How Do You Define Spring?
(Spring Survey)

"One swallow does not make spring, nor does one fine day."

3+ periods

* Sample Spring Survey Form (optional)
* Results of Spring Survey: Blank Form and Sample (optional)
* Pencil & clipboards or cardboard to lean on

Overview: Students conduct a survey to determine when spring occurs in the minds of people in their area. Then they organize their data and try to interpet it.

According to the calendar, the Spring Equinox marks the first day of spring — the day in March when daylight and night hours are equal everywhere on earth.

But most people have a very different concept of spring. Some say "it's spring" when the dogwoods bloom, the first robin appears, or they can finally go outside without a jacket. You're about to embark on the adventure of tracking spring's journey north. But just what does spring mean to your students and their friends, families, and neighbors? How does the definition vary from person to person and region to region?

Laying the Groundwork

  1. Ask, How do you know when "spring" has arrived? Have small student groups discuss the question for a few minutes. Ask each group to write 2 of their responses on the board or chart paper. For each, ask, Around what date do you estimate the event occurs in our area?
  2. Ask the class to group the answers into categories as they see fit. They might, for instance, suggest plant signs, calendar events, human activities, cultural events.
  3. Point out the number of spring signs students generated in a short period. Challenge the class to conduct a survey to find out how other people define spring's onset.


  1. Students can design their own survey questions or use the sample form. Ask, What kinds of data or information shall we gather? How should we word our questions? (Encourage them to routinely ask interviewees the approximate dates at which their selected signs of spring occur.)
  2. Ask, How should we go about gathering our information? Who should we interview? Discuss the interview plan and survey techniques. For instance, Will you ask open-ended questions or give people items to choose from? How will you record answers? How will you avoid influencing people's responses (e.g., don't ask leading questions or suggest answers).
  3. Pair students up to practice survey techniques. Get back together and refine your survey questions and form, if necessary.
  4. Students can work individually or in pairs to interview families, neighbors, friends, and students and teachers in other classrooms. Remind them that the more data they collect, the more reliable it will be.
  5. Have students compile and organize all the data they collected. They might, for instance, tabulate the most frequent responses by age or geographic location, average dates for each event, and so on.

Making Connections — Discussion and Journaling Questions

  • Challenge students to arrange all the "signs of spring" in chronological order as defined by interviewees, or list them on a calendar. Ask:
    What patterns do you notice?
    What general statements can you make based on your survey?
    In what general sequence does spring seem to unfold (i.e., Which types of activities happen when)?
  • Do specific factors (e.g., age, where they came from) seem to make a difference in people's responses? If so, how would you explain that?
  • What was the most frequently mentioned sign of spring in your region? Why do you think so many people notice that one?
  • How does the definition of spring vary from person to person? From region to region?
  • Which signs of spring do you think occur at about the same time each year regardless of weather? For which events does the date vary from year to year?

Digging Deeper

  • Share and compare your results with your Journey North partner class in a different geographic region. (See Phenology Data Exchange.)
  • Save the surveys. At the end of the school year, have students respond again to see how their views have expanded and changed.


  • Check that students' statements and conclusions are based on evidence from their survey.
  • Challenge students to try to write a definition of spring for a dictionary.

National Science Education Standards

Science as Inquiry
Ask a question about objects, organisms, events. (K-4)
Plan and conduct a simple investigation. (K-4)
Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation. (K-4)