Exploring Ecology of a River

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Level of education: secondary school
School subject / course: Biology
Learning aims and objectives:
Which learning aims and objectives were achieved through this scenario?

To introduce students to biodiversity
To practice data recording using a Smartphone or PDA

Relation to the local or national curriculum:

GCSE Biology: Organisms and their environment
GCSE Biology: Interdependence and adaptation of organisms
GCSE Biology: Environmental change

Number of lessons / hours of scenario duration (without preparation time):
One day field trip to local stream
Preparation time for setup: Time to check software installed, risk analysis completed. Also a good plan to visit stream yourself to check in advance.
Working modes.
E.g. form of individual work; group work:
Small group work, Smartphone has pdf with instructions and spreadsheet for students to capture data
E.g. mobile equipment used, hard- and software, further equipment:

We used PDAs (Windows Mobile) but any smartphone with a spreadsheet capability should be okay

Access to intranet/ internet via WIFI or other mobile networks:

Needed back at school to share group data to build up a whole class picture of flora and fauna observed and river flow rates at different locations

Costs for hardware, software, infrastructure:

As this was centred on Office spreadsheets there was an overhead, the school had purchased a dozen PDAs that came with Pocket versions of Excel and Word.

Year the scenario was realised in: 2006
Country the scenario was realised in: United Kingdom
Contact of person who owns copyright of the scenario: j.m.wishart@bristol.ac.uk
Ethical and/or safety concerns.
What issues do other teachers need to plan ahead for?

Safety largely concerned supervising students focusing on small, handheld devices whilst moving on uneven ground and occasionally within the stream itself. As the devices were school owned and there was no wi-fi signal at the location there were no opportunities for the students to access possibly inappropriate websites or opportunity to store personal,private details on the handsets.

Narrative description of the practical implementation of the scenario.
Advice for others wishing to repeat the scenario, e.g. including photos, videos, sounds, a short description, tutorials, etc.:

This was a standard field trip to record the flora and fauna present in different habitats, to study their adaptations enhanced with the opportunity to record findings easily and quickly on a PDA. The spreadsheet software enabled totals of minibeasts and details of locations to be recorded consistently for all groups. This made collating it for discussion back in the classroom much easier than usual.

spreadsheet for logging river data on a field trip

Brief reflection:
  • How happy are you with the implementation of the mobile learning scenario?
  • How did the learners like it?
  • Looking back, what would you keep and what would you change?

Students worked sensibly and collected different amounts of information, not everyone got the pH probe to work for instance. It was a very valuable event however, I doubt it would have happened without the support of the Field Studies expert who set up all the spreadsheets and checked the proposed locations for the visit beforehand. As ever identifying minibeasts was a challenge – it would have been helpful if we had pre-prepared images, especially of the larvae, of the commonly found insects.

On particular bonus was the photos the students captured, they didn’t show much detail however, proved useful some weeks later in triggering their memories during a revision session.

Learning benefits:
E.g. subject knowledge, co-operation, personalised learning, collaborative knowledge building, learning independent from time and place, distributed learning, etc.

Students learned through active participation in an authentic task – having the PDA seemed to engage them more than usual – possibly because it was novel. They learned more about the scientific process and skills such as observation, need for clarity in reporting than about the different features of the animals and plants found. There was good opportunity for the teacher though highlight impact of pollution and erosion – human induced environmental change.

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