By Dave Simpkins, Trails Editor/Publisher
We know children love nature.
We also know they love technology.
Last week, Tina Ridlon’s fourth graders from Century School in Park Rapids spent the day using the latest technological gadgets to to investigate the wonders of nature at Itasca State Park.
“You kids have heard of CSI on TV. Well today, we’re going to have a FSI, Park Scene Investigation,” said Steve Maanum a retired Park Rapids science teacher and leader of the pilot program, Through The Lens of a Camera teaching young students how to use technology to learn from nature.
The students used digital cameras, Global Positioning System, GPS, devices, a See Snake video inspection tool, a parabolic dish, hunting blinds, computers, printers and manikin birdfeeders to investigate habitat around the Jacob Brower Visitors Center.
The students were divided into five groups with five learning stations to visit.
The GPS group started out in the small theatre for a lesson on how to use a GPS and given Garmin GPS units to find one of two habitat locations near the center.
One habitat was the nest of a red squirrel and the other the site of a buck scrape. Once at the scene they had to observe the area finding traces of food, fur and scat. They photographed these findings and took notes on their clipboards.
Two hunting blinds were set up, one near a window with a bird feeder outside and the other about 20 feet from the center facing the bird feeders. Both groups identified birds at the feeder.
Before going to an outside blind the students used an iFlyer Birdsong Scanning Wand to learn the sounds of common birds including Chickadee, Finches and Woodpeckers.
The outside group used a Parabolic Dish Microphone to find birds to photograph for their reports. While observing song birds an Eagle flew overhead. The young naturalists quickly turned the dish toward the huge bird and heard it screech across the sky.
“Ohhhh, this is the greatest field trip I’ve ever been on,” said a student.
Inside the center, Non-game Wildlife Specialist Carrol Henderson gave a group a basic lesson in wildlife photography.
“You can tell a great deal about how a bird lives by what the body looks like,” said Henderson looking at a stuffed owl.
On the other side of the visitor’s center, the students participated in an experiment. Two manikins, Robin and Jay, were set outside a window a week earlier with birdseed in their hands and on their hats.
A chair was set between the manikins where students were asked to sit quietly with birdseed in their hands and on their hats waiting for birds to come feed.
Birds did land on a few students but many may have been scared away by the half dozen other students waiting behind a window to photograph the event.
Once the students gathered their information they returned to the meeting room to process their photographs in Google Picasa and print them out on high quality snapshot printers.
The prints were then put in greeting cards to take home to Mom.
“This is such a great place for young people to learn a wide variety of skills,” said Regional Extension Educator, Joe Courneya. “We’re hoping this pilot program will expand to schools across the state. Not as an additional course of study but as a way of presenting primary learning through nature.”
Beginning next year, Henderson will be training 80 teachers across the state in these methods.
“We’re real excited about connecting children with nature through technology,” said Henderson.
Itasca State Park Naturalist Connie Cox felt the same way.
“The use of technology, such as digital cameras, GPS, bird song players and even parabolic microphones, can greatly enhance a visitors experience of the outdoors,” said Cox.
“Cameras allow us to focus our eyes on the detail in nature as well as offering a lasting memory of Itasca State Park. GPS units allow us to explore off the beaten path and discover other hidden treasures. And to hear a bird’s song amplified opens a whole new experience to wildlife. These tools can be used in interpretive programs very easily. Sitting in a blind allows visitors to have a closer view of wildlife that might not be enjoyed when driving through the park. The possibilities seem unlimited,” added Cox.