Apr 16

We are moving right along with our fantastic guest bloggers this week in honor of Environmental Education (EE) Week in the USA. EE Week is hosted by the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), an orgnisation dedicated to connecting people to the environment through education. In honor of this year’s theme of ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’, we’ve invited teachers, parents and environmental educators to share how they’ve used ARKive to connects kids to nature.

Today, we meet Hannah who is going to share how she and her son, D, explored their local natural enviornment using ARKive.

Adding technology and nature learning to toddler play time

As a mother of a non-stop three year old, I am always looking for simple but interesting lessons to incorporate into our play. A friend recently told me about ARKive. I decided to poke around the site and, as anyone with children knows, it wasn’t long before I had company. Together, using some of ARKive’s search options, my son D and I went through each of the six animal groups. Keeping it three-year-old-simple I explained the six animal groups. Mammals drink milk, birds have feathers, fish swim, reptiles have scales… and the other two (invertebrates and amphibians) are a little confusing even to me! There are so many photos on ARKive, we spent a full afternoon exploring.

The following day, armed with six species photos I printed from ARKive, we headed outside for our morning adventure. My goal was to talk about the similarities and differences of the six animal groups and compare the ARKive photos to living things in our own little neighborhood. Would you believe that just 10 feet from our front door we stumbled onto a perfect teachable moment- the circle of life? There, next to a large electrical box, a stunning hawk pecked at a mound of feathers. “He’s eating feathers” D exclaimed. “Yes, yes, he is. Where do you think those feathers came from?” I asked. We talked about big birds eating smaller birds, some birds eating mice and fish, and even smaller birds eating insects and seeds. We compared the hawk to the emperor penguin photo I had printed.

Photo of emperor penguin on ARKive

D practiced spotting similarities between a local hawk and an emperor penguin.

They both had feathers (and so did the poor little bird that met his demise.) These birds also had beaks and large claws, and the penguin had webbed feet for swimming. Unlike our usual haphazard exploring, with this exercise we moved through the neighborhood with direction and intent. We noticed dog footprints in the mud and compared the type of feet and number of legs to our ARKive photos. Later, seeing a squirrel sparked a conversation about camouflage. Three of our photographed animals, the Darwin’s frog, the coconut crab, and the Figi banded iguana, were clearly using camouflage just like the squirrel.

D discovers wildlife in less than 10 feet from his front door!

D discovers wildlife in less than 10 feet from his front door!

D loved looking through the photos online, learning about animal groups, and picking out his favorite animals. Blending ARKive with an adventure in our own backyard was even better. Though I believe open play is of the utmost importance, this loosely structured activity led us through some new discussions. Today’s adventure helped to establish a sense of appreciation for new creatures and I’m hopeful it heartened his respect for the environment, near and far.

Hannah, Stay-At-Home Super Mom

Apr 15

ARKive is partnering with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) to celebrate EE Week – the nation’s largest celebration of environmental education. We’ve invited some top-notch guest bloggers to share their story of exploring the natural world outside with ARKive in support of this year’s EE Week theme, ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’. Kicking off the week is Sarena, an environmental educator and mother of an adorable little girl, who shares how she has used ARKive to discover new-to-you species in their local ecosystem. Let’s see what outdoor adventures Sarena and her daughter experienced with ARKive!

Species Discovery through my kid’s eyes

Hello blogosphere! Before I delve into the fantasticness that is the ARKive activity, let me introduce myself. I am not a blogger; this is my first foray into this realm. But I am an environmental educator as my ‘regular job’ with a background in biology and zoology, as well as a mom who shares my love and appreciation for the natural world with my nearly nine year old daughter on a daily basis. This is an important point to remember when it comes to the activity we chose to experience.

