Using the Familiar to Spark Curiosity, Deeper Understanding, and Investment in Place

What was your driving question?

What is the diversity of animals in our schoolyard?

Grades Involved


What PBE principles were highlighted in this project?

Project Description

It all started with a picture of a footprint that the teacher brought into the classroom to spark discussion among students and gather existing knowledge. Students had many different ideas of what the footprint came from, but there wasn’t enough information for them to accurately figure out what animal made the footprint or how to identify it in the first place. This catalyzed the decision to bring in a fish and game biologist to teach the students about what animals might be found in their schoolyard, and how to tell the difference between them based on their tracks and other information. The students then planned and implemented their own investigation to decipher the numerous animal tracks in their schoolyard. Students looked at animal evidence, journaled about their observations, collected scat in plastic bags, and recorded drawings and measurements of their findings. After looking at all the evidence they collected, they created a community field guide for the Pinedale elementary school to educate and inspire other students about tracking animals. This lesson will be repeated again in subsequent years to build off the field guide to update and add new knowledge.


How did this project connect to your local or regional community?

The students looked right outside their classroom in their local place to gather evidence and make observations. A local game and fish biologist was also brought into the classroom to give a presentation on tracking animals, and how students could track animals in their own environment. This allowed students to connect with local professionals in their community while also empowering them to discover new things right in their schoolyard.

How did this positively impact the community? How was it shared?

The idea is that the field book is available to the whole community to inspire the school community and other students to be curious about their place. It also began a relationship with the Game and Fish
Department in Pinedale, Wyoming, and opened students’ eyes to the ins and outs of animal tracking. Many students also went home to share their new knowledge with their families, and to do their own investigation in other personal local places. The excitement surrounding the project inspired students to pass on their learning to their familial communities.

Reflection: What was the biggest challenge? What was the most rewarding aspect of this project?

One of the biggest challenges, coming from the instructor’s perspective, is handing the reins to the students to be their own educators while also hoping their direction aligns with some of the goals of the teacher. The other biggest challenge was finding the time to go outside and implement the project while working with a limited block of time specific to science class.
Students were so excited about the project that they wanted to go home, share it, and repeat it. The mystery and curiosity about their place sparked by the project made it one of the most successful and talked about lessons among the students.

Any advice for a teacher or student that is implementing a PBE project for the first time?

“Students are excited about their own learning – I am always looking for more ways to sneak it in and work around the curriculum that I have to do in order to do very powerful place-centered things” – Jenna Harvey
“I love place-based education, I think it’s so powerful” – Jenna Harvey