Inspiration from Nature
My first goal for my students, above any academic concerns, is to ensure that they are safe and healthy. Based on experience with my child at home, a wide range of studies, and the testimonials of my students' parents, I know that the amount of screen time students typically engage in these days is a cause for concern. As we move toward increasing use of screen-based technologies both at home and at school, this problem has often troubled me. The amount of time children spend outdoors has been decreasing inversely proportional to the amount of time they spend indoors consuming one form of media or another. I know that children love video games, YouTube Videos, Tic Tok, and social media. They are familiar with and skilled at using these forms of technology. I also know that they love playing and learning outdoors when they are given access or encouraged to get out of their homes or classrooms. I've seen the power of outdoor education through the various field trips and overnight adventures our school offers to children. These experiences, in my opinion, are too limited.
My big question has been how to leverage students' familiarity and interest in technology in order to get them more in touch with outdoor environments. I've discovered that it can be done! Through an outdoor photography homework model, where students use handheld devices to capture images of plants and animals, and identify them using apps such as iNaturalist or Seek, students can be prompted to go outdoors on a much more frequent basis. This activity is linked to the classroom where kids share and present their photos with the class and larger audiences. The transliteracy skills students learn through this kind of project empowers them to be effective communicators in the 21st Century. Empowering my students, after looking after their health, has been my other big interest as an educator.
In the future I plan to continue to explore this idea by linking our newly adopted science curriculum with outdoor photography extensions. This will help students to fulfill the eight NGSS practices which aim to get students "doing" science rather than passively learning about it.
The plan is to collect end products to share with other teachers. It would also be great to develop a teacher training to show step-by-step how to put into action an outdoor photography homework "flipped" science unit. It will help to have data to show teachers and parents how this kind of activity can lead to students spending more healthy time outdoors. Data can also show if the project increases parent involvement with students in healthy, outdoor settings.
If you REALLY want to know about my journey, read my blog!