USA NPN National Phenology Network

Taking the Pulse of Our Planet

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Phenology studies implemented in higher education courses can provide a framework for teaching critical thinking skills, offer insight into science careers, supplement core science and ecology skills, and serve as a window to community-based research.

Image credit:
Brian Powell

Resources for Higher Education

Where do I begin?

Higher education faculty use Nature’s Notebook in many ways.  Technology in education allows for collaboration in new and exciting ways, including remote data collection and analysis, collaborative webspaces and blogging. Developing a monitoring project that meets multiple course objectives will not only create a sustainable program but provide opportunities for cross-course and community collaboration. 

Some faculty choose to do a one-time introduction to phenology and using Nature's Notebook.  Others choose to create a semester-long project where students make observations, develop hypotheses about what they are seeing on campus, record their observations in Nature's Notebook, and then analyze data at the end of the semester.  Doing a project such as this, over multiple years, helps to create a base of observations that faculty and students can use for comparison.  We recommend creating a group for your campus, to which you can add multiple sites, and invite individuals to make and enter observations on their own.  You can track who is monitoring, for course credit, by becoming an administrator of the group.  Consider partnering with other local non-profits and goverment agencies to provide multiple monitoring experiences. 

Any semester-long implementation of a Nature's Notebook monitoring program can help address the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education call for transformation.  It teaches science and applications, modeling, critical thinking, and promotes learner-centered investigations and inquiry.  

It would be wonderful to hear about universities encouraging monitoring in multiple classes, over multiple years, so students entering as freshman can observe throughout their career at the school and then, as seniors, truly see what their data show and how things have or have not changed. 


More Curriculum Ideas

Biological science courses use phenology monitoring in lab settings to track seasonal changes on campus throughout the semester and over multiple years.  Dendrology courses use phenology to teach tree identification.  Ecology courses use phenology data to teach statistical analysis and applied concepts such as climate change.  Pre-service teacher courses use citizen science and Nature’s Notebook to provide future teachers with ideas about how to incorporate environmental education into their classrooms.

Here is an example of an application of Nature's Notebook in a 300-level Anthropology Methods class: Intro to Phenology: How Nature's Notebook can help you understand habitats

The table below includes links to some examples of how phenological monitoring is being used in higher education.


View Nature's Notebook curriculum materials developed for higher education students in the table below.

Title Description
Summarizing Observation Records by Participant

The resource walks the user through the creation of a PivotTable to determine which users in a group have submitted data, on what date, for which species. 

USA-NPN Education Publication Number: 2014-001-T

Adult Local Phenology Leader - Phenology Monitoring Program Planning Guide - with Outcomes

This worksheet has been used in teacher training workshops and in docent training courses.  The purpose is to provide some guidelines for planning a phenology monitoring program at your site.  It includes guiding information on how to develop a science question and space to plan short-medium-long term goals for a phenology monitoring program. It also offer space to brainstorm some activities that may be plugged in to achieve these programmatic outcomes.  

**NOTE: The framework for this guide is for an educator/leader-centered program and not for individual student outcomes and achievements during a short semester or academic year.  Rather, the planning should include mulitple years of phenology monitoring, ideas for collaboration with colleagues and other community organizations in support of answering a scientific reasearch question related to phenology and/or climate change.

USA-NPN Education Publication Number: 2014-007-C (2014-007-CSP - Spanish)

Workshop or Classroom Reflection Activity

This reflection sheet can be used after conducting a classroom, training, or workshop session.  It is used to encourage participants to reflect on their experience and think of any unanswered questions they may still have at the end of the session.  Additionally, it provides a space for participants to indicate what could have been done better so educators can continuously improve upon their delivery. 

Sample Species Phenophase Photo Page

This template can be used as a phenophase photo identification page and can be tailored to your site's needs.  This particular sheet was created for use at the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge to help acclimate volunteer monitors to the species and each of the phases.  NOTE: At this time the USA-NPN does not have the capacity to create a sheet like this for each species in our database, although we are working on a general phenophase primer to help address questions we receive related to what each phenophase looks like. 

Groups are welcome to use their own photos of the species and phases they encourage people to monitor throughout the year, as long as they are certain that the species and phases are correctly identified using our described protocols. 

Other examples of how something like this can be used in a monitoring program can be found on the California Phenology Project website, Meet the Species.

Introduction to Journaling & Observation

Making observations in nature is a way to connect with your environment.  If you enjoy spending time in a garden or natural space, taking some time to record what you observe can be a valuable exercise.  Observational records collected through time allow you to remember what you saw, what species visited your space, what the temperature or weather conditions were on a particular date during a particular season, and much more.  Ultimately, observations can become a critical addition to a scientific study about how things may be varying or changing through time.

La actividad es disponible en Español tambien:

Observar la naturaleza es una manera de conectarse con el ambiente natural. Cuando  disfrutas pasar tiempo en un jardín o espacio natural, puedes observar fenómenos que ocurren a tu alrededor. Los registros de la naturaleza a largo plazo te ayudan a recordar tus experiencias, los animales que viste, cómo era el clima en esos días, y mucho más. Al final, las observaciones se pueden convertir en una importante base para el estudio científico sobre como nuestro mundo va cambiando. 

USA-NPN Education Publication Numbers: 2014-005-C; 2014-005a-C; 2014-005b-C (2014-005-CSP; 2014-005a-CSP; 2014-005b-CSP - Spanish)