Wheels & Mandalas as Learning Tools

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself,
"What if I had never seen this before?
What if I knew I would never see it again?”
—Rachel Carson
Why Circles?
“There is surely something magic about a circle, the way it
influences us to be both grounded and expansive at the same
Most of us have been taught to think of the passing of time as
linear, with one event following another in sequence by day, by
month, by year.
Placing the same events in a circle helps us discover patterns and
use them to communicate about what is really important to us.”
Anne Forbes, Wheels of Time and Place
Phenology or Life Cycle Wheel
Phenology, from the Greek word
phaino which means to show or
Phenology refers to the recurring stages that happen every
year in the life cycles of plants and animals. In general, this
Birth of young and sprouting of seeds in spring
Growth and flowering in summer
Transition and harvest in fall
Rest and dormancy in winter
Creative Expression
We all have the capacity for creative
expression, in fact our health and well being
depend on it.
We may or may not self-identify as artists,
and our work today is about the process of
learning and expressing something new
about our relationship with place.
Witness Trees, Phenology, &
Creative Expression
a studio day to explore the creativity that trees inspire
Anne Forbes, Partners in Place
Witness Trees bear witness to:
All that happens in your “own backyard” (our focus for today)
The unfolding fabric of time, change, and relationships
Photo by Rebecca Power
Witness Trees
bear witness to “deep time”
Methusela, bristlecone
pine, 4765 years old, CA
General Grant,
giant sequoia, CA
Witness Trees + Phenology +
Creative Expression
Phenology Wheel for a Tree:
Begin with the “Tree as Itself”
1. Place an image or
representation of your tree in
the center. What is the theme of
your wheel?
2. Combine observations,
recollections, research to
create a Wheel for the entire
year at once
Wheels as a Place Where Science Meets Art
Drawings in pen and ink and watercolor
by Kristin Sobel
Life of Migratory Birds
A “Phenology Wheel” Activity
for Learning about Bird ConservationCycles
Anne Forbes, Partners in Place
Janet Moore, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Susan Bonfield, Environment for the Americas
Tips for Teaching
What to Record
Record life cycle and migration details gleaned from
Your direct field observations
Research from books or on the internet
Interviews of naturalists or scientists
A mix!
Tips for Teaching
Ways To Record on a Wheel
Write – text, phrases or poems
Take photos
Cut & paste a collage
A mix of the above!
Text for Information and as a Design Element
Poetry inspired by a place
Decorative text recording phenology
Sketching and Drawing
Drawing from a Combination of Research and Observation
(Tracing from reference photos is a good tool to use here)
Sketching and Drawing
Direct Observation of a Place
UW Arboretum College for Kids Summer 2012
A Year in the Life of a a Single Species
Environmental Science Memorial High School in
Madison, WI
Teacher: Nancy Piraino
Students to summarized and integrated what they
learned through the year by designing a Wheel.
• Center: Theme
• Outside Rim: Selected topics covered during the year .
• Ideas and images in the middle of the Wheel, between the center and the
rim, connect the theme in the center to the topics in the rim.
Tips for Success
“What am I supposed to DO?”
Allow expression over perfection! This is your personal
space to record your observations and research.
Emphasize the process over the final product. Spelling
errors, erasing, tracing, and using images and photos
from books are OK!
Show examples and encourage creativity.
Encourage kids to collaborate and share their wheels
with others
Tips for Outdoor Observations
Preparation… set up expectations and show examples before going
Personal Space…choose a spot that can be visited regularly, not too
close to someone else’s. Stay within sight and sound of the leader.
Bring notebooks to record observations, a clipboard to hold the
wheel, extra pencils, and something to sit on. Having a “kit” ready
to go saves time.
Observe quietly for 15-20 minutes. Be patient with kids…this will
happen with time!
Plan to meet for a few minutes at the end to share observations.

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