Curiosity and Nature: A Nature Center’s approach to incorporating technology outside

It’s a beautiful irony, right? A nature center promotes getting outside, a.k.a. being “unplugged”,” yet also supports digging into your pocket for that smartphone to enhance your experience. While we are certainly a pro-hands on, mud-under-the-fingernails kind of nature center, we also recognize that there is a great opportunity to enlist technology to further learning, make connections, and spark curiosity among today’s digital learners (ah-hem, let’s face it, if you live in the twenty-first century, you are one, too).

So, how do we balance technology and nature as a force for good to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards? Our short answer: Meet ‘em where they’re at.

In today’s world, this means, both, (1) acknowledging how the digital revolution is changing learning and (2) exploring how technology can be used as a tool to strengthen our connection with the natural world.

There is lots happening in the research and education community to explore the first question, but less is known about the role of technology and nature.

Josie Haley Sophie Comic Book
Comic Book1

(Pictured: Students in the Homeschool Ed-ventures program study plant succession through direct observation while working together to share their understanding using a ComicBook app).

Curiosity as the App

For nearly fifty  years, Riveredge has subscribed to an inquiry-based method of learning in which investigation starts with asking good questions. Students from K-Gray explore queries like, how can you tell the health of a river, how is a forest like a prairie or pond, or even how do our actions impact the land. While these are just a small sample of what is studied at Riveredge and in our schools each and every day, no matter the scale, we believe that the most powerful tool for investigation is our mind, and the power of asking good questions is what we as parents, educators, and mentors are tasked with teaching our kids. In other words, we believe that curiosity is the driver of learning and technology (both digital and nondigital) is a tool that can be used to capture, explore, and create new ways to deepen our connection with nature.

Try it out!

So, whether you look to nature as a digital detox or you are looking for new ways to appease your curiosities through technology, we hope you’ll join us in this conversation. Keep an eye out for some of these events starting this summer and into 2018.

  • There’s an App for That program series: A spin on traditional nature programs that includes all the fun hands-on experience but leaves you with some resources you can take home as your own “pocket naturalist.”
  • Take it with you Packs: Explore Riveredge through a new set of eyes by renting one of our (free) packs that each feature some our favorite themes, scientific tools, and downloadable field friendly apps.
  • Parents be on the lookout for a nature tech blog series that features ideas for incorporating technology outside that you and your family can try out in your own backyards and nearby parks this summer.
  • We also have some technology and nature-themed special events in the works to highlight how technology and robotics are  helping us better manage land and conservation.

Do you have thoughts or ideas about nature and technology? We’d love to hear from you! Please contact Carly Hintz, Educational Technology & Evaluation Specialist at Riveredge. Reach her at or 262-375-2715.

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