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Technology in Environmental Education

by Clancy J. Wolf

In a world where we are frequently exposed to controversial high-tech headlines about self replicating miniature robots, attempts to download human brains into computers, and cars with night vision and heads up displays, (note) I am often asked what does technology have to offer environmental educators and their students? When it comes to technology, we are of two minds. We hate TV, but we have a favorite show. We hate deforestation, but we love beautiful wood-grain furniture. We hate electronic eavesdropping. But we love it when it's used to capture a fiendish criminal. Technology. We love to hate it. We hate to love it. (note.) In the next few pages, I will explore the philosophy and examples of how we try to embrace (if not love) Technology in our programs at IslandWood. In a recent survey of environmental centers, Bethany Lesure found the most common reasons for integrating technology into educational programs are "audience demand", "State Ed. Requirement", a way to "Reach Out", and that "Kids Relate" to technology (Lesure, 2002). While these are very pragmatic reasons, I would argue that we need to be more deliberate in our choices � after all, isn't much of Environmental Education about considering the consequences of one's actions? (note.) Integrating technology into our educational programs provides students with additional tools to enhance their learning. So you might wonder, "What are the benefits of taking this approach to help students explore and understand the world around them?" Technology supports our efforts to appeal to different learning styles. With a variety of learning tools, students can understand their experiences through verbal, written, spatial, quantitative, and/or graphical means. As a result, many more students become engaged in the learning process. Technology supports our multidisciplinary approach to learning. Integrating different disciplines helps students combine their mathematical, logical, scientific, linguistic, artistic, and social knowledge to make their lives and interactions with the world clearer.

Regardless of their disciplines. but also to deliver training. Similarly. There are many definitions used to define "technology. binoculars and telescopes � essentially any optical instrument. I mean that technology helps us extend our senses. engineers." By that. One of the simplest definitions. and other professionals. is that technology is how humans change/control their environment. The plethora of digital cameras on the market allows us to capture all sorts of images that previously have been fleeting. Modeling the research techniques of biologists. kids remove the background. Here are a few of the specific ways we have infused technology into programs at IslandWood." particularly when looking at how it is used in education. and even specialized instruments that make it easy to capture and save digital images from microscopes. using technology seems a logical element of instruction about the environment. a video screen on a spotting scope in the bird blind helps new users understand how to use their own scopes and binoculars. which provides teachers with the skills and confidence to become leaders in their classrooms and schools. Technology allows us not only to demonstrate teaching strategies. interpret. obtain. Technology gives us a way to connect with each other and extend the learning experience. Technology aids our efforts in supporting teachers.Technology is integral to modern science. we have microscopes hooked up to video screens so children can see what it should look like before they look into their own microscope � a valuable "clue" to provide feedback if you've never used a microscope before. I have tried to include enough information to enable readers to modify the uses for their own locations. Simple adapters are available. A great digital camera activity involves kids taking pictures of each other to learn constellations. add the stars in the correct places. and possibly include some text and drawings. They then pose in a manner similar to the figures associated with constellation and have a buddy take their picture. In each of our lab classrooms. and one I like. Once the picture is transferred to the computer. few teachers currently receive training in the use of technology. and manage data. (note) A metaphor I like to consider when explaining the role of technology in education is that technology is an "amplifier. We've had kids print their constellations on transfer paper and iron them onto T-shirts. Interactive web elements and participation in video conferencing provide students with experiences before their visits to IslandWood. and allows them to continue projects after their stay at our campus. Since we interact with the environment through our senses. It's hard to forget what Cassiopeia looks like once you've sat in her chair! (note) . helps students use technology to measure. document. Each child researches and chooses his or her own constellation.

