This is a guest post from San Diego iPad Summit presenter, Cheryl Davis (@digitalteacher).

Let’s go – out and about with mobile technologies! We often acknowledge that a benefit of technology is that it can provide our students with the ability to go beyond the walls of the classroom to explore virtually the world. And as school technology becomes increasingly mobile, we are also seeing the benefits of how “taking technology along” can enhance real time field trips and involve students in real world participatory learning. Taking students to “the place” with mobiles in hand – whether it be a visit to a museum, a historic site, a local community event or contributing to a citizen science project – can add a dimension of creativity and student learning that builds on and supports our curricular goals.

Teachers are incorporating ways to make these field excursions with mobiles even more powerful than just accessing apps to listen to museum recordings or taking a few pictures or videos on the day of the trip. Involving students in working with local organizations and creating field trip guides prior to leaving stretches out the learning beyond the designated day away from school. By setting up inquiry-based projects and goals to achieve while on the trip and having students share what they have curated, collected, and created with a world wide audience can be a powerful learning experience. And when classes partner with community organizations, National or local parks, or history sites, students contribute back in meaningful ways to the locales they visit.

For example in science, teachers use citizen science apps and sites to make field trips participatory. There are many scientific organization that count on people (like your students) to move their science inquiries forward, and for students to know that they are contributing to a scientific study adds to their investment in the excursion. What students contribute on the trip matters to the world beyond the classroom.

An Illustration of this can been seen at Hamlin School in San Francisco, where science teacher Rachel Davis’ students are collecting data on the revitalization of Mountain Lake in the Presidio, which is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation area. Students use their iPads to monitor phenology, water quality, dragonfly migration, pollinators, insects and birds while in the field and report their data to scientists so that the information can be used to understand how environmental systems are changing. This is particularly important to the Presidio as scientists work on reestablishing native plants and animals to the lake which has suffered under the urban environment. Rachel partnered with the Presidio Trust to involve her students in this real world inquiry-based project – and both the students, the park and other science organizations benefit!

Students recording data in the field Image Credit: Cheryl Davis
Students recording data in the field
Image Credit: Cheryl Davis

Studying history? A web search at the Library of Congress or contacting your local historical society will most likely reveal some neighborhood or nearby history connections. Sites like The Living New Deal which works to identify and preserve New Deal sites or Photogrammar out of Yale University (where students can search photos taken by United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information between 1935-1945) provide primary source images and information on mapped sites which may be in your backyard. With iPad in hand, students can view downloaded images researched in advance and then have the historic documentation with them as they travel. Historic primary source photos are powerful images which can connect students to an event while they stand on the spot where it happened. With the multi-media creation tools on their iPads, students can record reflections, interviews and capture current images to compare and contrast as they participate in inquiry-based activities on the sites.

When the places on your visit list don’t have field study or museum guides that can be accessed via mobile, that’s where student involvement and research really comes in. Set up a free iTunes U course for students to access on their iPads and fill it with the “on the go” content thatyou want students to have while in the field. Students download the content from the iTunes U course on their iPads prior to take off and then they are set with all of the background information, photos and documents that you want them to access. You can map out locations, add directions for literature walks, provide instructions for poetry creations, connect to citizen science apps or data sheets, provide mind mapping or sketching tools, connect to photo montage apps or Multi-Touch books that can all be carried along easily, and used without wifi connection. The sites and sounds while students are “on location” can easily be captured with iMovie, Garageband or screen casting apps such as Explain Everything and edited on the spot for interviewing or journalism assignments. To add even more student input, have students do the research to help you create these iTunes U course guides. Posting discussion comments along the way can enhance discussion on return to class.

For extended field trips, students can take on the role of teacher or facilitator by sending content that they have created back to their home school for a virtual interface with students still in the classroom. Students can also share their skills and knowledge on data collection and curation with younger students.

So although we may not travel outside the classroom walls with our students as often as we’d like, when we do, we can use mobile technology as a learning and creation source. When you can’t take them there – virtual is wonderful – but when you can, their contributions to the records of our knowledge are invaluable – both for them and the world.

Come learn more about setting up field trips and iTunes U course guides during our February 10-11 EdTechTeacher San Diego iPad Summit session.  Share with us how your students are collecting, curating, creating and learning while they are out and about with you.