Phases Down to Earth'.

I am wondering what other ideas/lessons others have for long term observations of everyday changes occurring around us. As Maria said, 'We as humans tend to casually glance at the science of earth and space that surrounds us, not even realizing how fascinating it is.' How are others helping their students to see the wonders that are right in front of them? What long term investigations are going on in America's classrooms that connect Earth, Space, the environment, etc., with content and science process standards?
Thanks for sharing, Maria.

Isabelle S Isabelle S 6745 Points

Thank you for sharing the NSTA Learning Center resources that might help Maria with her student teaching. I looked into the Teaching Through Trade Books: Talking Trees and found it very helpful. Students can use the books in this journal article, such as Tell me, Tree to get a big idea of the parts of a tree and the functions of those parts. I also liked the information they have on different kinds of trees and key vocabulary for discussing how to make their own tree identification booklet. This can be a great extension activity to Maria's tree observation activity after they record their observations of their own tree! I also liked how it shows different ways to combine math and reading with science inquiry!

Dorothy Ginnett Dorothy Ginnett 28240 Points

Hi Maria - Thank you for sharing your Tree Observations activity. I like the idea of having students repeat observations of the same tree. You will also find many similar activities in the "Life Sciences" Discussion forum under the thread "Environmental Science". This is a very active discussion thread with many interesting posts. Dorothy Ginnett

Sara Kinyon Sara Kinyon 2100 Points

Great lesson Maria. I love that you are really having them look into what is happening to the tree! I am doing a similar activity for the water cycle. I am having the students observe a bag of water and record what they see, what part of thecycle they see and so on. I made up a observation chart for them to use so it helps them stay focused on what to look for. Did you make an observation sheet for your students or did you let them record any infromation about the tree?

Eunice Kim Eunice Kim 445 Points

Hi. We are currently doing this is my Science class at school and I am observing a tree outside my dorm and I honestly did not expect to see so much change within a few weeks but I also have noticed the leaves changing and how the leaves are not only changing color but are also falling. I thought this activity would take a few months to see the change but this activity is a lot more interesting than expected. I think it is important to make sure you get students to observe the tree when the weather is different and when the time is different. I think if students observe the tree in the wind will also help them learn they can figure out the direction of the wind by looking at the trees and something observing the tree from the inside also helps students predict what the temperature would be like and if they were to log all this in their journal I think it will become beneficial to the students.

Laura Hepner Laura Hepner 820 Points

I think that the tree observation is a great activity for upper elementary students. The observation requires several entries per week which can be time consuming so I think for the lower elementary school ages, this activity would be better as a class activity once or twice a week when the students can go outside and look at a tree together. This will help get the students more involved with participation. I really like this idea for upper elementary because they are able to understand the cycle that the tree is going through. What is great about this activity is that it relates to different learning styles. The more visual learners are able to draw their tree and watch the change whereas the more linguistic students can write about the change. This activity gives the students an opportunity to be creative because they are only given a few requirements for the activity. I know that by doing this activity myself, I have actually noticed more things about a tree than I have before. If I assigned this activity to my students, I would love to see what they could with it.

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

Hi group I love the Tree Observations and bravo for having students collect data and record observations in a journal! I have done a similar activty with my alternative middle school students. The students take digital photos or document changes using a flip camera. With the older students I have allowed them to use their cell phones. This activity also ties in with a technology piece quite easily: VoiceThread, Prezi or Museum Box possibi. Also, a hit at an open house, PTO presentation (requesting funds for the flip camera :) or school board meeting. Enjoy your week, Alyce

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

oops, posted twice!

Mrs Hawk Catherine Hawkins 2400 Points

Hi all. I have used the tree study with my first and second graders and it was a wonderful scientific study. We journaled like a scientist as we observed our tree and inwasnalwaysnamazed at the connections the students made. As we became better scientists, students also started tomuse the vocabulary of the unit and I thought the application of the vocabulary really demonstrated their understanding in their journals. Students also saw so many interesting things and made profound connections through their observations. The fifth graders who were my second grade observers also continue to visit "the tree" and I often see and hear them in great observations and discussions! It was an easy yet profound activity -tree watching!

Marianne Blemly Marianne Blemly 1100 Points

I have also been very surprised by how much I have enjoyed doing this activity. I have been amazed at the things I never noticed before about the tree, and especially about the environment around me. Since I live in a wooded area, these observations have helped give me more insight about the other trees near my house as well as the plants and animals that surround it. I think that this would be a great introduction into lab journaling in elementary school. Not only would the students be learning how to make good observations about what they see, you could also make a drawing box for them to draw their tree. For this project, I have been taking pictures of the tree, but I think for younger students drawing would help enhance their motor skills a bit more, and may give them a better chance to describe what they see other than just writing it down. In the class that I am a fellowship teacher in, we have done a similar activity with the weather. We frequently go outside to note the cloud coverage, amount of wind and it's direction, whether it is sunny, and the temperature. You could probably do a similar activity outside with your students, if their playground has trees. However, I am not sure that a Baltimore City school like mine would be able to do a tree observation on the school's campus. Perhaps in that instance the children could be asked to observe a tree in their own community.

Alyce Dalzell Alyce Dalzell 64075 Points

This thread discussion is great! But somehow it is listed under the 'Earth Science' forum rather than 'Life Science'.