IMAG1735 (2).jpgjThe kid and I decided to try out the Species Discovery activity. I think it’s fantastic to go explore, see what you see, and then decide what it is based on the behaviors, appearances, diet, and so forth (there’s the biologist in me!). Problem becomes when you, the parent, realize finding a place to go, to which you’ve never been, in the limited amount of free time in your currently busy (ok, let’s face it, currently busy? When is that never true?) schedule is exceptionally difficult. (Score one for the environmental educator exploratory parent! And yet, not helpful in this instance. Cue disappointed game show sounds.) I wracked my brain and was delighted to have a light bulb moment. There is a riparian habitat preserve to which the kid has never been. As we drove the discussion in the car was excited chatter about the goals of our exploration. She was prepared with her camera and anticipated getting pictures and video. We arrived, brought along our umbrellas to block the toasty sun (and prevent our pale wintery skin from gaining a particularly unhealthy pink glow), grabbed the camera and water, and began the adventure.

Capturing photos and video was easy. Spotting animals and plants we’d never seen…not so much. Luckily there were some birds neither she nor I knew. Our time came to a close and we hopped back into the car, where she spent the ride revisiting the experience and carefully analyzing the best pictures and finalizing her decision. Over the next week and a half we continued to discuss the time we spent at the preserve and the activity goals. One evening we brought her younger cousin with us to an arts event. In the car I giggled to myself while pretending to not listen to the exchange happening in the back seat. The kid authoritatively showed the pictures and video to her cousin, while explaining that she was going to give that bird a scientific name and describe all about it since she’d never seen this bird before our adventure. He responded with a frustrating “oh I’ve seen that. I know what that is.” The kid was unimpressed when his response to her query of the name of the bird was “I don’t know!” and remained confident in her choice.

After homework one evening we had some minutes to spare and sat down to complete the other part of the project. The kid was curious about what a scientific name was and I caught myself beginning to describe Linnaeus taxonomy and that scientific names are in Latin. Blank stare. Oops. Luckily for me, she’s incredibly patient with me especially during my moments of biology nerdiness. I simplified and we talked about how scientific names are the same for animals no matter where the animal is found, as a way for all scientists to know what animal another scientist is discussing, while common names are often different in different places. She understood (at least there wasn’t a blank stare in response), especially when we talked about different languages people speak in different countries and made the comparison to names.

Overall, the adventure this activity afforded us was one I greatly value for a variety of reasons. One, I got to spend some fun time with my kid, looking from her point of view at the world around us. This is vital to me as a parent and an educator. Two, it was another opportunity to appreciate nature and how scientists work. A recent quote from the kid that gave me a ‘parenting win’ moment was “Scientists are always curious and clever. I’m always curious, so I’m a scientist.” I’m so incredibly glad she has that perspective! Three, stretching myself as a parent and an educator. Writing this blog post is definitely a step out of my comfort zone, but a huge step I am happy to take. I assume if you are a fan of ARKive, you probably already appreciate nature and get out into it as much as possible (although we all know what assuming does…), but regardless I feel compelled to say: get outside. Explore the world around you away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Take off those modern convenience blinders and see where you are. And bring along your kid(s), or borrow a few (with permission, of course!), or both. Learn through their eyes. Then share it.

Sarena G, Environmental Educator and Mom

Apr 14

ARKive and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) have partnered to celebrate this year’s Environmental Education (EE) Week.  The largest celebration of environmental education in America, EE Week strives to connect people to nature through a new theme each year. This year’s theme is ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’ and we’ve organized a fantastic list of guest bloggers who are using ARKive outside to connect their students and children to nature. Be sure to visit the ARKive blog every day this week for a new guest blogger with an inspirational story.

Here to share a little more background on EE Week and more ways to get involved this week is Sarah, the Education Program Coordinator at NEEF:

EE Week logo

It’s spring, and as the weather begins to warm, thoughts turn to outdoor activities. In today’s era of tech gadgets and global connectivity, there are new and exciting ways to connect young people with the wildlife in their communities.

Join National Environmental Education Week (EE Week) for Greening STEM: Taking Technology Outdoors, April 14-20, 2013 and explore how technology can enhance environmental learning both inside and outside the classroom.

Hosted by the National Environmental Education Foundation, EE Week is the largest celebration of environmental education in the United States held each year the week before Earth Day and inspires environmental learning and stewardship.

In 2012, EE Week kicked off a multi-year Greening STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) initiative on the important role the environment plays in engaging students in STEM learning and helping them solve 21st century challenges.

