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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Kids and camera traps

Question: How do you make it fun for kids to learn about ecology and  modern technology, and develop respect for nature?

Answer: Give them lessons in camera trapping.

That's what’s happening at Afton-Lakeland Elementary School near Minnesota's twin cities.

Dawn Tanner is developing a trail camera curriculum there for school kids.

Dawn is a University of Minnesota PhD candidate. Her baptism in wildlife research was in the Galapagos Islands and Malaysian Borneo.

She loved fieldwork, but decided that she wanted to get elementary school kids turned on to science, biodiversity, and conservation.

And how did that happen?

Well, she got an NSF fellowship that sent graduate students in ecology and conservation biology to Minnesota's metropolitan schools. Their mission there was to work with the teachers to improve science lessons and incorporate science more broadly into the school curriculum.

[Coyote at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve]

Many Minnesota kids have formed positive attitudes about the environment by the time they reach the fifth grade.

"The kids' attitudes and their receptivity to environmentally responsible behavior is right on track. They score very high with respect to their attitudes about the environment, but they don't know what to do with it yet.”

"The problem is that city kids in particular are short on environmental experiences. The temptation to play with high tech toys in front of a TV screen is powerful. Enter trail cameras!"

Unlike many computer games that cultivate couch potatoes, trail cameras are an alternative "techie gadget" that is fun to use outdoors.

Trail cams can lure kids into the field, teach them how to monitor wildlife, and give them an exhilarating outdoor learning experience. They can even imbue them with a love of nature.

[Fisher at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve]

At the moment, Dawn is testing the curriculum.

She and the kids have been using 8 trail cams at Afton State Park and Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve.

The word is out and teachers are interested.

“Quite a number of teachers have contacted me already because they've heard about the testing we're doing at Afton-Lakeland Elementary. They want to get involved right now." 

"I wish I could have the curriculum ready sooner. There’s a strong desire to teach with remote cameras and get kids out there doing biodiversity science.”

To date Dawn and the kids have photographed 12 species of mammals and birds.

"I'll monitor these two sites again this spring and add 2-3 new sites over the summer. We are aiming for about 140 trapnights per site".

"The folks at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve have been so supportive to have me doing cameras there that they have volunteered to host a teacher training workshop in May, 2009."

"By summer we hope to have a web presence through the MN Project WILD website, so teachers can access data collected in protected areas around the state. This way they can compare monitoring results from their schoolyard with other areas."

The project has support from MN Project WILD, Gander Mountain, Stillwater Area School District, the Conservation Biology Program and the Bell Museum of Natural History (University of MN), MN DNR, and the MN Trappers Association.

If you are interested in the curriculum you can email Dawn at tann0042@umn.edu.

[Opossum at Afton-Lakeland Elementary School] 


Owlman said...

Great idea for teaching todays youth to respect and understand nature.
Unfortunately many go through their childhood without any experience in the outdoors except for Animal Planet, etc.
Great post. Happy New Year!

DDeden said...

Didn't expect news from my home state here, I grew up just down the road in Red Wing, member of the environmental learning center there, lots of outdoor activities in the river bottoms.

Doug said...

I can't get the email for Dawn to work. I think this would be a great idea for the kids in my class. Is there another way that I can find more information?

Good stuff.