Building Understanding
Through Long-Term Studies

Using Journals for Documentation


One of the benefits of a long-term project like Journey North is that students can gain in-depth knowledge about a single topic or concept. As they engage in the project over the course of a season, they are able to collect and reflect on changing details, notice patterns, uncover various examples of the same phenomena, consider ideas from different angles, and routinely think about and hone their understanding. As they do so, they develop a more coherent understanding and grasp of underlying principles behind biological phenomena.

If you want to help students build meaning from these many threads during a Journey North study, first consider what topic(s) or concept(s) are key to your teaching and learning goals. Take advantage of the variety of entry points Journey North offers to help students develop understanding over time: field observations, scientist reports, lessons, discussions, and journaling suggestions.

Journal Prompts

Journal entries can be an ideal means of documenting thinking and observations about a topic or concept. If you ask students to review and reflect on journal entries throughout the season, and discuss their ideas with you or peers, they will be better able to build understanding.

The following lists represent sample teaching themes. Ask students to post a theme on a page of their journals. These will serve as prompts for routine journal entries throughout the season.

Recommended Themes
Climate and Seasons

  • Examples of habitat needs
  • Examples of habitat needs that you didn't expect
  • Ways an animal's habitat failed to meet its needs
  • Questions about habitat that scientists haven't answered
  • Similarities and differences between habitat on wintering grounds, migratory routes, and breeding grounds
  • Ways humans and the animal compete for habitat
  • Your own new questions about an animal's habitat
  • Questions about the meaning of habitat
  • Examples of interdependent relationships

  • Connections between migration and climate
  • Examples of interdependent relationships
  • Examples of how climate change could affect this animal or its habitat
  • Connections between an animal's habitat and the seasons
  • Connections between migration and the weather
Life Cycles

  • What's happening right now? Identify stages of the life cycle that occur at each point of the calendar year.
  • Consider why the timing is as it is.
  • How do other Journey North species compare? Watch for opportunities to compare one species with another.

  • Examples of how specific physical traits (and behaviors) benefit the animal
  • Behavioral adaptations you find intriguing or surprising
  • Questions about the animal's behavior that scientists haven’t answered
  • Ways in which migration helps the animal survive
  • Physical traits important to migration
  • What you wonder about the topic of adaptations
Citizen Science and Research Methods  

For background see: Citizen Science and Journey North: Thinking Carefully About Methods

  • Describe the methods of Journey North's migration studies.
  • Who is involved? Where are they? Exactly what they are doing?
  • What are the benefits of "citizen science"?
  • How many examples can you find that illustrate challenges of citizen science?