and they can run simulations in order to test their models.CyberTracker is another great tool for the Palm devices. The advantage of these devices is that they run lots of software. With this guide installed on a PocketPC. (note) Handheld devices. they are in control and use this as a tool to describe what they think is happening. themselves. Time-lapse photography allows us to see how slow process work. students can take a virtual dive through Monterey Bay's kelp forest and see 17 of Monterey Bay's native species at in context. Similarly. These are both wonderful examples of presenting reference information in fun. Imagiworks produces ImagiProbe .Photo Hunt in Yellowstone helps kids learn about what animals they'll find in Yellowstone Park. My daughter made a time-lapse movie of a caterpillar metamorphosizing into a butterfly using the software that came with a $99 web camera. High speed movies allow us to "slow down" time and see how milk splashes.that had looked pretty much the same to us all the time � wiggle and change in shape. and the children. They can create models that represent their theories about the scientific phenomena studied in class. have a field guide that not only shows pictures and words. so they are multifunctional. They are great ways to find information and learn facts. effective ways. help analyze data. Spreadsheets are great applications for helping kids display data graphically . are a great way to get technology into children's hands at a fairly affordable price. Dozens of probes are available to measure just about any parameter you want. By working through the sounds on the PocketPC or tracks or scat in CyberTracker. We use probes to measure temperature and pH of various bodies of water on our campus as the children study stream health. and evaluate qualitative models without needing to know the underlying calculus driving these models. Again. children learn that sight is not the only way to make a PID (Positive Identification.a visual modeling and simulation tool for use on desktop computers.a sensor-based data acquisition system that enables students to conduct authentic scientific investigations much as research scientists do. Students can easily build. manipulate that information. The neatest thing was watching the chrysalis . . It helps children step through the process of identifying what species they've "seen. Two of my favorite "species references" help children learn about species in the context of their environments in a highly interactive setting.if there's only one thing you are allowed to do on a computer with data. but can play the vocalizations of birds. our instructors. have kids learn to create graphs (and gain control of their information!) Showing how things work through simulations is also useful. test.We can use technology to speed up or slow down time. What took three weeks to film could be played back in 30 seconds." We've also created a collection of simple web pages for animals specific to our location to act as a multimedia reference. and communicate what has been learned. We use handheld computers to collect data. and as a multimedia reference.) Computers. Palms and PocketPCs. or how cats lick. as well as learn to decide where to find them. have a role in what many people think of when discussing "Technology" in education. A favorite tool of mine is Model-It .

but what is was used for! I hope this gives you some ideas about the appropriate uses of technology in Environmental Education. This often means more sophisticated systems (to make them fool-proof) or more time training our staff how to use the systems. remember the goal of the learning is not how to use the technology. Consider technology as a way to amplify and extend the essential skills and knowledge you want your students to acquire. One challenge we face at IslandWood is that children visit our facility for three to four days. We want to minimize the time they spend learning how to use the technology. No matter how you address it. . great! Technology And MI by Thomas R." You'll need some training on how to use it. fixing and replacing what you have. Think about the needs of the learners. and maximize the time they spend learning. "There's No Such Thing As the Technology Itself.Finally. and some strategy for supporting. Ph. Hoerr. remember. and the educational values the applications provide. If it's also fun.D.

information being disseminated. technology has changed both appearance and function. and see what looks like tiny television screens on which people were typing and reading something called "e-mail messages. I'm reminded of the comment that lowering pupil-teacher ratios doesn't make much of a difference in student achievement. computers sit in a prominent position � even if they don't play a prominent role in instruction. however measured. however.How will technology affect the implementation of Multiple Intelligences (MI)? How might technology affect the implementation of MI? Whether or not we like thinking about these possibilities. a way in which they have changed. The one exception in schools. in many schools the model is the same as it always was: the teacher is in front of the class. As a result. the continual advances in technology are a day-to-day reality. In general." That doesn't even begin to deal with microwaves. schools have not kept pace with technological advances. from grade 3 through graduate school. That's true: a reduction from 32 to 28 pupils doesn't yield much. But what would happen if the number of pupils dropped to 16 per teacher? Is there any doubt that student achievement. But this will change. would shoot up? Similarly. . by and large. would be that in many classrooms. The price of technology continues to drop and the capacity to store and transmit data will explode even more than it has in the past. Virtually no where else in our society is this true. department stores to restaurants. long enough to see fashions change. Ramona would note. when it is correctly said that technology hasn't made much of a difference in schools. and a host of other changes too numerous and subtle to be recounted here. classrooms of tomorrow will use various forms of technology on a routine basis. but that's about it. auto repair shops to law offices. Walking outside of school. In all fairness. The kinds and quantity of information at a student's fingertips (literally and figuratively) will ratchet up expectations for how problems are solved and research is done at every level. She would see people talking on the phone in cars. This is not the fault of educators. the students sitting in rows of desks. Indeed. Schools are rarely adequately funded and buying technology often only happens at the expense of purchasing other materials or increasing salaries. whether or not we rely on a Palm Pilot (tm) or have trouble programming our VCR. Otherwise. schools would be pretty much the same as when she fell asleep a half-century ago. technology hasn't made much of a dent yet but that's because we really haven't immersed ourselves in the possibilities. tiny computer chips being embedded in virtually every household appliance. But schools. using cellular phones or PDAs (personal digital assistants) while walking down the street. At least in most sectors of society. From hospitals to prisons. would seem pretty much the same. Ramona Van Winkle would be astounded at the changes. More than one wag has pointed out that someone awakening from a 50 year nap in a school would think she had been asleep for a few years at most. satellite television systems.

