Picturing the Natural World:
The St. Thomas School Field Guide
An interdisciplinary exploration of our environment
How is the natural environment in our neighborhood representative of the larger biosphere we live in? Studying the local birds and the native plants of the Pacific Northwest gives students opportunities to develop identification and research skills, observational drawing techniques and art historical understanding, and technological synthesis of this information. Interdisciplinary education helps students deepen their connections to what they learn through connected themes across their curriculum, resulting in the creation of these wonderful field guides.
The project grew out of an Art class unit studying the birds of the Pacific Northwest through observational drawings and acrylic paintings. Growing into an interdisciplinary unit over the course of several years, St. Thomas School’s 3rd and 4th Grade students explore the themes of environmental understanding and sustainability across the curriculum. Focusing on the birds and flora of the Pacific Northwest, students do research on specific birds/flora in Library, practice scientific observation and identification in the field, create detailed and accurate naturalistic illustrations in Art class, and then synthesize their discoveries in Technology for the finished field guides.
Over the past few years, the Field Guide has gone even further afield! In addition to the printed guide, we went digital in 2012-2013, creating an electronic version that is easily accessible for use in the field via mobile devices. And with the development of our new school garden, the Field Guide expanded to include a school-wide (Preschool – Middle School) clay mural featuring the imagery from the guide, as well as additional imagery representing all the life forms in our local area. QR codes will accompany the imagery, referencing the electronic version of the guide. This exciting expansion will make it possible for visitors to the garden to easily identify the birds, flora, and animals present in the garden and in our environment!
Collaborating with students and with each other, teachers from multiple disciplines across the school worked together within the context of understanding the natural world.