Schoolyard Science

About Schoolyard Science

The Methow Conservancy partners with Methow Valley Elementary to offer inspiring science curriculum to every fourth grader.

Student w/ Ice
Photo by Jonathan Stratman

An Experiential Approach

Once each month, Methow Conservancy Educations Program Coordinator Bridger Layton, Conservation Easement Manager Johnnie Duguay-Smith, and retired teacher Jennifer Duguay spend a full day facilitating science activities for 9 and 10 year-old students in 4th grade classrooms at Methow Valley Elementary School. We believe that learning by doing is the best way to make science both fun and accessible. With that in mind, we teach students that when the Methow Conservancy is present, they are scientists! Perhaps they are a biologist managing a population of Methow Valley Deer; maybe they are an ecologist taking careful notes in their field journal as they canvas the schoolyard; maybe they are a track and sign specialist exploring on snowshoes looking for clear animal (or human) prints in the snow. Every lesson is unique, offering a new point of connection to the natural world and a deepening their understanding of the place they call home.

IMG 0292

A Big Bird

Disover pass pic 2019

Discover Pass

Thank you

Student Thank You

Feather found

Feather Found

IMG 0301

Recording Data

The Lorax

Carrying Capacity

Methow Valley Elementary School is an International Baccalaureate School (IB), so we design Schoolyard Science lessons to integrate into the IB units of inquiry:

  1. Who We Are
  2. Sharing the Planet
  3. How We Express Ourselves
  4. How We Organize
  5. How the World Works
  6. Where We Are in Place and Time

Although the Schoolyard Science lessons are all science-based, we take an interdisciplinary approach. As a result, students learn that environmental and biological sciences involve writing, math, human and natural history, and other core topics.

For example, the Who We Are Schoolyard Science lesson focused on birds and some of the unique adaptations that birds have to help them survive and help define "who they are."

What makes a bird a bird? Students defined characteristics that help birds survive: feathers, wings, beaks, feet, hollow bones, eggs, etc. First the focused on beaks. A bird's beak has several functions: gather/capture food, communicate, groom feathers, defend territory, attack rivals. Short, thick, cone-shaped beaks are great for crunching and cracking seeds; thin, chisel-type beaks help search out insects in trees; straight, pointed bills help spear prey like fish; straw-like beaks are necessary for sucking up nectar from flowers; and raptors have hook-like beaks to tear apart small prey like mice.

Then the students conducted a scientific experiment that showed how specialized beaks allow different bird species to eat different things. Using "beaks" like tweezers, chopsticks, and long-handled spoons, students visited "feeding environments" like small cups, paper bowls filled with water, and tall cups. After "eating" from these different feeding environments with their various beaks, students recorded how much they were able to "eat" , which habitat ended up being best for each beak, and whether or not that matched the hypothesis they had determined before the experiment.

All of our lesson plans have one thing in common: the teaching happens outside. We want students of all backgrounds and abilities to experience science not only beyond the pages of a book, but also beyond the confines of a classroom. At the end of each year, we present students with a free Washington State Discover Pass to ensure that students and their families can continue exploring and observing for free all year long. Our goal is to generate lasting excitement around science, and inspire our next generation of biologists, ecologists, conservationists, and nature-lovers in the Methow Valley.

IMG 1651

Food Webs

IMG 0807


Observation 2



Outdoor Learning Grant

We're thrilled to have Schoolyard Science supported by an Outdoor Learning Grant (OLG) from the Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The OLG will help us with expenses for staff time, transportation, and educational materials related to Schoolyard Science.

Read Methow Valley News coverage of the grant HERE.

Learn more about the OLG grant HERE.

Inspiring people to care for the land of the Methow Valley since 1996.

Join Team Methow Conservancy and support conservation work in the Methow Valley!