As teachers, we're always trying to find new and exciting ways to make our class content more relevant and engaging for our students. Fortunately, science offers many connections with what's right outside our classroom doors. Whether we're measuring water quality, exploring experimental design, or collecting biodiversity data, moving the instruction outside onto school grounds helps my students make connections between science and the environment they live in.
Technology makes these mini-field trips more manageable and meaningful. With tech tools, we can easily organize and share the data outside, which saves time for deeper discussions and reflections. Also, outdoor learning is more budget-friendly, because the apps are available on devices we already have. There are many exciting and innovative ways to get students outside and learning with technology. Get started with these three ways to explore the great outdoors.
1. Use Apps That Collect Scientific Data
Science Journal is a lab-sensor app that uses your Android or Apple phone or tablet to collect scientific data: light, sound, motion, and more. As teachers, we're used to getting creative to give students the best learning opportunities possible, but we are often faced with tough decisions because of budgetary constraints. This app allows for more experiments and less constraints, using a tool we already have.
With the Science Journal app, students can use the data to think more critically to develop the best solar oven design. For example, my students can extend their learning while building their solar ovens, determining the best angles for optimal sunlight and how to get the most s’mores baked. For more apps and websites that encourage scientific inquiry, visit our Top Picks list.
2. Participate in Citizen Science Projects
Citizen science allows students to share local scientific data with scientists, and it helps them see how they can make meaningful contributions to science. There are many citizen science projects out there, from NASA's SMAP program, which helps make teaching about soil a little more exciting, to Project Squirrel, which helps students and scientists learn about the local ecology.
Project Squirrel is a citizen science project that students of almost any age group can participate in. Younger students can observe different areas where squirrels may be present throughout the year to see if any environmental or human hazards cause a decline in squirrel populations. Older students can create their own experimental designs to see how different factors affect squirrel populations and test their hypotheses over the year. In high school, my students designed experiments in groups, presented them to the class, and then voted on which design they wanted to carry out as a class.
3. Collect and Share Data Using Collaboration Tools
Many of us remember the time when, while conducting an experiment, we would collect data and then write all the results by group onto the board. Then each class would have to input these into the computer or on a sheet of paper. It was essential for students to collect and analyze data, but this process was extremely time-consuming. Collaboration tools like Google Spreadsheets changed all of this and made it so easy and manageable to share data and compare data from other groups and classes. This frees up more class time to analyze and reflect on the data and have in-class discussions on what the data means.
For example, with the biodiversity lesson below, my students could share data from two observation sites (school parking lots) to compare which area was more diverse. With collaboration tools, they could also observe whether significant changes happened throughout the day or whether the data they collected as a class had possible errors by comparing it to that of other classes.
There are so many ways to extend learning outside the classroom. I was intentional about including an outdoor learning activity in every unit because these outdoor projects gave my students context to what they were learning. Also, if the weather or other obstacles stood in my way, I knew I could always bring some of the great outdoors inside.
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