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Birds of a feather learn together

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Third graders across Baldwin elementary schools are experiencing science in a fun and exciting way through the “For the Birds” program, a place-based series of lessons about birds and their habitats led by the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center.

The lessons are woven into the third-grade science curriculum, which focuses on the atmosphere and includes instruction on magnetism, adaptations, migration, weather, bird feeders and citizen science.

Through a hands-on approach to learning, school officials said the elementary science program emphasizes students’ understanding of important scientific ideas in the context of the world around them. It allows students to develop their inquiry and thinking skills as they explore problem and phenomenon-based learning, sort and classify, create models, generalize, design experiments, record and interpret data, manipulate materials, measure, observe and predict.

Literacy is also embedded into the science work through journal entries as well as guided reading and “read alouds.”

The science topics are integrated into a curriculum that takes advantage of the district’s schoolyards, vegetable and native gardens, as well as local environmental issues on Long Island.

“The thrill that students get working with ornithologists as they gather data about local birds that come to their school’s feeders is powerful and builds memories that they will keep with them for a lifetime,” said Nomi Rosen, administrator for professional development for the Baldwin School District, who helped develop the science curriculum.

Julie Nelsen, the science educator at the Theodore Roosevelt Audubon Sanctuary and Audubon Center, along with her colleagues and other volunteers, come to each elementary school in Baldwin a total of four times a year.

The first lesson of the “For the Birds” program is an introduction to identification of birds by their “markings” on different body parts, such as yellow bellies or a red patch on their crest. The second and most recent lesson involves the use of binoculars and an hour-long bird-watching session in the schoolyard.

The ornithologists will return in February to give students a hands-on experience learning about various kinds of beaks, followed by a “migration game” in March to understand the hazards birds face on their arduous journeys. The program culminates in June at the Jones Beach Boat Basin, where the students study shore birds and learn about their habitats as part of the Connect Kids to Parks Field Trip Grant that the district received.