The environment provides a gateway to STEM learning through hands-on, real-world projects on topics like energy efficiency and resource conservation that incorporate all four pillars of STEM.

Research indicates that 77% of teachers in the US believe using technology in the classroom increases student motivation to learn, while 75% of 1,900 surveyed educators in the US said students who spend regular time outdoors tend to be more creative and better problem-solvers.

View and share NEEF’s new infographic ‘Tech & Our Planet’ inspired by this year’s EE Week theme:

NEEF/EE Week Infograph

Providing students with opportunities to connect with and learn about nature through technology can also mean improved workforce readiness: in the US, STEM jobs are expected to increase by 20.6% between 2008 and 2018, compared to 10.1% for all other jobs, and 71% of STEM jobs will be within the technology field.

Connect with EE Week on Facebook and Twitter to learn more, and join us for a Tweet Chat on Greening STEM starting on April 15 at 1 PM ET, using the hashtag #EEWeek. And be sure to visit the ARKive blog each day for a new inspirational story on how teachers and parents are ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’ with ARKive!

Sarah Kozicki, Education Program Coordinator, National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF)

Apr 9

ARKive is proud to partner with the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), an organization dedicated to connecting kids and adults alike with environmental knowledge that can improve the quality of their lives and the health of the planet. Every year, NEEF spearheads Environmental Education (EE) Week – the largest celebration of environmental education in the US. This year’s theme is ‘Taking Technology Outdoors’ which is a perfect opportunity to explore all the ways that the ARKive collection can be used to inspire and enhance connections with the natural world.

The ARKive team has come up with a few fun, extension activities to our free classroom lessons for any adult to use to lead kids on outdoor explorations in their own backyards or local green spaces. The activities can be done with or without the accompanying lesson.

Web of Wildlife (7-11 year olds)

ARKive's web of wildlifePhotograph your local food chain. In this activity, kids spend time outdoors trying to locate different types of food sources. They take a picture of each food item they find including grass, acorns and even small critters that are food for birds and other animals. Kids then create a poster using print-outs of the food source pictures and drawings of other species that rely on those food sources. Using lessons learned in the Web of Wildlife activity and using ARKive as a resource, kids can draw lines between food sources and species to illustrate the local food web.

Biodiversity Hospital (11-14 year olds)

ARKive's Biodiversity Hospital lessonBe a conservation photographer. A conservation photographer has the ability to capture an environmental story in a single image. In this activity, kids play the role of conservation photographers and try to capture, in one image, any conservation threats in their hometown. The photograph should speak for itself and taking on the role of a ‘doctor’, the kids should try to prescribe a solution to the problem. They then take turns showing their picture to friends and family who try to identify the conservation threat and potential remedies.

Species Discovery (7-11 & 11-14 year olds)

Species Discovery

Catch new-to-you species on film. Using a smartphone with a video recording feature, trek outdoors and help kids to capture any species that are new to them on camera. From city-dwelling birds to local flower species they may have never noticed before, kids log their findings on camera and then explore the ARKive site to find a species that closely matches their discoveries. Kids should try to identify the features that are similar whether its color, beak shape, etc. Choosing one of the species they caught on camera, kids can get creative by thinking of their own scientific name for it.

NEEF guest bloggers

We also have an exciting line-up of guest bloggers who will be appearing on the ARKive blog during EE Week to share their adventures with the activities above and other ways they’ve used ARKive and technology to get kids outside. Our friends from NEEF will be kicking things off for us next Monday!

If you are interested in joining in the ARKive/EE Week celebrations by doing one of the above activities, feel free to share a short paragraph on your experience and a picture with us at education@wildscreenusa.org. We’ll in turn publish your story in an ARKive blog at the end of EE Week sharing it with thousands of readers in the US and beyond.

Happy Outdoor Exploration!

Liana Vitali, ARKive Education & Outreach Manager, Wildscreen USA

Apr 3

Hello my fine feathered ARKiver’s. My name is George Rowe and I am a Producer at Thought Den, a digital design agency based in Bristol, UK. We’ve been lucky enough to work with ARKive on a couple of exciting projects, including ‘Survival’ their endangered species gaming app, and I wanted to tell you a little about our most recent: Team WILD.

