Digitally mapping local biodiversity
I am a high school geography teacher, keen to develop students’ mapping skills and knowledge related to land-use and also to explore how digital technologies can give young people a voice about local spaces. My science teacher colleague wants his students to develop the scientific skills of identifying species and understanding habitats. We have seen students benefit from outdoor and experiential learning in the past on field trips and are keen to increase the number of opportunities they have for this sort of learning. Together we create a project in which students use mobile digital technology and GPS/GIS technologies to map land-use and document the habitats of their local spaces. The outcome of the project will be a downloadable interactive guided nature walk for the local community.
Mr Thorne and I work with our colleagues in the Maths department to provide direct instruction on how to use the mobile GPS/GIS technologies and how coordinates work. We then devise a short treasure hunt which involves students using the devices to find a certain place in the local town/school grounds, using specific coordinates, which they then plot on an online map.
Once the students have a good understanding of GPS/GIS and mobile devices, groups of students are allocated certain small areas in the locality which have diverse habitats and uses of land. They add their locations to a central online map. After some direct teaching on methods, they begin the process of documenting the land use and undertake research into what species and habitats exist there. They photograph all the wildlife they find in their area. When they return to the classroom they use a combination of traditional and online classification keys/sites to try to identify all the species. For any problematic identifications the students have pre-arranged access to remote experts/scientists who they can email their photographs or have video calls with. Students discover more about the species they have identified and are taught about monitoring populations. They are also taught to use sensors to monitor data such as humidity and sunlight.
Students consider links between land-use/environmental factors and habitats. Mr Thorne and I ensure that students use scientific ideas and geographical/environmental knowledge to explain phenomena. I also encourage students to consider their views on the future of that space.
Students monitor their small area over a period of a few months, collecting and analysing data and creating short video documentaries/photostories/podcasts as they go. Throughout this process my colleagues and I support the students with their choices of content and how to effectively communicate their knowledge to the chosen audience. We then work with the students to turn their work into an interactive, guided walk that members of the local community can participate in to learn about the local biodiversity. To do this we use mobile digital technologies and either QR codes or mediascape software that allow others to hear the documentaries/see the pictures/hear podcasts the students have created when they are in the physical spaces. The walks are promoted on local travel sites and through community groups and libraries.
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