Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Backyard Botany: Using GPS Technology in the Science Classroom

Academic journal article The American Biology Teacher

Backyard Botany: Using GPS Technology in the Science Classroom

Article excerpt

"It's a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it's even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it's a lot more fun."--Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods

Working in an informal science education facility over the last several years has given me many opportunities to introduce children to handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) units. I wish I had known about the multitude of potential applications for this technology when I was teaching high school biology. This article introduces some ways of using GPS technology in a middle or high school science classroom. Specifically, I offer suggestions for integrating this technology into your existing lessons about plants.

I developed this idea from a popular activity called "geocaching." The website describes geocaching as a global scavenger hunt, in which the goal is to find a hidden object (see Figure 1) using a set of latitude-longitude coordinates. These coordinates are shared with participants via the Internet. Handheld GPS devices are required for this game, to determine the distance and direction to the final coordinates.

The idea of using GPS technology to find plants instead of geocaches is not entirely new. In the Summer 2003 volume of American Forests magazine, photojournalist Tim Wright wrote about the possibility of publishing the lat-long coordinates of trees listed in the National Register of Big Trees. Making these locations public would allow nature-lovers to use GPS technology to hunt for the trees, in the same way that geocachers hunt for hidden prizes. In this article, I take Wright's idea of "trees as treasure" a step further and discuss how GPS technology can be used not only to search for trees, but also to help your students learn more about them.

Why GPS Technology?

Using GPS devices to introduce students to the plants growing around your school helps to meet the National Educational Technology Standards set forth by the International Society for Technology in Education. Specifically, this activity helps to meet Student Standards 1, 2, 4, and 6 by encouraging them to demonstrate creativity and innovation; communicate and work collaboratively, use critical thinking, problem solving, and decision-making skills; and demonstrate an understanding of technology (International Society for Technology in Education, 2007). Activities involving GPS technology also provide active-learning situations (Figure 2) that align with Content Standards A, C, E, and G of the National Science Education Standards (Science as Inquiry, Life Science, Science and Technology, and History and Nature of Science, respectively). Finally, the National Research Council (NRC) has recommended providing more real-world, authentic experiences in science education (NRC, 1996). Working with live plants helps to meet this recommendation better than models or pictures.

Further, taking students outside for science lessons is an idea that continues to gain popularity and support nationally. The National No Child Left Inside Coalition has proposed an amendment to the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act to add incentives for states to develop environmental literacy plans and promote more outdoor experiences during classroom instruction (National NCLI Coalition, 2010). Serious environmental issues face the next generation, and it is critical that students have a basic level of environmental literacy to prepare them to face environmental challenges as adults. Yet children are becoming increasingly disconnected from the natural world, a condition often called "nature-deficit disorder" (Louv, 2005). Fostering personal connections between your students and nature is an important part of developing environmental literacy.

This lesson will help make your students more aware of the plants living around them. The phenomenon known as "plant blindness" was first suggested by Wandersee and Schussler (1999). …

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