Nature Journaling from Livecam and Web Videos

By Emilie Lygren

Nature journaling can happen anywhere. When it is challenging or impossible to spend time outside, livestreams and nature videos can also be great ways to practice nature journaling. Videos can also offer opportunities to get to watch rare animal behaviors, see organisms’ structures and features clearly, or see organisms that it might be hard to catch a glimpse of in the wild. 

Some tips for getting engaging students in a video journaling experience:

1. Make room for students to choose a video they are genuinely curious about.

There are literally thousands of videos students could choose to watch. What are they really excited about? Maybe one student is curious about the animals that live in a place they’ve always wanted to travel to. Maybe another student is excited to learn more about critters that live in your local area. Maybe another has spent time learning about a specific animal already, and is excited to learn more. The more genuinely curious a student is you are about what they are going to observe, the more fun and productive the experience will be.

2. Invite students to begin by thinking about what they already know about the subject. 

At the beginning of any learning experience, it’s valuable to invite students to think about the question: “What do I already know about this subject?” Activating what neuroscientists call your “prior knowledge” about a subject serves to connect our current ideas about a subject to the existing neural frameworks in your brain, leading to deeper, stickier, and more meaningful learning.

3. Encourage students to choose a focus for their journaling session.

Sometimes, it can be overwhelming to know where to begin a journal entry. Going in with a clear goal can support students to be deliberate about how to use their journaling time effectively, to guide the observations and ideas that they choose to record, and inform how they use words, pictures, and numbers on the page. This is true in any nature journaling session, and journaling from a nature video is no different. There are many goals you could encourage students to choose from. A goal of learning more about animal behavior would lead the journaler to focus more on using words and pictures to document what the animals are doing. Instead of doing close-up studies of the animal’s structures or body parts, this student might use diagrams and words to describe their behaviors. Or, maybe a student wants to work on their sketching technique, and this would lead them to focus on doing multiple quick sketches on the page. Invite students to choose a goal that feels right for them in the moment. You can also use one or more of our nature journaling activities to offer a goal or focus for student observations.

4. Begin by saying observations, questions, and connections out loud.

When you hit “play,” encourage students to watch the video for a little while before they put pencil to paper and say their observations (“I Notice…”), questions (“I Wonder..”), and connections or analogies (“It Reminds Me Of…” ) out loud. This will focus students’ attention and help them keep keep their observations in working memory as they begin to put them down onto the page. Encourage students to continue to vocalize their observations as you watch the video and begin journaling.

5. Pause, rewind, repeat.

When we’re watching a deer in a local park, we can’t “pause” its behavior to take a closer look at the shape of its antler, or “rewind” to try to get a glimpse of what kind of plant it is eating. When journaling and watching a video, invite students to take advantage of the opportunity to pause to study interesting features, rewind action-packed sequences to make deeper observations, or replay the entire video and make observations with a different goal in mind. 

6. Encourage students to play with asking questions, making possible explanations, and further research.

As with any nature journaling experience, journaling from a livecam or nature video is an opportunity to learn. Encourage students to put their questions down onto the page, then engage with those questions by reviewing the video to see if they can answer the questions through making more observations (“I wonder how many of the crabs crouched close to the ground when the seagull flew close by. Whoa! After watching the video again, I saw 12 out of 27 crabs did. If the gull swoops by again in the video, I will make another count.”) ; make possible explanations to answer their questions (“Maybe the crab has eyes on tall stalks above its head so it can see in all directions”), and do further research (“Let’s see if there are any studies that have been done about crab eye function that we could read together.”)  Remember, the goal is learning, not making a pretty picture. Have fun with it. Encourage students to figure out from their own observations by first watching the video before turning to an internet search.

Videos and Resources

Livecam/Livestream Resources

Monterey Bay Aquarium Livecams
Cornell Lab of Ornithology Livecam

Free Nature Video Resources

The BBC Earth YouTube channel has a lot of 3–5 minute videos of different organisms. PBS Deep Look videos are another rich source. Look to your local nature centers or favorite parks to see if they have a livecam! YouTube also has clips of nature videos. Some links to such videos are listed below, along with videos from other sources.

Hermit Crab Shell Switching

A Baby Dragonfly’s Mouth Will Give You Nightmares

Grebe Courtship


Daddy Longlegs Risk Life…and Especially Limb…to Survive:

This Is Why Water Striders Make Terrible Lifeguards

Looking to facilitate this kind of experience with your family, or with an education group? The activity Indoor Field Observations from the BEETLES Project offers a full script and write-up to guide you in this. 

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