Technology offers an exciting way to engage your students with the natural world. Use these suggestions to help your students learn new ways to interact with nature and each other.
Take students on a nature walk. Give students opportunities to photograph things in their outdoor environment and bring this information back to the classroom. Early elementary students could make an alphabet book or assemble a display about colors in nature. Upper elementary students could monitor changes over time by photographing plants or trees at different times of the year. Older students could use digital cameras to collect data about the amount of litter in given areas to use in math or science lessons.
Digital Recording Device
Record environmental sounds in a variety of areas around the school. Replay them in the classroom and have students use the information collected to construct a sound map. Or interview several students about a playground event and use the recordings to discuss point of view in writing. Or collect opinions about improving the playground and use the data to construct a variety of graphs. Expand the lesson to teach persuasive letter writing and have students synthesize the data and report it to the school community or leadership.
Apps for Connecting to the Natural World
- Creek Watch - Be stewards of your local watershed by using this app to snap photos of a local waterway and report how much water or trash there is. The app aggregates the data and shares it with local water agencies to help them track pollution and water resources.
- Google Earth - Help students explore their natural environment from a bird’s eye view and compare and contrast it with habitats around the world. Layers, including roads, borders and places, provide additional perspective of the surroundings.
- iNaturalist - Equip your students to record their observations of the natural world and share them with a social network for naturalists, potentially contributing to scientific research.
- Journey North - Transform your students into citizen scientists by equipping them with this app which allows them to track wildlife migrations and seasonal changes in the environment around them.
- Nature’s Notebook - Observe and record plant and animal lifecycle events (also known as phenology), such as flowering and bird migration. The observations also help scientists understand how species respond to environmental changes.
- Project Noah - Engage students in documenting local wildlife by uploading photos to Project Noah as part of a “mission”. A global community can help I.D. their “spottings” which in turn can help scientists keep track of wildlife populations.
- WeatherBug - Give your students access to the world’s largest network of real-time weather sensors for forecasts, alerts and more. Students can check weather conditions before heading out for field study or collect weather data over time and study how it impacts the local environment.
- WildLab Bird - Learn the basics of bird identification. This application uses audio, photographs, maps, and the process of elimination to help identify over 200 bird species. Sightings can also be entered into a national bird watching database for comparison.
- WildObs Observer - Search for and identify thousands of species of mammals, birds, snakes, plants, and more. Log your wildlife encounters for your own calculations or upload them to a national database for comparison.
Field Guides for Outdoor Discovery
- eNature FieldGuides - This free, comprehensive site provides animal and plant field guides, “ZipGuides” that help you find wildlife based on zip code, mobile apps for iPhone and more.
- Technology for Field Investigations: Scientist-Driven Technology Practices - Developed by the Pacific Education Institute for the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies’North American Conservation Education Strategy, this guide describes the technology used by natural resource professionals and available to K-12 students to conduct field investigations, problem solve through stewardship planning and projects and participate in outdoor recreation.
Websites for Digital Exploration
- BioBlitz Education - Whether participating in a National Geographic/National Park Service BioBlitz (an event that brings together naturalists and citizen scientists, including students, to take a snapshot of an area’s biodiversity) or a schoolyard bioblitz, the experience helps students study biodiversity firsthand with activities that support students to make observations, record data, understand classification and map their findings.
- Encyclopedia of Life - Educators and students can work within the Encyclopedia of Life to create a collection of schoolyard bioblitz results, generate a field guide to share with the community, and listen to a collection of podcasts that will familiarize students with the diversity of life on Earth.
- National Geographic FieldScope - National Geographic FieldScope is a web-based mapping, analysis, and collaboration tool designed to support geographic investigations and engage students as citizen scientists investigating real-world topics - both in the classroom and in outdoor education settings.