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Wild About Utah: Outdoor experiences in high-def

Boy with binoculars
Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Used with permission

A hot, sunny, May day was Christmas for my avid 2nd-grade birders, when 35 pairs of high-quality Vortex binoculars and chest harnesses were delivered to our Edith Bowen Laboratory School classroom. We had secured a grant from the Utah Division of Outdoor Recreation to purchase supplies to enrich our school’s outdoor education program, specifically my classroom’s integrated focus on birding. Kids cheered when the binos arrived, knowing that we’d be able to put these powerful tools to work in the field. They scrambled to set up the harnesses and prepare the equipment for use.

Although the adjacent Logan City Cemetery is one of our frequent birding locations, it was going to be our first outing where all students had their own set of binoculars to view the world in high definition. We left the school equipped with our new binoculars, and students were thrilled about the awaiting possibilities. Long before we arrived at the cemetery the binoculars were put to good use, “Everyone look!” a little girl yelled, “an American Crow!”

The sighting stirred commotion as 25, 7-year-olds scrambled to get into position where they could see the large black bird with their binoculars, as it bounced around the USU sidewalks looking for morsels of college students’ neglected snacks. Then ensued a student debate over whether or not the bird of interest was an American Crow or a Common Raven; the victorious crow-supporters claimed victory only when the bird flew away, revealing a fan-shaped tail.

Elementary school students with binoculars looking at birds
Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer
Used with permission

Once we arrived at the cemetery, it was clear students were experiencing this environment in an enriched way thanks to the binoculars. Students spent much more time in each location throughout the cemetery, and there was more advanced and technical dialogue between students about what they were seeing. Students would call each other over to their specific viewing area to show them a bird they had viewed, and they would describe to the person how to find it in their binoculars. This description facilitated incredible spatial language regarding the location and reference of the bird, such as “It is halfway up the largest pine tree on the right” or “Look on the ground next to smaller bush!”

One exciting shared discovery was sparked by a high-pitched, upsweeping zreeeeeeeeeeet sound that the students kept hearing. Throughout the walk, students kept using their binoculars to look for the culprit of the sound, to no avail. Then near the end of the outing a student erupted in excitement, calling everyone over to see the bird making the noise. Eventually directing everyone’s focus on the bird, the students discovered a small, white and brown bird atop a sycamore tree, which they identified as a Pine Siskin due to the distinguishing yellow color on the wings.

Other special encounters on this outing included the finding of a dead, Red-Breasted Nuthatch aside the pathway, and the scientific reasoning about who could have been the engineers of two different bird nests found in the grass under trees –a large one with a mud base and a small one full of human hair!

Reluctantly, hot, sweaty, and ecstatic kids returned to school after their first ever birding outing with binoculars and experiences they’ll draw upon forever. No doubt, the binoculars that brought these students these magical discoveries will do so for many kids to come in the future.

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am Wild about Outdoor Education in Utah!


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Audio: Courtesy & © Friend Weller,
Text: Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah:

Grants & Planning, Utah Outdoor Recreation, Utah Department of Natural Resources,

Binoculars, Vortex Optics,

Joseph Kozlowski PhD, is a teacher and researcher at Edith Bowen Laboratory School. He is passionate about incorporating innovative mathematics and computer science education strategies into his classroom, and using those experiences to guide his research work. Additionally, he draws from his rural upbringing in Wyoming to inform his implementation of experiential and outdoor education. He is humbled and honored to be a contributor to UPR's Wild About Utah!