It is now possible to take your class pond-dipping without getting your feet all muddy. Neil Morgan explains how.
Afield trip to an environmental education centre may be a thrill while pupils and teachers are there, but such breaks from the classroom have always had the problem of preparation and follow-up work to support the curriculum.
The answer can now be found through the Internet. Kindrogan Field Centre in Perthshire has set up a website to help teachers.
The site is based on the Nature Grid project, which was established at the Canterbury Environmental Education Centre and sponsored by the National Grid Company. It allows schools to plan their visit and students can contribute to the site by gathering environmental data during their visit. The Internet is then used back in the classroom.
A virtual tour of Kindrogan is available, as well as a Nature Explorer section where students carry out a virtual pond dip or exploration of woodland and grassland. Other features include weather records and a floral calendar that contains scanned images of plants in flower each month.
On top of this, students and teachers on website design and publishing training courses can make full use of the residential facilities at Kindrogan.
One recent development is a biodiversity project that aims to catalogue all the species recorded on the nature reserve and publish them on the web. The butterflies, moths and mammals sections are already complete and available for use.
The many years of climate and natural history records at Kindrogan are being put on the Internet and will provide an interesting comparison between the north and south of the British Isles.
The Internet will help maintain a growing network of enviromental organisations that are using the new technology to help form a virtual environmental learning community.
Both Canterbury and Kindrogan have also become GLOBE training centres. GLOBE is an international Internet project involving more than 80 countries. Primary and secondary school teachers are trained to work with their students to gather environmental data such as weather, soil, land-cover and hydrology. The data is then sent via the Internet to NASA where scientists analyse it and produce state-of-the-art "visualisations" of Earth from space.
Schools wishing to become part of GLOBE can then add data gathered in their own school grounds.
It is important to note that none of these new technologies detract from traditional field studies. Practical "hands-on" experience in the field is still essential. But the technology adds considerable value to the field-work and gives new meaning and purpose to the data.
For further details, visit the following websites: www.naturegrid.org.uk www.econet.org.ukkindrogan www.globe.org.uk Neil Morgan is the director of Kindrogan Field Centre, Perthshire. Before that, he was the head of Canterbury Environmental Education Centre for four years.