. when writing a book report or note to a friend? Already students create their own personal web-pages and use websites to share their research with. And virtual reality will be far more sophisticated than today's flight-simulators or mortal combat computer games. the technology. Although their memory is small and their screens are tiny (at least as of this month!). becomes even more important when so much of our time is spent communicating with and through an electronic device (true with adults. they allow each child to have a portable word-processor. in the nottoo-distant future. Imagine a class in which each child has total access to the internet. more powerful. or rapid transit ride. Small telephone language interpreters. (The same cell. Today most schools have at least one internet connection. perusing websites (or sending furtive messages to a buddy in another class. But since the Japanese alphabet contains thousands of characters... soft drink.." or a phrase.?" The recipient receives a rebus-like electronic message on her cell-phone consisting of words and visual images. will be so powerful that we will not know whether we are speaking to them in person or to a . Shortly technology will make hard wires obsolete and every student will be able to be on-line simultaneously. he assures us. as Edward Hallowell points out. In The Age of the Spiritual Machines (Viking Press. as they do in Japan. capable of highly sophisticated digital imagery. and can be used to watch a movie or. Ray Kurzweil talks about the inevitable fusing of flesh." "How are you?" or "Do you want to. not 26. Kurzweil predicts that technology will allow us to have face-to-face interactions in real-time with people who live on other continents.when is it fair to pull the plug on an ailing computer? (pun intended!) -will become a topic of much disagreement. Good teachers will remain the key to a student learning. Indeed. as much as the teacher will allow. by 2020 Kurzweil predicts that technological advances will give computers the capacity to express emotion. He tracks how the demarcation between what we consider unique to humans and what computers can do becomes less clear each year. "Human rights for computers" -. but they will routinely rely on a host of technological tools. Indeed. In Japan. Small handheld. and computer. instantaneously translating whatever language is spoken to that which the listener desires. a face-to-face interaction. the phones have symbol-keys which enable one touch to send a visual image that means a word. such as "I am feeling. "more pervasive" may be an understatement.phones perform the function of charge cards and can be pointed at vending machines of various kinds. school. potentially. Technology will continue to be cheaper. see a clear picture of the person with whom one is speaking. and more pervasive. or state). will be commonplace.) The screen on these phones is far more advanced of those presently used in the states. even more true with children). How long will it be before students routinely paste in computer graphics to amplify a point or use them rebus-like. recent advances in technology allow cell-phones to be used to send and receive e-mail. such as "eating" or "time. 1999). "the human moment" (January-February 1999 Harvard Business Review). virtually impervious. assessing the owner for the charge of a theater ticket. Like Isaac Asimov before him.This increased use of technology will not diminish the role of the teacher. embedded in every handset. for example. spirit. millions of unknown others around the world. laptop computers are beginning to take hold within our country.

