Technology and the Great Outdoors
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
This summer, rather than venture outside, many students will succumb to television-induced comas or play an endless series of video games. Research shows that today's students spend almost eight hours a day looking at some sort of digital media indoors. Author and naturalist Richard Louv says that kids today spend half as much time outdoors as they did twenty years ago!
This summer, rather than venture outside, many students will succumb to television-induced comas or play an endless series of video games. Research shows that today's students spend almost eight hours a day looking at some sort of digital media indoors. Author and naturalist Richard Louv says that kids today spend half as much time outdoors as they did twenty years ago! Louv calls the phenomenon "nature deficit disorder."
But contrary to what many critics are hollering, technology doesn’t have to be Mother Nature's enemy. In fact, technology may be her best PR person! Educators have used technology to make social studies exciting, to bring vocabulary to life, and to virtually eliminate school absenteeism. Now read about four fabulous ways technology can get your students outside and get them moving.
1. Explore With Tech Tools
Louv asserts that today's digital natives can name more Pokemon characters than trees in their neighborhood. Change that! Use the Audubon Guides app to help kids successfully search for and identify a tree by its leaves or shape. Prove to Louv that technology is the perfect gimmick to get a housebound kid loving the outdoors.
No need to lug around cumbersome field guides. Grab some binoculars and track the elusive yellow-bellied sapsucker or a red-tail hawk with the help of the Peterson Birds of North America app or iBird Explorer Pro. These apps will enable kids to quickly find birds on the move. Are your young birders wondering if they heard the "Caw! Chee-chee! Tweet!" of a chickadee or titmouse? No problem, these extensive apps can even play the song of the bird they're studying.
Scats and Tracks of North America will assist young nature sleuths hot on the trail of raccoons, deer, and lots of other critters. The app identifies the footprints and droppings of local wildlife.
2. Help a Scientist Out: Start NatureMapping!
Observe, record, collect, and analyze data on wildlife and their habitats. Then present your findings to local scientists. Diane Petersen's Washington elementary school challenged "decades-old assumptions about [the short-horned lizard's] habitat and diet." Petersen's 4th graders plotted horny toad sightings on a computer map, put the info on large spreadsheets, graphed and scrutinized their findings, and overlaid aerial photos of the land onto their maps of the habitat. To find lesson plans or contacts to get started on your own NatureMapping project, see edutopia.org or the Washington NatureMapping program.
3. Raise and Release Insects
Not ready to get outside yet? Take it slow with your own version of a Discovery Channel stop motion movie. Check out the site Insect Lore for everything from a Praying Mantis Pagoda and "Fish in a Jiff" hatching kits to painted lady butterfly school kits.
Week 2: As the caterpillars change into chrysalids, snap more shots. Start loading student pictures into iPhoto to create a stop motion movie of the metamorphosis.
Week 3: Student paparazzi reach a frenzy capturing images of hatching butterflies! Keep loading pics into iPhoto.
Week 4: Grab shots of your newly hatched beauties eating a gooey banana or a really ripe orange. Then invite your young scientists to a release party in a local park. Find the perfect spot and set up your tripod and camera to capture grand images of butterflies being released into the "wild."
Once you drag yourself back inside, start a new project in iMovie. Select photos worthy of National Geographic and drag them into your iMovie project. Adjust the timing between frames and export your nature movie.
4. Go Geocaching!
Think of geocaching as "high-tech treasure hunting" using a GPS device. Your class will need an understanding of latitude and longitude and a GPS device or app for this project. View this short video on exploring the great outdoors with geocaching:
My husband and I are working on the education section of Martin L. Birnbaum's documentary Central Park: The People's Park, which will be released in the fall of 2011. We'd love to learn about what you and your students are doing to joyfully discover the natural wonders of your neighborhood. Please comment how you're using technology in the outdoor classroom to bring out your students' best!
Bronx New Schoolers explore Central Park with Martin L. Birnbaum.