natureTechnology & Place-based Learning: Where Natural & Virtual Worlds Meet

Some people see a disconnect between authentic, "hands-on," "place-based" learning and technology. Let's create synergy by combining these two powerful approaches.

Place-based Learning

right outside our windowYou don't have to go any further than your window to have wonderful learning experiences that connects the natural and virtual world. Read Right Outside Our Window by Mary Ann Hoberman. What's outside your window? What's right outside the door in the playground or natural area? Use digital photos, charts and graphs to record your findings.


  • Record the weather (i.e., sunny, partly cloudy, cloudy, stormy, windy, foggy, raining, drizzling, snowing).
  • Measure the temperature.
  • How many trees, cars, houses, people, and animals do we see?
  • Use words and photos related to location, direction, distance (i.e, here/there, over/under, left/right, up/down).
  • Use words to describe locations (i.e., north, south, east, west, near the road, across the river, next to the sign)


  • Measure the temperature, humidity, wind speed, and precipitation.

Online Tools for Math

Combine authentic assignments with online technology tools. Examine the following online math tools. Which could be adapted for your grade level?

Combine off computer activities with on-computer tools to solve a problem or show a result. For example, you might create a flashcard showing an activity for a particular time of the day along with the time such as "It is 7:30AM. It is time for breakfast." Then, ask students to use the Analog Clock website to show the time on the clock. On the back of the flashcard or paper, show the correct time on an analog clock, so students can check their work.

Explore the following online math tools that help students work with math concepts. What off-computer activities are needed to guide the use of this tool? Will you print sample screens? Will you provide problems to solve? How will these tools be introduced in a large-group settings? How will individual students access the tools?
Pick one tool to explore indepth. Design a Word-based activity to will get students started using this tool. Brainstorm sample problems.




Go to the Math Tools page for many more online tools.

Graph ContestGraphs

Read Loreen Leedy's The Great Graph Contest. Get students involved in making graphs. Go outside to collect information that can be organized on a graph. Use technology tools to create your graph such as Create a Graph.


Let's try it ourselves. In pairs, go outside and collect some data. You need to think of something that you can express using a bar chart using Grapher. Then, think of an activity that would involve students in collecting data outside. Will they look for things in nature? Will the conduct an experiment? If you can't think of an idea, try a simple experiment. How long does it take for water to dry on the sidewalk in the sun, on the sidewalk in the shade, on bare earth in the sun and shade, or in other situations? Or, who can hold their breath for the longest period of time? Try measuring cars. Which are the shortest and longest cars in the parking lot? How many different colors of cars are found in the parking lot? How many different types of trees?

Need ideas for science projects?

Start Inside, Move Outside

Work toward bridging the inside and outside world with a series of activities that look at the fact and fiction of the natural world. Along the way, address information skills associated with fact and opinon, fiction and nonfiction, and real and pretend situations.


Fact and Fiction

safariConnect math and science activities to nature themes. Also make connections between fact/fiction and real/pretend. Many picture books contain unrealistic views of the world. Help students see the difference between fact and fiction.

Read Starry Safari by Linda Ashman with illustrations by Jeff Mack. Choose an illustration from the Jeff Mack art gallery. How does this illustration look like and unlike the real animal? Create a PowerPoint document containing options for students along with photos that could be used for comparison. Select websites that could be used to gather information. You could do this activity with photos from many different illustrators.


Virtual Field Trips

Explore predictable books by Valeria Petrone including Way Far Away on a Wild Safari.


Let's go on a schoolyard safari. What creatures can be found in and around our school? What do you see on your adventure? Let's explore our community! Create an electronic scrapbook in PowerPoint showing the "signs of nature" found on the school grounds. Think about how this scrapbook could be expanded through the school year. Use some of the following techniques:
Create sounds to narrate photographs.
Use bubbles to highlight features in the photos.
Use the Speakernotes to provide background information.

Consider a theme such as
Signs of Life
Snapshots of Nature
Scrapbooking the Seasons
Our Nature Alphabet Scrapbook
Our Green Spaces
Outside and Alive
I Spy Nature

Use PowerPoint and photographs to create engaging activities that introduce or review topics. Provide students with some starters. Then, give students digital cameras to record additional examples.

To save the starter project, right click on the words Who Lives Here, then choose Save Target As. Notice where the file is being saved. Use the slide show mode to run the presentation. Follow the directions in the SpeakerNotes in the presentation to create your own project. Try combining images together. For example, go outside and take a picture of a bush, then add a bunny to this photo to place the bunny in a context. Need animals? Use the backyard.ppt.

Consider other ideas for interactive projects using photographs:
People Made or Nature Made?

Build starters to help students share their experiences and understandings. Right-click and Save Target as the weather.ppt example. Use this starter to create an activity that involves students in writing about weather. Then, ask students to build their own project using digital photos from real weather situations.

Build Nature Connectionstree of life

grades 3-6

Explore the book Tree of Life by Rochelle Strauss.
Download the PDF guide with lesson ideas. (PDF file: use Lamb's email address and negenz57 or make your own). Adapt the lesson ideas to a PowerPoint activity format.


To learn more about the concerns related to the disconnect many children have with the natural world, read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.

Explore these resources to reach beyond the classroom.

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Developed by Annette Lamb, 7/06.