recording students' findings and presentations for future use. In no way suggesting that we are in the forefront of technology (we consciously decided that this is not a route we want to take). They dress up as the individual they studied. Filled with papers and photos. We also have created forms which the students complete while watching themselves on tape. give a 3-5 minute presentation of their lives. though. is that technology is beating at the door and is here to stay. Use CD-ROMS to create digital portfolios. e. Scores of other historic figures will be featured on their videotapes. but as an entry for the tape of the particular historical figure. We believe that the personal intelligences are the most important ones. along with an . Technological advances will not only make our lives easier. Yet none of us think that the people who have these artificial organs in their bodies are any less human. And while it will be later rather than sooner. this will happen in our classrooms too." Rather than simply read and write about heroes and heroines. Rosa Parks. Watching oneself presenting on videotape and responding to questions such as What did you do well? With what were you not pleased? What should you do differently next time? is a real learning experience. they will change the way we live and think. and will be available to be used in research.g. George Washington. We use videotapes at every grade level to tape students as they present their research projects and reports. could be done with all research reports. in order to reflect on their performance. For years. what follows are some suggestions based on our experiences at New City School. and presentations. Realistically. as a study of biographies. our fourth grade students have created a "Living Museum.will be able to view the New City Churchill videotape. they are developing their intrapersonal intelligence. We are beginning to talk about this as an alternative to our traditional portfolios. projects. our most outlandish predictions will probably be considered conservative in 20 years. and videotapes can be a powerful tool to give students feedback about themselves. and answer questions posed by other students and adult visitors. Future years' students � whether they happen to be in this same class and preparing to present their biography or are a student from another grade who is studying Churchill or World War II -. Students not only learn how to share information and present their findings and opinions. artificial kidneys or hearts being fully accepted. we will have 6-8 different renditions of students portraying Winston Churchill speaking about his life on one videotape. Record students' findings and research in creating your own living data. for example. (Would Hallowell call this a "human moment. life form. In ten years. So how does this relate to using MI? How will all of this change both what and how we teach? The only thing I know is that I don't know!What I do know. All we can do is stay abreast of technology and think of how it can offer us creative new ways to use MI to help our students grow and learn. This same technique. Use videotapes as a tool for student reflection and developing the intrapersonal intelligence. our students become these people. not just for the child's portfolio (as we have always done). This year we took the next step and recorded each presentation on videotape. he points out that we have already started down the road to using computers in our bodies." I wonder?) As an example of the blurring of what is defined as human and what is defined as computer.

showing him/her "in action" while making presentations. have been effective at the Truman School in Davenport. Learning arcades designed around each intelligence. Use digital camera technology as part of report cards. our present student portfolios address every intelligence each year and are over-brimming by the time a student completes the sixth grade (despite the fact that we cull them each year). and personalized narratives. I'd welcome any ideas you may have! Life to me Life is every where . Our twice-annual report cards � 5 to 9 pages in length and beginning with a page devoted to the personal intelligences � consisted of skill-based grids. by the time you read this article. we also added a picture of the student holding his/her diorama. an MI school. tomorrow's technology and tomorrow's ideas will have already made some of these suggestions routine. a digital portfolio would not only be able to contain far more information. instead of simply writing about a student's progress in art class. Last year. discussion questions are printed at the bottom of each page to facilitate a dialogue among parents and students. This and videotape. These strategies are just a few ways to grab on to today's technology and use it to value all of a child's intelligences. Of course. A non-New City idea is to look for software that supports the intelligences not most readily available in your classroom. A digital portfolio would not only save space. As with the photo of the child's art work. None of us is strong in every intelligence and it's only natural that we tend to teach in those areas in which we are the strongest. and software can supplement them. relied almost exclusively on the linguistic intelligence to share student progress on our report cards. Next year we plan to expand this strategy to more grades. Last year it dawned on me that is was fairly ludicrous that we at New City. with digital photos ultimately being an integral part of every report card. we also used a digital camera to include a photo of a piece of the student's art work in the report card. technology would capture a far more richer picture of a child's progress. it would facilitate sharing student progress with families at home and around the dinner table (although we would never want to forsake our spring Portfolio Night). Surely. rubrics. IA. Learning-centers can be used to help address our weaker intelligences. moving from room to room. rather than simply describing a student's efforts in creating a Native American diorama.

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