I'm making a link that will take you to a new thread discussion 'Environmental Science - part 2'. There are dozens of classroom educators and experts from the fields of Botany, Life & Environmental Sciences that would love to join us in our discussion and support.

See you in the Life Science forums! Alyce

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

Project Learning Tree has some wonderful resources for K-8, including activities for "adopt a tree" at They recently came out with a new edition of their book, which is free if you attend one of their workshops (they are presenting at New Orleans). Several activities from the book are available for download at their site. Enjoy!

Jennifer Perry Jennifer Perry 2250 Points

Thank you Maria for the tree observation ideas. I do take my students to the Hilo Arboretum. It is my "initiation" field trip to see how well they behave and follow directions, and to follow a schedule so that we can return to campus on time. The staff provides maps and a brief description about each tree. We are also allowed to harvest from designated trees. We make observations and then write about which trees would be good for landscaping and which would be good for homesteading. After reading your post, I realize we have several flowering trees on campus that would be excellent for making daily or scheduled observations. Our custodians have planted orchids in many of our trees whose growth and flowering stages would also make good observations and drawings. Wouldn't this tie right in to the scientific method, how to make observations?

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

You might find these articles helpful in extending your tree study


Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64325 Points

Jennifer wrote, 'After reading your post, I realize we have several flowering trees on campus that would be excellent for making daily or scheduled observations. Our custodians have planted orchids in many of our trees whose growth and flowering stages would also make good observations and drawings. Wouldn't this tie right in to the scientific method, how to make observations? '

Aloha Jennifer,

It is very important for students to make observational logs. Students rarely (or never) take the time to make observations about life cycles. These could be wonderful learning opportunities and they get to spend time outside. I recommend making weekly observations for an organism like a flowering tree until they start flowering. You may want to take your students out several times a week when they start to bloom since a lot can happen in a short time frame.

We have a field that adjoins our school campus. My biology students keep a record of what is blooming and when it blooms. This will be our third year keeping this data. The students really enjoy their days in the field.

Hannah Lestan Hannah Lestan 1100 Points

Hi everyone! I think that observations are very important in the classroom, when beginning, are in the middle of, or ending an experiment. I love to see the student’s reactions to change! Students just love to see the cause and effect of the environment. I know I have personally had a lot of experience with students being unsure of where to begin when observing, especially in the lower elementary grades. I think that providing the students with probes to begin there observations is a great way to get the ball rolling and get their minds thinking about what they should be looking for. Creating a journal log with probes ahead of time is a wonderful way to modify and create an accommodation. Just food for thought! Hannah

Mary Hannig Mary Hannig 2935 Points

I agree with you that this type of observing is an opportunity to increase student’s awareness to the science of the earth and space around us. I am a pre-service teacher and work in a middle school as a paraprofessional. I see our science teachers doing these very same type of observations with their students every Fall with the trees surrounding the school’s grounds. It is interesting to observe the students during these mini-field trips around the school. They come up with interesting facts and their sketches help them compare and contrast their findings. I think it’s a great reinforcement activity during this unit.

Lauren Leber Lauren Leber 1165 Points

I love the idea of tree observations. Although students would think that their observations would be the same from day to day, I think that they would soon realize that they would be very different. I like the idea of not only observing the tree, but also the wildlife on and around it. This activity will really encourage students to take a closer look at the world around them. I think that allowing students to share their observations in small groups will give them the opportunity hear other observations that they had not made. I am a supplemental student assistant in a fourth grade classroom. Last year, the classroom teacher whom I work with brought in a goldfish and a snail for the students to observe at the beginning of an animal science unit. The students came up with so many wonderful observations of these two animals and seemed to really enjoy the activity.

Danyelle Hanes Danyelle Hanes 855 Points

I also really love the idea of observing a tree. Students can have journals for entering text, pictures, and diagrams, which can show the growth, and change of a tree overtime. This can also be incorporated into an interdisciplinary unit by including math or language arts. Students could form their own inquiry questions and perform experiments determining how tall the tree is, how old the tree is, what type of tree is it, etc. Students can work in groups to solve their questions, and then write about the process. For older grades, I think groups could choose their own questions. For younger grades, I would have the students focus on the same question/experiment, but have students decide their own road map for solving. It would be fun for students, to sit around the tree for read alouds, or activities that may be done outside if weather permitted. Doing this throughout the year, will let students have time to observe the tree, and hopefully establish an appreciation for nature within the students.

Isabelle S Isabelle S 6745 Points

Thank you for sharing the Tree Observation activity! Students can pretend that they are scientists investigating their own tree! Will you be using any trade books or journal articles to help students with their observation of their own tree? Also, will you provide students that have difficulties with writing a template for recording their observations?

Angela West Angela West 785 Points

Love the idea of utilizing a real tree that the student chooses to track. Students can be scientists and observe and record their findings. You can incorporate so many areas into this activity. Students can write about the tree using both a creative format and a formal format. They could make sketches and leaf rubbings of the tree and even collect samples of leaves or seeds from the tree. The students could use the seeds to grow a new tree. They could also go into the area of history by researching the tree and its species background. What a great way to get students interested in nature.

Post Reply

Forum content is subject to the same rules as NSTA List Serves. Rules and disclaimers