McGraw Hill Education
  • Technology in Literacy Ed

Learning in the Field with Mobile Devices

by William Yang
May 23, 2014
Field Trip Smartphone
photo credit: magnusfranklin via photopin cc

Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets provide students with digital tools without being tethered to the confines of the classroom the way other computers do. As you plan your next class trip to museums, historical sites, or even to the backyard of your school, consider how these unique devices can support your students with content area learning and research in the field. 

Answering Questions 

While on a trip, student questions can be answered through apps to help personalize their learning. Questions can be dictated to the device or a picture can be taken to identify a painting or landmark using Google’s search app to gain context.  There are specialized databases that help students identify and analyze objects in their surroundings. For example, the LeafSnap app helps identify and provide information on a tree based on a picture of a leaf you’ve taken, while the Merlin Bird ID app helps you to identify birds through a series of questions. Other apps such as Google Earth or NASA’s Earth Now app  provide students with geographic, climate, and other useful information from satellites to help explore beyond the classroom.

Documenting Learning in the Field

Mobile devices can also help students document the experience of the trip. One of the easiest ways for students to record their experiences is through the mobile device’s built-in camera.  Even our youngest students can take pictures of places, events, or artifacts found in museum exhibits or historical sites. Students can also use free audio apps to dictate notes and record interviews with experts or tour guides. There are many note taking apps (such as Evernote or Notability) that integrate both photos and audio recording within writing. Some of these programs allow you to work offline and synchronize your notes when you are back online. All of their documentation can be reviewed and referenced when you return to the classroom.

Sharing With Others 

After the trip, there are many publishing tools students can use to communicate what they’ve learned. Many of these apps allow students to publish with multiple media through different formats. Students can annotate their photos using Skitch, create a narrated slideshow using Adobe Voice, or create multimedia e-books through apps such as Book Creator. Aurasma allows students to create their own virtual reality tours in which they embed pictures, documents, or videos within a location so that others can view them when they use the program there. There are a number of possibilities for students to create and share their thoughts!

Teaching Toward Success

Similar to teaching literacy skills and strategies, students need explicit teaching, modeling, and practice to become independent and creative with these unique tools. Prior to the trip, students will need time to use the devices so they are less of a distraction and are seamless during the trip.  

To help students engage with the practice of being fluent with these tools, consider using a structured activity such as a digital scavenger hunt. Students use their mobile devices to track down a person, place, or thing in order to record it, learn about it, and to share it with others. Some middle and high schools have used this format to help freshman learn about their school community as they use the device to scan for clues and locate important places within the school. Students then take pictures of those locations and ultimately construct a multimedia student handbook that they can share with others. 

Examples of digital scavenger hunts and other activities can be found on many educator sites such as the Apptivities.org website which was created by a group of educators from Orlando, Florida. By engaging students with the inquiry process, class trips, and digital tools, learning in the field with mobile devices can be a memorable and enriching experience. 

William YangWilliam Yang (william.c.yang@gmail.com) is an Educational Technology Teacher and Staff Developer for the Scarsdale Public Schools in New York. 

This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association's Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG)

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