Bird Observer: The Birding Journal for New England

Bird Observer

The Birding Journal for New England

June 2015

Vol. 43, No. 3

Learning to Notice: A Birding Adventure

M.F. Badger


Members of the Soaring Birds after-school birding club, Dever-McCormack School sixth- graders practice with their binoculars. Twelve students took part in this Citizen Schools program. (All photographs courtesy of the author.)

Last fall, my friend Mary Howard and I volunteered to lead an afterschool birding club for sixth graders at the Dever-McCormack School in Boston through an organization called Citizen Schools. This Dorchester neighborhood school is located on Columbia Point in Boston, which we knew would be a great place for seabirds.

Mary and I are old friends, and we often bird together, sneaking off for a few hours here and there when we aren’t working or tending to our own kids. We’ve done a few Bird-a-thons for Mass Audubon and twitched our fair share of vagrants. Not jaded yet, we’re still able to get excited at watching any birds—even House Sparrows—if they are doing something interesting. Though we had in our heads a vision of ourselves as ornithological pied pipers showing our eager students their first Snowy Owls and Surf Scoters, part of us also realized that we were not totally sure what we were getting into.

The sponsoring organization, Citizen Schools, runs outstanding afterschool programs in low-income communities in seven states. They provide extensive background and support for volunteers like us—including considerable upfront training. Citizen Schools seemed eager to have us, and we were grateful to have such a strong organization behind us. During the training, we listened carefully, taking in all their advice about helping students develop 21st century skills. We attended orientations and learned about how to manage our classroom. They requested a detailed curriculum with objectives and activities timed for each day. But the idea of writing a curriculum for our students was initially befuddling, given our subject. We thought it would be simple. Lesson One: Go birding. Observe birds. Lesson Two: See Lesson One.

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