Technology for Learning Outside

17 September 2011 · 3 comments

in Digital & ICT Outdoors

This blog post is written by a guest, Lindsey Wright

She is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education. Thanks Lindsey.

S2 – Year 8 Students undertaking a GPS activity


Outdoor education brings students to a different type of classroom. It allows them to interact with the world around them and develop an understanding of the fundamental principles of nature. Many teachers view this as a time to escape the technological bustle of the classroom and reconnect kids to nature. However, this is sometimes a bit shortsighted. True, there’s a big difference between high-tech classrooms or even totally technologically-facilitated education such as online classes and being outside, free to learn from observation and interaction with the environment. On the other hand, educators can bring technology out of the classroom and into nature to enhance the educational experiences of students and help them make new connections in scientific and creative learning.

Lesson Ideas

There are a number of different ways to get kids involved in the outdoors while enriching the experience with technology. For instance, taking digital photographs of animals, trees, or objects of specific colors during nature walks is a great way to teach younger students about collecting, analyzing, and organizing information. When they get back to the classroom, students can compile the pictures and create classification charts.

For older students, this idea can be taken a step further. Have them focus on collecting data about littering by photographing items of trash and recording the location with their smartphones or PCs. These data can be analyzed mathematically to make sense of how people litter and how it affects the environment.

Try turning smartphones into recording devices. This can easily be accomplished with any number of apps. Students can record a variety of natural noises during a nature walk, then use those noises to construct a ‘sound map.’ Other applications might include practicing identification of various animals and insects or even writing a poem describing the sounds. Another activity to get kids out of the classroom and into nature, bringing technology into play at the same time, is geocaching. Thanks to the prevalence of smartphones with GPS functionality, it’s possible to easily create a geocache — a hidden object located using GPS data. Kids will appreciate the fun of what amounts to a high-tech treasure search, but also learn to use  technology for geography, navigation, and mapping in a meaningful way.

Outdoor applications are part of the iPhone’s bread-and-butter offerings, and there are plenty of apps to satisfy educators hoping to teach their students a bit more about nature. Consider Moon Atlas, which allows star-gazing students the chance to map the features of the moon, and Google Earth’s trail navigation, which will let students try their hands at understanding map features and learning to navigate based on natural landmarks rather than roads.

For science teachers interested in teaching children about global warming, temperature fluctuations, and how the sun affects the Earth’s temperature, there are a number of apps that are designed to turn a smartphone into a thermometer. Students can record and analyze accurate data thanks to technologies such as the Blackberry room thermometer app. From these data they’ll be able to develop an understanding of how light relates to heat, acquire an appreciation for how temperatures vary from day-to-day, and even track gradual temperature trends over time.

For English students, there are plenty of opportunities to use technology in the outdoors as well. Apps abound that allow users to search for verses by subject, style, or author. Have students look up Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and go on a scavenger hunt for natural elements described in a poem of their choice. They can photograph their findings and use those photos to create a digital illustration of the poem.

Technology has opened new windows to the outdoors. It’s possible to connect students with their natural environment in new and exciting ways that enhance their understanding of the outdoors rather than keeping them cooped up indoors. With the right tools, some digital know-how, and a willingness to explore the ever-growing variety of options available for using smartphones, the Internet, and other technologies, it’s possible to create meaningful learning experiences in which technology enhances time spent outside rather than overwhelming it.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Juliet Robertson September 17, 2011 at 18:25

http://www.facebook.com/l/hAQAyEQms/beidlerforest.blogspot.com/search?q=gps to see how we use GPS technology in our education program. Search GIS, iPod Touch, and Google Earth on our blog to see other ways technology can be used to connect with the outdoors.”

(This link came via Facebook but I thought it was worthwhile adding to this post)

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teacherstparty September 19, 2011 at 01:49

Excellent article. It’s quite a challenge to keep up with the changes in technology and learn to apply them effectively, so all help is appreciated. Thanks.

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Juliet Robertson September 22, 2011 at 08:28

I also got this comment from a friend, who makes a good point

“I love your blog, and have got a lot of inspiration from it !! however I was somewhat disconcerned by the recent post on technology and electronic gadgets.

On of the great things about teaching kids outside is that you can get them away from power sockets and computer technology and teach just using what is in your head and heart !! It is good to show the young generation that you can teach and even live without these things ! You have written so many great posts on these sorts of ideas, for example the one about sticks.

I am not a complete technophobe, I sometimes use a portable digital microscope and my laptop to reveal the intricacies of the microscopic world to children, but I think it is also importtant to teach that there is a huge environmental cost to out love affair with electronics. Strip mining for rare minerals for components is causing devastating habitat loss in Brazil, Bolivia and Madagascar for example.
I attach an interesting paper which suggests that using old fashioned books may be a greener alternative to using on-line resources, mainly because books can be used for many years !

This is not meant to be a rant 🙂 so I hope it does not come across as one ! Just a freindly dialogue to discuss ideas !

Keep up the good work.”

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