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Chapter 3: Going Out - Field Activities

This chapter compiles an assortment of field activities to support multiple visits to the bosque. These include activities that support observation skills for a class's first introductory field trip, as well as activities to develop students' critical-thinking skills in follow-up field trips.

Planning a Bosque Field Trip

Riparian forests are magical places. This rare and endangered ecosystem is unlike most of our arid state, so just entering the forest can be unlike anything students have previously experienced. In order to understand the complexity of the bosque ecosystem, students must first gain an appreciation for its diversity and for the uniqueness of this valuable habitat. The Going Out activities in this section encourage students to explore and discover the hidden, and not-so-hidden, secrets of the bosque and adjacent wetlands. In doing so, particularly with repeated exposure, students develop a sense of belonging to the bosque that will encourage them to want to learn more about its science and to support its protection. They develop a sense of place.

We encourage you, if at all possible, to take regular trips to the bosque or other natural area. This might be monthly, or once per semester, but the more frequent the better. These activities are designed to promote observation skills. They focus on discovery and exploration, and some include more advanced skills of data collection and analysis, and plant and animal identification. 

Many of the Going Out activities can be used as springboards to Common Core/ELA and Math standards. You can write poems and stories based on observations written in journals, read field guides about bosque-related organisms during sustained silent reading, use Bosque Search cards to help build vocabulary, or conduct independent research based on questions that arise while in the bosque. Or, estimate the percentage of cottonwood leaves that have turned yellow or brown, convert temperatures between Fahrenheit and Celsius, or graph data collected in the field. Be creative, and try using these Going Out experiences for many of your required standards. The possibilities are endless!

If you can only do one activity in this section, we encourage you to try Bosque Field Journals. As you will see in the background to that activity, there are numerous benefits to using field journals on a regular basis, and they can be used to address Common Core/ELA standards as well as science standards. They can be combined with science journals and/or writing journals, and can become part of your daily schedule. Field journals can be used in the bosque, in other natural areas, or on your school campus. We urge you to make them a regular part of your syllabus! 

Practical Field Trip Tips for Educators

  • It helps to have a colleague join you for your first trip out, or plan to take combined groups with older and younger students working together.
  • Ideally, plan on one adult (teachers, aides, parents) per 4-5 students. Extra adults help with safety, can be assigned small tasks and can help students with prompts. Provide specific guidelines for how chaperones can help students. Parents always enjoy their time outside!
  • Make reservations with the agency to be visited for the field trip. Discuss with agency contact the purpose of field trip, and clear lunch or snack plans
  • Complete individual school or district permission forms for field trip.
  • Arrange transportation.
  • Give informational letters to parents—include list of items for students to bring and an overview of the trip. 
  • Make a pre-trip visit to the site of field trip to be familiar with the area and to prepare student activities. Scout out places to go that will allow your class to break into smaller groups of 4-5 students while still staying on the trails. For example, intersections of trails allow groups to go in several directions while remaining close by. Utilize picnic areas, outdoor classrooms, or other space designed for group use.
  • Prepare Bosque Education Guide activities


Things to Bring on a Field Trip

1. As appropriate, younger children should be clearly labeled with first name, school name and telephone number.
2. Dress for the weather. Winter weather requires a water bottle and, as a minimum, a jacket; hat and gloves are recommended. Summer weather requires sunscreen, hat, water bottle and insect repellant. Long pants and sleeves protect against insects and bosque shrubs; however, students should remain on trails away from most hazards. Shoes during any season should be sneakers or boots. Sandals are not appropriate for trail walking.
3. Water should be available in any season.
4. Educators should have the paperwork required by their school for field trips, including emergency contact numbers, in their possession.
5. Each student should wear a backpack to carry journals, pencils and other journaling supplies, water bottles, lunch, extra clothing, etc. This allows hands to be free for exploring and also prevents items from being dropped and lost somewhere along the trail.
6. Bring (and use) a litter bag.
7. Bring cameras, binoculars, field guides.
8. Bring a first-aid kit, but know your school’s rules on liability.
9. A small dry-erase board, marker and tissues are helpful to use in the field to write journal information, show how to set up columns or horizontal rows, show spelling, etc.
10. Use established picnic areas where available for lunches, but it is ok to sit on the ground to eat lunch as well! It is good for students to become comfortable eating outside. Always be sure to leave nothing behind when you leave; even small pieces of food should be picked up.  Remind students that human food is not always good for animals to eat.

