Dustin Angell, education director at Archbold Biological Station, orchestrated a fun family day at the station that brought technology, electronics and outdoor exercise together. The outing served as the perfect way to encourage outdoor exploration while still allowing children to engage in their use of electronics.
Before heading outdoors, Angell explained an innovative and free science application called iNaturalist that can be downloaded on phones or iPads. Participants watched as Angell showed them photographs of animals and plants that were uploaded to the www.iNaturalist.org website. Each photo that is uploaded can be shared with people globally so that the species can be identified and studied. Scientists can use the data collected by citizens on their phones and iPads and organize the information into databases.
Angell stated, “Scientists will use the work we are doing to help better understand the planet.”
Archbold has used the application to document and share pictures of the species that live on the research station. As a result, people can go to www.inaturalist.org/places/archbold-biological-station and see pictures of the plants and animals that can be found at their facility. Below each picture, is the common name and the scientific name for each species.
Angell elaborated on the rules for taking pictures which included no pictures of faces, potted plants or pets. The application also requires that people upload pictures of just one species per picture. After explaining the rules, Angell distributed iPads to the children. The adults downloaded the application on their cell phones and used their phones to take pictures and upload them.
Children used their iPads to take pictures of the plants and animals found along the trail. Some children took pictures of pine trees, live oak trees and epiphytes. As Angell walked with the children and encouraged them to snap pictures with their iPads, he stopped periodically to explain information about the different species.
He grabbed a piece of Spanish moss and said, “This is not really moss. It’s a bromeliad that’s related to the pineapple. It’s also considered an epiphyte, something that grows on trees.”
He continued explaining that usually plants have roots to soak up the water. He asked the participants how the bromeliad could soak up water without roots. When no one could answer, he took a bottle of water and poured it on the bromeliad. The grey color changed to green so that the plant could use photosynthesis to make its own food.
“The plant opens itself up to water and soaks it up,” Angell said. “It exposes the green part to the sun. Normally, it is closed up and grey to protect itself.”
The children listened intently and snapped photos with their iPads. They were delighted to be using electronics while exploring the outdoors. Angell’s unique approach to teaching children helps them to enjoy the learning process and appreciate the natural world around them.