On 4th April, I delivered a keynote presentation to Kirklees’ outdoor learning conference, “I’m a kid, get me out of here”. My presentation was entitled ‘Digitally Outdoors’.
Now, I am a passionate advocate for the use of technology to enhance learning and this could well be described as ‘my thing’. However, I have more than one ‘thing’ and therein is something of a problem. In the past, when I’ve been out and about evangelising about technology for learning, I have been met by those educators whose arms are crossed and whose brows are furrowed and who are clearly looking at me like some sort of harbinger of doom. I know what they’re thinking. They are thinking:
“Listen to you! Don’t you know how important *REAL* paint is? Don’t you know that children need to *talk* to other *real* children? Don’t you know that children need to use paper and pens? *REAL* books? Listen to you with your talk of touch-screens and smart devices. Tut, tut tut – what has the world come to?”
I believe this thinking is unhelpful. I believe it is founded upon a polar, ‘either-or’ argument that does not reflect my educational philosophy. As I have said before, what we are after is a rich balance. Technology is a tool. So is a pencil, a book, paint, clay, a saw, a stick or a pebble. As educators, we have a range tools at our disposal to help maximise learning. Our job is to deploy tools in a way that we think fit in order to maximise learning potential, whether we’re talking about an ipad or a beach. This is how I started my keynote.
I owe so much to my network, to the wonderful, benevolent people I know both virtually and in real life. Many of the ideas in my presentation have come directly or indirectly via the following:
Vicki McCormick, Lou Bristow, Catherine Heppenstall, James Langley, Tim Rylands, David Mitchell, Alison Lydon and Juliet Robertson.
Firstly, the camera. This is probably the single most useful, versatile and potential-laden digital tool in your toolbox. As a simple recording and reporting back device in the hands of pupils or adults, it has so much to offer!
Get the kids to take close-up, ‘guess what’ pictures.
…or find pictures of patterns.
PicColllage is a great, free app that can aggregate images and combine them with some funky text for sharing or display. Get the kids out, sniffing around for interesting things with their cameras.
…such as green things, red things, soft things, hard things. Why not get them to make collages that we all have to guess what the theme is. Things beginning with ‘P’? Natural things?
Geocaching is an engaging way to involve people in focussed, motivating, learning activity. You can create your own treasure hunt using either GPS devices or (I gather) any device equipped with the Geocaching app.
Create your own geocaches to secret around your school grounds. Pop some interesting, topic-themed clues and goodies into them and away you go!
Runkeeper. Tim Rylands provided me with some wonderful slides. Thanks Tim!
Runkeeper is an app designed to track your activity, whether it is a run, a bike ride, a downhill ski or a walk. It tracks and records your location, route, average pace etc and presents the information in some lovely graphs and maps on the Runkeeper website. This gives us some real potential for learning activities, particularly in Maths. Tim had asked a group of children to use the app to see if they could ‘map’ an equilateral triangle on the school field. This one idea, leaves my mind boggling at all the further possibilities for geometry, let alone what else could be done with an app such as this. (Post script: Matthew Pearson has since directed me to these amazing examples of cyclist-produced ‘drawings’.)
QR (Quick Response) codes are another possible source of a ‘hunter-gatherer’ activity. They can be created easily; either via an app that reads the codes (such as QR reader) or via a website such as Kaywa. Codes can be created to link to text, or weblinks or even other files. A handy work-around for linking to *any* file is to store a file (video, image, document) in a cloud location such as Dropbox and then link the QR code to the online (Dropbox) file.
We have a new subject in the National Curriculum called Computing. Now, you might think that this means we need lots of kids sitting at computers, computing away like mad. In reality, there are loads of opportunities for analogue or ‘unplugged’ computing that can be done outdoors. I showed this video clip from the wonderful CS Unplugged people by way of illustration.
I’m sure that GPS trackers were never invented with education in mind. These devices can record their exact location and movement across the earth’s surface and provide said movements on an online map whilst also coming equipped with a useful magnet for attachment to the bottom of, say, a car. Suspicious spouses or private Investigators may be the intended market, but there are some excellent educational possibilities for such a device.
David Mitchell told me that he’d hidden one inside the Barnaby Bear teddy and set it off roaming the world in the hands of his pupils, only to review the journey later on an online map. Brilliant!
Why not bring the outdoors indoors? With these couple of tools (Ambient Mixer and Sound Sleeping), you can instantly create wonderful soundscapes to evoke amazing atmospheres. What a great stimulus for language and discussion. Just close your eyes. There is also an app.
Get yourself a cheap helmet cam and strap it to a welly, or a belt, or round a head. Go for a walk and then watch it back. How do the points of view differ? What was it like to be sitting on a welly splashing through the puddles and mud!?
I wanted to anticipate a couple of questions, but these actually arose early in my presentation. The biggy was about connectivity. Many of the ideas I’d talked about depended upon some sort of data connection to a device and, outside of school buildings, this can be a challenge. One thing that occurred to me was the possibility of teachers setting up their own (pocket-based) mobile phone hotspots using their 3G data. When I discussed this on Twitter, a few people came back saying, variously, that it could work, has worked for them but is dependent upon good phone signals, plenty of mobile data and battery life. More highly recommended were Mifi solutions.
So educational technology is definitely my ‘thing’ but one of my other ‘things’ is the outdoors, and where analogue and digital meet is where you can often find me.
If you have any ideas that you would like to add, I’d love to hear from you!