Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Rise of the Machines

If nature teaches us anything it is that there must always be a balance in everything. Day follows night; winter and summer balance each other; the relationship between predators and prey are always fluctuating but must always be in balance. The lives of today’s youth are inundated with electronic devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and video game consoles to name a few. In contrast, today’s youth are less connected with nature and spend less time outside than any previous generation. The term nature deficit disorder has been coined and many books and articles have been written about it. So if nature is correct, how do we find a balance?

Father and Son Playing IpadSo the solution is, just as nature shows us, to balance and perhaps merge the two together. Today’s tablets and smartphones can play a vital role in introducing today’s youth to the outdoors. Tablets and their applications are excellent for recording data from field experiments and studies. Their custom applications make data sharing and transfer much more efficient than logs created with a pencil.

As a society we are surrounded by technology from ATM machines handing us our money, to price check scanners at the supermarket, to self-checkout lines at the store. Even the concept of a store has changed with the popularity of online purchasing. Technology is so embedded in our daily lives that eliminating it from our children’s world would likely do more harm than good. 

On the other hand, reams of paper have been used to document the adverse effects today’s youth experience from their lack of interaction with nature. The fact that you are reading this article indicates that you are probably aware of this as well. So giving in to the machines is not a viable option either.

Smartphones and their abundant apps can also help introduce youth to the outdoors. There are a number of uses for smartphones outdoors, one of the best being as a field guide. A single phone can contain every field guide you will need, right in your pocket, and instantly provide you with information at your fingertip. 

However, taking students outside is not always possible, at least not all day and every day. There are ways to utilize technology to help teach about nature in the classroom as well. A technology teacher from St. Peter’s Elementary School in Upper Sandusky tries to incorporate the other teachers’ lessons into her technology class. When the third grade class was learning about habitats and adaptations, Mrs. Dilley used a popular iPad app called PicCollage to merge the two subjects. PicCollage is an iPad app used to create picture collages which can be shared or sent electronically, similar to an electronic postcard. She had the students search for photos about habitats and adaptations on the web and use them to develop an electronic picture collage. To accomplish this, the students first had to understand what they were learning in science class before they could develop a collage. It required them to merge two different subjects to develop a project.

Ultimately, there is nothing inherently bad about technology. When applied properly, technology can enhance your student’s experiences with nature. These are just a few ideas on how to balance, or integrate, technology and nature. Of course there are hundreds of ways to integrate education and nature. A great resource and report on Kids and Technology and Nature can be found online from the National Wildlife Federation.

If you would like to share an idea of how you have incorporated wildlife into your teaching, please send it to  If we post it on the blog, we will send you a token of our appreciation.