Investigating Science Outdoors with an iPad?

Ken Mayer for TERCtalks

Grab your iPad and head outdoors to start exploring the world around you. That’s the idea behind TERC’s new eBook, Investigating Science Outdoors, which is now available to teachers, after school providers, and home schoolers for free from Apple’s iBook store! The supplementary science curriculum gets students (ages 12-16) outdoors, exploring the world around them, learning science observation and investigation skills, and actually doing science.

Investigating Science Outdoors I’ve downloaded the book already and am ready to start selecting a study site with my kids. I am motivated by my own curiosity and a bit of parental angst. Thanks to my recent read of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, I worry that I could be raising children with nature-deficit disorder. I am hoping that Investigating Science Outdoors will strengthen how my kids connect with nature as well as lessen some of my parental anxiety. I do have one concern though — given that I sometimes struggle to get my kids to abandon their 2D screens for the 3D world — will bringing the iPad outdoors really help them explore, or will they just stayed glued to the screen?

Fortunately, I could put that question to TERC staff, namely Teon Edwards, a science curriculum and game developer who adapted units from TERC’s Global Lab curriculum to create the free ebook, and Jamie Larsen, a science educator, technology and life-science geek, and advocate for using games and technology to encourage kids to open the door and explore.

First to Teon I asked, Why an ebook?

“Because it’s portable, easy to use, and well, a lot prettier than the original curriculum.”  As I hold the iPad and swipe my finger across the screen flipping through the pages, I have to agree. I imagine it is much easier to carry these into the field than the old 8 ½ x 11 paper guides and to the point of it being prettier, I realize it is more than just visual appeal. As I scan the pages on observing and recording nature patterns at the outdoor study site, it is obvious to me how the full-color images showing examples of rosette, spiral, and helix growth patterns in plants will inspire and challenge students to look deeper to find these patterns in their study site.

Teon points to the fact that many of the tools you need for collecting data can be samplingright on the iPad. On their own or through TERC’s eBook portal, teachers and students can find recommended apps for sketching, note taking, logging location, identifying plants and animals, and capturing photos and video. She adds, “Think about the power of being able to take a photo of a plant, pairing it with the notes and sketches you’ve made, and then identifying it with a specialized app like LeafSnap or an online identification guide. Teachers also have a complete Teacher Guide version of the eBook available to them right there at the study site, which makes preparing and facilitating the outdoor sessions much easier.”

To Jamie I asked,  “Won’t the iPad loaded with the recommended apps just distract the kids?”

“There is that potential, but these are the tools many kids are encouraged to use by schools adopting technology. It can actually help focus their questions,” he countered.  “We should take advantage of the tools and student’s interest and enthusiasm in using them to help them document their site. The tools make it easier to collect observations and data to analyze back in the classroom. In addition, the tools provide a pathway to share what they discover through sites that encourage nature observation and citizen science.”

My conversation with Teon and Jamie made me think that the iPad outside might just help my kids spend a little more time observing the world around them. In addition to opening their eyes to uncovering the relationships between the living and non-living things at their study site, they might just be more aware and inquisitive the next time they go outside walking and playing without the screen in hand.

What do you think?

Investigating Science Outdoors is available from the iBooks store, we hope you get a chance to try it out, and if you do, or have questions, we would like to hear from you.

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