TechnoSmart=WaterSmart

by Elaine Tucker | Jul 19, 2011
| 1 Comment

Summary:

The most unique aspect of my idea is its deliberate use of newer technology, the SmartBoard, as a transition tool from the world of the classroom, and the techno-obsessed modern kids in it, to the world of the nature field experience. While we should not allow technology to invade or overshadow unplugged, natural experiences, its careful use can enhance the efficiency and the scope of what informal educators (like those of us at Eastman Nature Center) can do with the short time students are with us. Developed correctly, the add-ons to water-study curriculum should make it very easy for teachers to have their kids prepared ahead of time, every time, for their visit (and that is something new!). Students will feel immediately at home with the tools of their experience. Teachers will walk away with a post-visit activity that is instantly ready to use. Technology AND nature, not technology OR nature.

Some students come to the nature center and find the environment so alien, the experience so unlike those of their daily life, that they are uncomfortable and are unable to learn. Allowing them to begin their experience using a tool with which they are already familiar before asking them to leave their comfort zones behind should help them make the most of their time outside. That time will also be of much more utility and discussions will be at much more depth. Any educator knows that prior knowledge makes new learning WAY more meaningful. A ready-to-go pre-activity is more likely to get used by time-pressed teachers, this is nothing new. The computerized format means that the lesson can literally be finished on site. Practice breeds familiarity and comfort, and this means kids are much more likely to be ready to think about and internalize the real issues behind what they see. Then, after practicing on-site, teachers and students should feel no barrier to continuing the program of learning back at school. They will be ready for the next step: personal action.

About You

Organization: Eastman Nature Center -- Three Rivers Park District Visit websitemore ↓↑ hide↑ hide

About You

First Name

Elaine

Last Name

Tucker

Country

United States, MN, Hennepin County

City

Osseo/Maple Grove

About Your Organization

Organization Name

Eastman Nature Center -- Three Rivers Park District

Your Idea

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Name your idea

TechnoSmart=WaterSmart

Describe how you would use $15,000 to help your community become aware of and address water issues in Minnesota.

The outcome of the project will have three parts: 1) new technology implementation, 2) new curriculum, and 3) ongoing relationships. It will support a set of nature center field trip programs, each emphasizing water-quality or habitat analysis, the value of healthy natural water systems, and the impact of humans on those systems.

SmartBoard technology is present in many schools and installing a SmartBoard at Eastman Nature Center will set the stage for familiarity, dialogue, and innovation: familiarity for our visitors, dialogue between our different educational systems, and innovation in new program.
I will create a set of activities for use in the school classroom using SmartBoard technology and designed to precede a field trip. Likewise, to make transition from school to nature center easy, I will re-design our on-site field trip introductions to use this technology, and also use it at each visit’s conclusion in a way that can package the results of field work. A post-activity back at school would link the outcomes of their daily activities in the classroom or at home with some of the results they might have seen in nature.

I want a corp of advisory teachers when developing these programs, and I want their feedback after they visit, followed by program refinement and re-visits by those teachers with their next sets of students. I also want there to be a venue (likely online) for collaboration with students after their visit. My hope would be to link differences in behavior on their and their community's part to differences in natural systems that they might be able to observe or report upon.

Curriculum would be linked to state education standards, at-home/school student or community behaviors would be linked to "real life" outcomes in nature, and formal educators would be linked to informal. Using technology as a bridge between "their" world and their surroundings will capture the involvement of the upcoming generation of caring citizens.

How do you define your "community"?. How are water issues affecting your community?

Eastman Nature Center, within Elm Creek Park Reserve, is located between the growing cities of Osseo, Dayton, and Maple Grove and its former farmland surroundings are gradually becoming engulfed in the latest wave of suburban development. This is the physical community of Eastman. Runoff control measures (or lack thereof) upstream on Rush Creek, which meets and flows on with Elm Creek within the park reserve, have resulted in incredible flux in water flow over the past several years, leading to possible changes in water quality and hugely impacting bank erosion at several sites near the nature center itself, including some that affect hiking paths. Invasive species of various kinds have moved into the nature center pond and are reducing the species diversity there.

The users of Eastman Nature Center, however, represent a much larger community, even when one focuses on school field trip participants. Classrooms of pre-K through high school aged students come from as much as an hour away, though the majority are from relatively nearby. Each year Eastman serves thousands of school aged children and many of their parents, present as chaperones for the busy field trip day. The Eastman Nature Center is only one of seven interpretive sites belonging to the Park District, the rest of which are scattered throughout the western metro area. Any program piloted successfully at Eastman will transfer to other sites within the district, as well as other informal education sites that do pond, lake or stream study and can get a SmartBoard. And what water issue is not affecting some part of the Twin Cities Metro Area? The rapidly growing community of Maple Grove must deal with runoff control from its increasingly developed and paved acres of land. As populations grow, waterways will likely face the threat of an overabundance of nutrients and other kinds of pollutants. Our program will help kids see the problems and to care about them. Then we will send them away to take action.

