New research has implications for educators and museum professionals alike because it demonstrates that field trips can be engaging, informative and fun, as well as help schoolchildren develop essential twenty-first-century life skills. The days of staring aimlessly into glass cabinets appear to be over for good.
Academics studying Florida's Habitat Tracker project have discovered an ideal way to engage children on field trips: add an iPad. The Habit Tracker project teaches children the basic principles of science and encourages digital literacy.
Based in the Tallahassee Museum, the Habitat Tracker project gives primary-school pupils an 'opportunity to engage in scientific inquiry within formal and informal learning environments through online and mobile computing'. It helps build the digital literacy skills that 'all students will need to become productive twenty-first century citizens'.
Children taking part in the three-week-long curriculum emphasiszng the 'nature and practice' of science, first learn the fundamentals -- how to conduct scientific investigations, develop hypotheses and collect observational data -- in a classroom setting. They then access the Habitat Tracker website to explore multimedia content about the wildlife and habitats they will visit, as well as view data collected by other students. When the children arrive at the outdoor natural-science museum, they use iPads to collect data on the weather, the animals they see, and their habitat. After their trip, they work with their teachers to answer questions, and interpret and communicate the data they've collected.
Summing up their observations in the journal of Learning, Media and Technology, the researchers emphasize that the Habitat Tracker project is about more than just science: "Habitat Tracker provides a context where students can learn about the nature of science and scientific inquiry, while simultaneously encouraging the use of digital literacy skills."
"Students were observed employing digital literacy skills as they engaged in scientific inquiry practices throughout the curriculum, and the results of [our] analysis demonstrate that each aspect of the Habitat Tracker curriculum and interactive technologies provides links between digital literacy skills and scientific inquiry."
- Paul F. Marty, Nicole D. Alemanne, Anne Mendenhall, Manisha Maurya, Sherry A. Southerland, Victor Sampson, Ian Douglas, Michelle M. Kazmer, Amanda Clark, Jennifer Schellinger. Scientific inquiry, digital literacy, and mobile computing in informal learning environments. Learning, Media and Technology, 2013; 38 (4): 407 DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2013.783596
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