How to Connect Digital and Natural Environments

Use technology to connect children with the garden.


By Anne Nagro

Children today are digital natives. Many don't have hands-on experience when it comes to the great outdoors. But instead of bemoaning this lack of connection with the natural world (a legitimate concern), let's use what they know -- "their" technology -- to bridge the gap.Here are some ideas:

Time-Lapse Video - At the school garden were I volunteer, many students never see the garden during the summer months. They plant it in spring and return in late summer to see it fully mature, like 'magic.' This year we created a time-lapse video of the garden -- view it here -- so returning students could see it grow. They love it! Not only is it a great teaching tool, but it's something we hope to get students more involved in directing next season.

imovie - One of our teachers brings students to the garden to digitally document its growth and the different kinds of fruits and veggies growing. They make this into an imovie to share with other classes. It's a fun project that takes on a different angle every year. It's also a fun way to ease into the new school year, get to know classmates and enjoy some time outside during the nice weather.

Digital Treasure Hunt - Digital cameras or phones with cameras are perfect for capturing items on a garden treasure hunt... colors, textures, shapes, insects, you name it. "Beauty" or close-up options let students capture intricate plant details and explore their own creativity. Many cameras and phones also can take short videos for filming bees and butterflies in motion.

Facebook, Flickr, Twitter - Post your photos (maybe hold a student garden photo contest) and videos on social media. The students get instant peer recognition and can share their awesome garden experiences with all their 'friends." Plus, having a Facebook page for your garden project is a great way to build connections with local businesses, organizations, and parents. School gardens can't exist without community, so use students' digital mastery to draw in supporters.

Garden Apps - Smartphone apps are all the rage. Did you know you can find them to use in gardens, with insects and in natural settings? One example is Leafsnap, the first in a series of electronic field guides being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. How cool is that?!?

These are just a few ideas. Technology certainly is moving faster than I can keep up with... so perhaps we should ask students how'd they like to use technology in the garden. I think we might be pleasantly surprised.

Copyright Anne Nagro

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