Innovation

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Describe how your idea is creative.

The most unique aspect of my idea is its deliberate use of newer technology, the SmartBoard, as a transition tool from the world of the classroom, and the techno-obsessed modern kids in it, to the world of the nature field experience. While we should not allow technology to invade or overshadow unplugged, natural experiences, its careful use can enhance the efficiency and the scope of what informal educators (like those of us at Eastman Nature Center) can do with the short time students are with us. Developed correctly, the add-ons to water-study curriculum should make it very easy for teachers to have their kids prepared ahead of time, every time, for their visit (and that is something new!). Students will feel immediately at home with the tools of their experience. Teachers will walk away with a post-visit activity that is instantly ready to use. Technology AND nature, not technology OR nature.
Some students come to the nature center and find the environment so alien, the experience so unlike those of their daily life, that they are uncomfortable and are unable to learn. Allowing them to begin their experience using a tool with which they are already familiar before asking them to leave their comfort zones behind should help them make the most of their time outside. That time will also be of much more utility and discussions will be at much more depth. Any educator knows that prior knowledge makes new learning WAY more meaningful. A ready-to-go pre-activity is more likely to get used by time-pressed teachers, this is nothing new. The computerized format means that the lesson can literally be finished on site. Practice breeds familiarity and comfort, and this means kids are much more likely to be ready to think about and internalize the real issues behind what they see. Then, after practicing on-site, teachers and students should feel no barrier to continuing the program of learning back at school. They will be ready for the next step: personal action.

Impact

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Describe how how you expect your idea to make a difference in your community.

Designing a field trip that is easy to prepare for, is easy and fun to participate in, is easy to follow up on, AND meets education standards means more teachers will be willing to come out with their students and more PTAs and principals will justify the funding for it. More field trips for students means more time outside, connecting with the natural world. More time connecting will lead to young citizens who CARE about natural resources. Caring is the first step to wanting to DO something to help.

This idea uses a multi-mode approach of mixing the flash and familiarity of technology with the mental stimulation of real-world context and with the spiritual awakening that happens with personal nature contact. This potent combination will help students' experiences have meaning and the new ideas they learn stick. They will be ready for the next step.

When kids have the background knowledge and personal experience to inform their behaviors they can make a lot happen. Young people are forming the habits and opinions now that will shape all of our futures. If the post-visit activities designed for this program can inspire teachers and students to change behaviors or complete projects in ways that are good for Minnesota's water resources, a lot of great work will get done.

And if some of the people involved make the change to see technology as a tool for greater understanding and a bridge to, not a barrier or replacement for, our natural resources ... all the better.

Sustainability and Growth

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Describe how your idea will "stick" in your community and how you think it could be repeated in other communities.

The desire for the equipment and the curriculum development that this program's creation would support is already in place; we have already been trying to find money for the SmartBoard and compensation for the time it will take to develop the curricula. The demand for the program topic also already exists. For example, one existing program that this revamp would affect was taught more than twenty times during one recent month of May at Eastman Nature Center. Each session served between 30 and 150 kids, plus chaperones. Because our audiences come to us with school teachers, each year the same teachers bring back another batch of kids if the program is fun, easy, and meets their classroom needs. These curricula will be designed to be all those things and more.

Some upkeep will be necessary if the collaborative aspect of this idea is to be kept alive. If the programs are a success, however, a dedicated allotment of staff time to follow up with visiting schools will be supported by my organization, especially if it clinches relationships with repeat visitors. The relationships with the first advisor teachers can be allowed to fade once the development and refinement of the program is complete. Afterwards, informal polling of other teachers that come on field trips and periodic brainstorming will keep things fresh.

As for repeating in other communities, it is likely that a successful program at Eastman will later be adopted at others of the Three Rivers interpretive sites, including the Kroening Interpretive Center on the bank of the Mississippi River, directly across from Minneapolis' water treatment plant, adjacent to the population centers of Downtown and North Minneapolis. Money could be found for another SmartBoard. I can also say from experience that every nature center in Minnesota does water education programming. If they can get the SmartBoard and the (very affordable) training to use it, they should find it easy to use the programs we develop.

Lowell Jones said: I think this is a great plans and very advantageous to everybody. This can help improve the water system and maybe even the distribution ... about this Competition Entry. - 1967 days ago read more >

Elaine Tucker updated this Competition Entry. - 2888 days ago

Elaine Tucker updated this Competition Entry. - 2889 days ago

Elaine Tucker updated this Competition Entry. - 2890 days ago

Elaine Tucker submitted this idea. - 2890 days ago