Two school years ago, I knew nothing about birds. After having a literal dream about taking my 7th graders bird watching, I set out to make that happen. Over the last two years, I've developed a standards-based, NGSS-aligned, STEM-focused birding curriculum. Concentrating on birds one day a week for the whole year, we complete activities including weekly bird walks on campus, eBird submissions and data analysis, nest box design and building, scientific drawings of birds, native pollinator garden research and upkeep, campus field guide use and development, a student bird photo slideshow, and avian life-cycle observation using Cornell and other webcams. Last year we submitted observations to eBird of 47 species on our campus, which was pretty unexpected and exciting. Everything from Cooper's Hawks to Allen's Hummingbirds, Cassin's Kingbirds to Black Phoebes, made an appearance to the delight of my students.
I've written multiple grants for binoculars, cameras, nest box building materials, bird books and clipboards, and trained teachers at the district, county and state levels in implementing some or all of the program components. Adding birding to my curriculum has reignited my passion for teaching, and opened my students' eyes to the natural world in their very urban neighborhoods. Around 450 students have gone through the program while in my science class, with many now referring to themselves as "bird nerds". Debuting next week for my students and me: a dedicated ornithology elective! It's amazing what can take flight when students and birds come together.