iPhones and Outdoor Learning Part 2

3 August 2009 · 0 comments

in Digital & ICT Outdoors, Personal & Holidays

I have a problem with summer. Since 1992 I have been a teacher and have got used to being on holiday for 6 weeks. Whilst I always worked for at least a fortnight within this time, the holiday mood would kick in and “mañana” was the mode of existence.

However the past three summers I have been “in business”. I have to remind myself and all my teaching friends that I’m NOT ON HOLIDAY. Time is money and money is time. I have to work. I am the bread winner. Having a laissez-faire attitude is Not a Good Thing in the current financial climate.

In order to justify my existence I have been pretending to work. I am an arch procrastinator. These last few weeks I’ve found my three-month old iPhone to be the perfect excuse. Until now I had not explored the 35000+ “apps” which can be downloaded onto my gizmo. I have installed more than 40 and looked at countless others. My choices depended very much on whether I could see an app with relevance to learning outdoors.

Right now I think apps are in their infancy. Whilst there may be a lot of them available, many of them are still in the process of being refined. For example, the free compass app requires sunlight to work properly. Oops! Not so good for cloudy places and times! Interestingly, Apple is quite good at giving their customers what they want. Those of you with a spanking new iPhone 3GS have a built in compass and video which gives much greater potential outdoors.

As you would expect, the quality of apps is variable and you don’t really know what you get until you install it! For example, I downloaded an e-book called “Birds of the Air’ by Arabella B Buckley. This is an old classic book published at the turn of the Twentieth Century. There were no photos or illustrations. The voice-over woman had a dreadful mid-Atlantic accent and spoke in a monotone. The whole app appears to have been designed to ensure children never want to hear another cheep cheep in their life (unless it’s a proper Tweet, of course)!

The reviews are well worth reading as people are very honest in their criticisms. A clever trick here is to read the reviews on a computer rather than from your iPhone. There tends to be more reviews and can be more easily accessed.

Many have a free version which gives you a taste of the full version. This helps. A nice example here is the Zen Garden app. The “Lite” version is free. It gives you the same set-up as the paid version costing £1.79. The difference is that with the paid version you get lots more choice based upon the principles of the free one. For instance you have 8 instead of 2 sound themes and many different choices of elements which can help extend children’s classification knowledge and vocabulary as they chose different types of plants, shells, stones and other objects to place in their Zen Garden. You also get a daily Zen quote!

Messing around with the iPhone apps is nothing like the real experience. Yet there is something to be said for the simulation activities. There are a couple of rather sweet sand doodling apps where you draw pictures in the sand and then shake the iPhone to clear the screen (in one, a wave washes over your doodle and plays the sounds of the ocean and seaside – aaah!). But already I have been inspired to think more creatively about sand pictures. One app, unimaginatively named “Drawing on Sand” has a pendulum swing which can produce geometric patterns in the sand. The resulting pictures can be saved as photos and shared. The sand apps can be a nice way to recall a trip to the beach or be used as part of the build up to going there. Somehow, though the thought of getting sand in my iPhone makes me shiver with horror. I’d be leaving the iPhone in a sand and water-free environment for its well-being!

So this week the iPhone is staying at arms length. I may even leave it at the bottom of my garden so I can only get to it by going outside and doing some gardening! Desperate times means desperate measures. So long!

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