Do you struggle with ways to engage your child, grandchild, or a young scientist friend with our local forest lands? I would like to suggest a new book, Ellie’s Log, to nurture your young scientist, and to help you both explore the mysteries in our collective backyard of Oregon’s forests. Ellie’s Log is part fictional story, part forest ecology lesson, and part field journal all set in a mature Douglas-fir forest in Oregon.
I recently spent a weekend using the book, the associated website, and the teacher’s guide at an Educators Workshop at HJ Andrews Experimental Forest in the Cascade Mountains outside of Blue River. We used the book as a basis to study the forest and the forces that shape that forest. The story starts with a winter blow down tree, and here we started compiling species list for the Doug-fir forest to compare with Eastern Oregon grassland. We kept notes in our field journal just like the characters of the book, and analyzed leaf decomposition, and studied diversity of organisms living on a fallen log from lessons in the teacher’s guide. We were encouraged to use scientific questioning, gather data, and write observations as field notes. Through science we made connections with literature, art, math, and even graphed data on the computer. And it was fun! Well, except maybe for the indoor computer part.
One message that really stuck with me from the workshop – if you want the children in your life to explore and write, you need to be modeling it yourself. Why not pick up an inexpensive composition book and carry it with you when you are outdoors. Make notes on the weather, what is in bloom, insect activity, or the wildlife you see. Share your notes with the young people in your life and encourage them to write in their own field journal. Use Ellie’s Log as a tool to guide you both in exploring a fallen tree in your forestland together. Keeping a field journal allows you to look back over your notes to track long term patterns or changes. Your observations could lead to becoming involved in a bigger citizen science project tracking rainfall or seasonal plant changes! You might even inspire a young person in a career choice.
Ellie’s Log author is Judith Li, a stream ecologist, retired Associate Professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, and a researcher at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest. The book is beautifully illustrated by OSU Extension’s M. L. Herring, including field journal pages by “Ellie” and is written for the upper elementary reader. Published by the Oregon State University Press, the book is supported by additional materials and a teacher’s guide at http://www.ellieslog.org/ .
By Jody Einerson, OSU Benton County Extension