Review Rules and Expectations

Students need to understand that they are visiting another creature’s home and should treat it with respect. In addition to your personal class rules for discipline, you should encourage the following:

• Use walking feet and quiet voices so as not to disturb animals.

• When students find something that they want to share, let them do so but please return everything (except trash!) to the place where they find it. A good rule is to allow students to pick up insects (within reason) and things that are “dead, down and on the ground.” Point out that many organisms (including animals, plants, fungi) live in the bosque and that you are visitors in their home. Everything belongs there and should be left, whether it is a rock, a feather or a piece of bark. An exception is with the “Find a Friend” prompt; students may carry their friends around while in the area, but be sure to return friends before leaving.

• Be gentle with any creatures you might pick up. Please discourage squashing spiders or stepping on ants; remind students that these creatures are living beings just as we are, and are part of the ecosystem. Note that handwashing is important before touching living creatures, particularly amphibians as they are especially sensitive to chemicals found in mosquito repellent, sunscreens, etc.

• Please do not pick living plants, and take care not to trample plants when walking (stay on trails as much as possible).

• These activities encourage exploration, but safety should also be a concern. There are areas of the bosque where students can get disoriented and lost. Set boundaries for exploration, such as “You must stay between this road, the jetty jacks and the river” or “within sight of the teachers” or “behind one teacher and in front of another.”

• Practice “Leave No Trace” principles.

Destination Options

There are many places to get to the bosque and take a walk. Maybe there is great access just down the road from your school!

But, if you are looking for some additional resources such as rest rooms or facilitators with field equipment to use, here are some examples:

Bachechi Open Space, Bernalillo County

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, Socorro County

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque,

Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, Bernalillo County

Whitfield Wildlife Conservation Area, Valencia Soil and Water Conservation District, Belen

Going Out - Fun Facts

There are many interesting things to discover in the bosque. Here are some fun facts to share with students about things they may find:

Chewed leaves are mostly chewed by arthropods, including insects and isopods (pillbugs and woodlice). Isopods, now the primary detritivore (dee-TRY-ti-vore; eater of dead plant or animal material) in the bosque, were introduced into this ecosystem from Europe!

Cottonwood cotton is the seed of the cottonwood tree. The fine cotton-like fibers surrounding the tiny seed allow the wind and water to transport the seed. Cottonwood trees are either male or female. “Cottonless” cottonwood trees are male trees. They produce pollen from long, red clusters of flowers (called catkins). Only female trees produce seeds; the developing female catkins are locally known as tetones and resemble peas until they open. Cottonwood seeds or cotton “fly” in late May or June, but old cotton can be found year-round under logs or in crevices.

Rolled leaves are created by a caterpillar for its home. The caterpillar eventually becomes a small moth. They can be hard to find!

Star twigs: Have students pick up a cottonwood twig from the ground. Find a terminal bud scale scar (See “Winter Bud Activity” for an illustration). It looks like a ring or collar that circles the twig. Snap the twig in two at this point. Look at the star shape formed by the pith of the twig, the cells in the center of the stem.

Download all of Chapter 3 

NGSS Connections

Chapter Activities

Spanish Activities

Acknowledgements for Revisions January 2023

Funding from: New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, Share with Wildlife Program

Writing Group: Letitia Morris, Lisa Ellis, Karen Herzenberg, Molly Madden

Layout: Laurel Ladwig

Advisory Group: Selena Connealy, Heather MacCurdy, Deb Novak, Jennifer Owen-White, Kelly White

Teacher Fellows: Helen Haskell, Stephanie Kichler, Shirley L. Pareo Srouji, Laura White

Contributors: Darlene Fraher, illustrations

Additional Reviewers: Nell Burrus, Karen Gaines, Amy Grochowski, Allison Martin, Fiana Shapiro, Storm Ussery

Thanks to the Friends of the Rio Grande Nature Center

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