Academic journal article Science and Children

Get Connected: Incorporating Technology into Your Lessons Does Not Mean You Have to Stay Indoors!

Academic journal article Science and Children

Get Connected: Incorporating Technology into Your Lessons Does Not Mean You Have to Stay Indoors!

Article excerpt

Technology can be both a blessing and a curse in the classroom. Although technology can provide greater access to information and increase student engagement, if screen time replaces time spent outside, then students stand to lose awareness and connectivity to the surrounding natural environment. So how can we use the best of both worlds to foster student awareness of their local environment, while still preparing our children for success in the 21st Century? Our answer: Google Earth!

A Framework of K-12 Science Education recommends essential practices of K-12 classrooms that include engaging students in asking questions and using models (NRC 2012). Science instruction should also involve students in obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information. By combining nature observations, journaling, research, and geo-tagging (the association of an observation to a specific place on Earth) within Google Earth, our students were able to do all of these practices at once. We also addressed disciplinary core ideas in life science. These core ideas included how ecosystems interact with each other and the physical environment, and also the interdependent relationships found within ecosystems (NRC 2012, pp. 140, 142). Using Google Earth (available for free at, students were able to explore a model of the entire Earth virtually through images captured from satellites.

To show you how Google Earth can be translated into your practice, we will describe a four-day unit involving our fifth-grade students as we went into to the school yard, made observations in nature journals, researched about various school yard species, and then connected discoveries to Google Earth! Though this unit was conducted with fifth graders, it can be easily modified for any grade level.

Preparing for the Lesson

For this unit, based on the 5E Learning Cycle (Bybee 1997), you will need at least one computer loaded with Google Earth available for students to both view and edit their entries. Having an LCD projector to display Google Earth is optimal. Students or groups of students can then enter the data onto the map using one computer, while others in the class can observe and comment on the entry displayed on the screen by the LCD projector. You could also consider inviting parents with digital cameras or smart phones to participate during the Explore section of this activity, which can help you obtain extra materials and support while also creating a home-school connection.

Before teaching, we researched plants and animals native to our region (see Internet Resources). Our local extension agency had a fantastic tree identification key for trees of Tennessee that we found by searching the internet using the name of our state and "extension agency." Try checking out the website of the extension agency in your state.

We picked up field guides at the local used book store for the students to use during research. We also bookmarked websites like Cornell's All About Birds website and for students to reference (see Internet Resources). Although we let our students observe and research a variety of living things, you may want to consider limiting the students' outdoor observations to one or two categories such as trees and birds. This will focus students' observations and help you identify the best research resources for your students.


We began by having students think quietly about their school yard and gave them 15 minutes to draw a picture of what they thought it looked like on a blank sheet of drawing paper (see Figure 1 for instructions). There was no right or wrong answer to this activity; it was just a great way to preassess our students' prior conceptions about their school yard by creating a mental map.

Next, we posted the drawings in an area where all the students could look at them. After giving students a few minutes to look at each other's pictures, we came back together to discuss common elements among the pictures. …

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