Master Birder Teacher by Kimberly Johnson: Introducing the Next Generation to the Joy of Birds
by Kimberly Johnson, Georgia Audubon Master Birder and Elementary School Teacher
Hutchinson Elementary was the site of Georgia Audubon’s first garden installation in 2017. Kimberly Johnson was part of the Taking Wing teacher training in 2016, and a beautiful connection was made between Kimberly and Melanie Furr, Georgia Audubon’s director of education. Since then, Kimberly has embraced every opportunity to gain knowledge and resources to connect her students to birds and nature, including taking the Georgia Audubon Master Birder course. Kimberly shares her experiences teaching children about birds in this article.
I start my school day on hallway duty, playing bird calls from The Backyard Birdsong Guide by Donald Kroodsma. Children walk by and ask, “What bird is that, Mrs. Johnson?” I tell them the name of the bird, and to my surprise, they walk by the next day and can identify the bird by the sound. This is just one way I get kids interested in the birds in their community. Beginning with the simple question “What is a Bird?” can open a child’s mind to exploration and discovery of a whole new world. As a Master Birder and teacher at an inner-city school, I have learned that the more I share my knowledge about birds and nature, the better connected my students will be to their environment and community. Enhancing children’s awareness, knowledge, and attitudes toward birds and wildlife is truly rewarding.
After being awarded a native plant garden from Atlanta Audubon Society (now Georgia Audubon), my students now have a hands-on approach to learning about native plants and birds and understanding how birds thrive. We have several types of bird feeders and nesting boxes. Some of the plants include beautyberry, aster, blueberry bushes, cherry laurel, and many different types of grasses. Students have set up a kiosk and created checklists with photos of the different birds and plants found in the garden for students, school staff, and visitors to use when they visit. Students also have access to field guides and binoculars provided by Georgia Audubon to help them with identifying birds found in the garden. Thanks to our ongoing partnership, Georgia Audubon staff comes out periodically to provide programming and take students birding. Formal teaching comes from Georgia Audubon’s Learning About Birds curriculum, as well as from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s K-12 Education resources. These lessons give a more in depth look at birds, ranging from bird diversity, flight and migration, anatomy and more. Georgia Audubon also provided a mini library of books for students to read and learn more about birds.
Next year, we plan to offer an after-school bird watching club, “Bird Buddies,” where students will have the opportunity to experience nature walks, scavenger hunts, and off-campus field trips. It is truly a joy to help kids make connections to nature and improve their awareness, environmental knowledge, and attitudes toward local wildlife.
8/1/2021 04:05:18 pm
We are in the middle of a 3 year PBL around birds called “Project Relocation Station.” I started it with my third graders last year in my gifted program. You’re right, they learn so fast! Last year, they learned all about birds from their Birdsleuth guides, Audubon videos, the Merlin ID app, field guides with songs and calls, and a set of 120 bird ID cards with great information and more songs for them to identify. The high school STEM group walked over and helped them to build platforms for the hopeful relocation of our barn swallows to the school butterfly garden. I wish I could say the birds liked them, lol! The swallows were nesting in the eaves over the walkway to the buses, so every spring when they arrived, we were all trying not to get pecked or pooped on! We love seeing the baby birds in the spring begin to pop their little heads up over the nests and peer down at us, but the mamas do not like us walking underneath their babies on the way to buses. So in February of this year, we made clay pads with dull pieces of wire hangers I cut sticking out in hopes of dissuading them to nest there again in the spring. Didn’t work😆 Some even appreciated the new nesting material and made their nests in the bird spikes we made.🤷🏼♀️😜 Gotta love their ability to adapt. This is the second year of our PBL, and I want to concentrate more on building up a sufficient habitat for birds in our garden area. The science lab teacher and I wrote a grant last year and managed to get enough supplies to build an outdoor learning pavilion. I’m in the middle of writing another this year to try and get them some binoculars. All of that to say, what you have accomplished is amazing, and I’d love to recreate it for the kids at our school. By the third year of our PBL, the kids will be in 5th grade, and they will leave behind the legacy of having helped to create, and be the ambassadors of, a certified schoolyard wildlife habitat. Is there any advice you could share with us that will help us reach these goals? Thank you for taking the time to read this. I know it was long!
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