Why did ARKive choose us? We’re a specialist digital studio and our working philosophy is that of ‘playful learning’. People engage more deeply, learn better, and are generally more involved with content if they can experience it through play.

Games are rewarding because we are evolutionarily hardwired to enjoy learning patterns. And games that reflect real challenges have even more appeal. If the content of these challenges is also educational then so much the better!

Original logos for Team WILD

The IDEA

Team WILD began life as an idea called ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’, an online game that would get kids to engage with scientific careers.

In the early meetings it was clear there were two different routes we could take with this game. We could either try and TEACH in the game, actively having people complete puzzles based on curricula learning outcomes (a la Manga High), or we could REINFORCE classroom learning with a game that would let kids explore the concepts in a playful way. Naturally, our preference was for the latter.

Science IS cool, but our challenge here was to find a way of showing the amazing things scientists do in an engaging and plausible wrapper. ‘The Wildlife Apprentice’ was a nice simple hook to hang it on, but it was quickly shelved due to potential copyright issues. What other hooks could we use to frame our game? Some ideas from our original proposal:

  • Science Armageddon: all the scientists have vanished. You must now do all the science!
  • Alien Scientist: you have infiltrated ARKive’s science department. You must now do science well enough so you are not discovered!
  • Science Superheroes: A team of science superheroes need your help to do science! You must travel the world doing science!

The question we ended up asking ourselves was: who wouldn’t want to be a science superhero?

The team at ARKive spoke with some tame scientists to learn more about the tasks they performed. Once we had our mega list of science, we sat down with the Key Stage 3 UK National Curriculum and our own list of game types and mechanics and explored different ways to turn these activities into individual mini-games.

Team WILD wireframes

Team WILD wireframes

Scientists survey predator and prey on the savannah to work out the dynamics between them. What if you were running along the savannah, pressing keys to count predator and prey? An idea was born. And scientists collect uninfected frogs in the jungles of Montserrat to breed them? This thing is designing itself!

Reward is also a key mechanic in games; it gives an extra little nudge for players to try again, to try and do BETTER. Along with the classic highscore table, by scoring enough points in Team WILD you can also join the team and unlock super cool treats.

Original character sketches for Team WILD

Original character sketches for Team WILD

The LOOK

From the outset we thought a comic/graphic novelesque style had the balance of fun with a slightly more adult edge. Once the concepts were finalised we brought in specialist games illustrator Nat Al-Tahhan to create our science superhero characters. Wanting to get away from the whole ‘scientists wear white coats’ stigma, we decided to give our heroes lab CAPES instead.

Parallax scrolling, where different layers move at different speeds to give an illusion of depth, was used for this exact purpose. Our wonder-intern Ellen created the beautiful layers for these (as well as the Team WILD logo), under the tutelage of Creative Director Ben T and Senior Designer Ben W. Ben W then tied everything together with a lovely user interface and some spit and polish.

The BUILD

An important part of any game project these days is deciding what platform you are going to produce for. We decided to go with a faithful Flash game for a number of reasons: it’s a proven platform, nearly every school computer can run it, and it delivers the most bang for buck.

Our Senior Developer Corin nailed the game mechanics, parallax scrolling backgrounds and interface screens, while developer Ben M (we have a lot of Ben’s) whipped up the backend for the highscore tables.

We took a beta version of Team WILD into a couple of local schools in Bristol for some essential user testing. The kids liked the games, and though some understood the science content it wasn’t quite clear enough, so we took the decision to add in some more feedback information after each play.

Screenshot of African savannah level on Team WILD

The GAME

So, after another couple of weeks of refinement, play testing and level design we had a game!

Play Team WILD

Team WILD has had around 80,000 plays so far and an average play time of six and a half minutes, which is really great for an online science-based game.

We really admire the work that ARKive do, and the chance to work with them again was really fantastic. Hopefully Team WILD will help inspire some conservationists of the future.

George Rowe, Thought Den Producer & Studio Manager

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