About Signs of the Seasons (Phenology)

As students observe the natural world closely, make drawings, and record data, they see patterns of seasonal change. As they do so, they begin to note webs of connections.

What is Phenology?
Phenology is the study of the seasonal timing of life cycle events. You are studying phenology when you record the date a certain plant flowers, a tree's leaves emerge, an insect hatches, or a migratory bird appears on its nesting grounds. The dates on which these happen each year are affected by factors such as daylength, temperature, and rainfall.

Why Are These Observations Important?
The observations students contribute become part of a permanent database that scientists can use to monitor how living things are responding to changes in our climate. By studying the timing of seasonal changes, students think like scientists who look for clues about how climate and other factors affect living things.

 Ways to Record Seasonal Observations
Write or Draw
in a Journal.

(Click journal photos for links)
Record Data
on a Checklist.
Watching the Seasons Change
(grades 1-4)
Spring / Fall
Phenology Checklist
(grades 4+)

Spring / Fall
 Things to Look For

At least once each month, go outside as a class and record the changes you see. Use journals, checklists, or both. Try to begin on the Fall Equinox in September or as close as you can. (You can also start in January.) Go outside one month later and see how things have changed. Journey North will send a monthly e-mail reminder. Check the Signs of the Seasons News page for links to monthly reminders and activities.

Each season, changing sunlight triggers changes in food chains — from sunlight to plants to animals.

FALL: Watch what happens as sunlight decreases and temperatures drop in the fall. Plants die or go dormant, so food is less available to animals. Some migrate, some hibernate, and others rely on physical adaptations.

SPRING: Watch how the food chain rebuilds in the spring as the season progresses. Energy from the sun increases, temperatures rise, ice melts, and plant growth begins. The animals that eat plants appear first, followed by their predators — and so on up the food chain.
 What You Can Do With Your Observations

Report them to Journey North.

  • Click on the word "Sightings" on any navigation bar. Notice which specific events we collect data about. Report your other observations as "Signs of Fall" or "Other Signs of Spring."
  • If you have a photo or drawing that captures what you observed, be sure to mention it it in your report. We might ask you to submit it so we can share it with other Journey North students!

Read about what others have observed this season.

Exchange data with a partner classroom.
Are the seasons changing in the same way throughout North America? Find out by pairing up with a partner class and exchanging fall or spring observation data! Can you figure out where your partner is located?

Compare your own historic observation records.
Your Journey North reports are stored permanently in our database. What patterns do you notice from year to year?

  • Your Own Historic Records >>

Create a display or seasonal timeline.
Encourage other classes in your school to help track various seasonal events. Then make a display that tells the story of spring or fall's journey through your hometown — and across the hemisphere. (Click on photo, right.)

 Important Questions to Ask

Laying the Groundwork

  • What signs tell us that fall (or spring) is approaching? (You may want to add these to the Journey North list, or create your own.)
  • What sounds, smells, colors, and feelings accompany these changes?

Throughout the season — and from year to year.

  • Ask, How do seasonal changes vary from place to place?
  • How does ______ (event or change) seem to relate to _______ (event or change)?
  • What changes can we predict with accuracy (e.g., length of sun's shadow at different times, spring equinox, last day of school)?
    What factors vary from year to year based on weather (bulbs blooming, ice out, first robin)?
  • How might climate factors — such as long-term temperatures — affect the timing of seasonal changes?
 Other Lesson Links: Exploring the Seasons