Bringing together middle school students through their passion for birds
Backyard Birding brought together seven middle school students from the Upper Valley through their passion for birds. The goal was to give middle schoolers the opportunity to go birdwatching and to inspire them to advocate for these beautiful creatures, however this was altered due to COVID-19 restrictions. Rather than doing in-person birdwatching, students were given the knowledge and tools to go birdwatching independently. Ultimately, the hope was that students can connect with their peers through their passions.
The project engaged students in a variety of different activities held on weekly educational zooms throughout the month of April 2021. These included lessons on ways to help birds, fun facts, and doing things to support birds (such as building bird feeders). Most of the meetings ended with a Kahoot game to review the information. The meetings were led by Maya Barnett, with the exception of one, in which guest speaker Carrie Deegan shared her knowledge about auditory birding. Middle School teacher Jennifer Fredrick helped monitor the calls and share some birding knowledge as well.
Implementation of Project
Maya started communicating with the Plainfield Elementary School in early February of 2021 for her project to take place in April. Through numerous emails with the school principal, a teacher, and some local birders, Maya decided to host four Zoom meetings on Fridays in April from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm, available for grades 5 through 8. She was excited to have seven students with varying abilities sign up for Backyard Birding.
None of the students had attended a birding club before, showing the importance of this project. Unfortunately the school was not allowing in-person extra-curricular events, however Maya successfully led engaging virtual meetings. The school also required a teacher to monitor the meetings, so Maya contacted her 8th grade science teacher who she used to go bird watching with.
In the first meeting everyone introduced themselves, then Maya went over information about 17 different birds that live in the Upper Valley, both common and rare. She talked about the endangered Bobolink that she saw in the fields outside of the school the previous summer, and the organizations that have advocated for them. This lesson was wrapped up with how and what to feed and attract birds.
The second lesson focused on the seven most common invasive birds species in America, and then moved into how climate change has impacted birds, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
For the third meeting, Carrie Deegan joined the Zoom call to teach the students about identifying common birds with their calls.
Finally, the last meeting including a hands on project in which members built bird feeders out of recycled household materials. This last meeting ended with different bird identification apps, live cams around the world, how to use their bird books, and ways that each individual can help birds.
Each meeting ending with a quick Kahoot game to go over the information learned. Maya spent around five hours designing each lesson plan.
Maya Barnett is a motivated teenager from Meriden, New Hampshire. She is a cross country runner, Nordic skier, and rower. In her free time she enjoys hiking, biking, skiing, painting and bird watching. She has been excited to share her passion for birds with her home community. While there were only four meetings, the students will be able to use the knowledge and materials from Backyard Birding to go birding on their own. They are also motivated to help birds by providing data and supporting organizations such as the Bobolink Project. This project helped Maya grow as a person by gaining knowledge about birds and leadership skills. This gave her experience with teaching a class, improved her communication skills both from planning and relaying knowledge, and enhanced her technical proficiency around this topic. She plans to use all of these skills in future leadership projects.