Citizen Science in the School – Mobile Learning, iPads and Birds!

Over the past few years at my previous school Sussex Inlet PS (coastal with remnant forest and nature trail) I ran regular bird studies activities either before school as a special interest group activity or with my regular class as appropriate.  The sessions came out of my interest in environmental education, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York state and the availability of the Birds in Backyards website and its online school survey function.

What started out as regular bird watching and identification transformed into science focused data collection with a purpose.; students not only wanted to identify birds and listen to their calls but then collate the session data and log each survey.

I’ve now taken on a new role at Mt Ousley PS in urban Wollongong. The school is in the middle of a suburban residential block and is surrounded by houses; a different ecological environment yet still interesting and with a range of urban species.

I introduced my 1/2 class to bird observation through a walk around the grounds, we took with us a species identification chart and a single pair of binoculars. Students quickly became absorbed in looking and listening for birds and as I’ve found previously, ‘the outdoor classroom’ encouraged students to actively respond to their surrounds.

Excitingly and for our next session we had the use of iPads and a wireless school network for web access to the Birds in Backyards site.  The students, armed now with various defined roles such as identification chart observer,  bird spies ( via five pairs of new binoculars), and iPad users, the students responded to an enhanced learning experience.

The iPads proved a success as students used the devices as identification tools, enter data and survey results while others played mp3 birdcalls of species observed and took photos as we moved to different areas.  Combine this with Google Maps providing a satellite location shot we had a mobile learning experience that was truly valid, engaging and rewarding.

I now have students asking to go birding, that have purchased their own binoculars and are producing bird artworks and observing birds at home…… an education that goes beyond the classroom, beyond the school and into the home.

Creative, critical and curious students…… now that is rewarding!