This week I read a fantastic article entitled “Sensory Tours as a Method for Engaging Children as Active Researchers: Exploring the Use of Wearable Cameras in Early Childhood Research” by Carie Green. Her research, conducted on thirty-one students between the ages of three- to six years old, was to observe these students exploring in a local forest as part of a “University early childhood education program” (p. 4) over their eleven different one-hour visits to the forest over the summer, while each sporting wearable cameras on their heads or chests as they were out engaging in somewhat unstructured play time in the forest. Simply put, I’m inspired to go buy a couple wearable cameras online right now for my future class.
In fact, I even began looking up how expensive wearable cameras are, and found that it is possible to find good ones for under $30.00! This was like chicken soup for the inner penny-pinching pre-service teacher.
As per my other commentaries on pieces of literature I read and review for this technology inquiry project, my goal is not to rewrite Carie Green’s article, but rather to give my readers a quick overview of the parts of the article that stood out to me.
Here’s what you need to know to understand the article:
“Sensory tours”, as defined by the article, is a method that teachers can use to get students engaging with technology that “captures children’s unique perspectives of being-in-the-world…informed by the tradition of walking tours used in environmental education” (p. 1) and the method the researchers (whether explicitly or implicitly) encouraged the students to use as they explored and engaged with the forested environment. I think this is a really cool idea; to just let students explore and ‘be their own tour guides’ in a sense as they discover new parts of their environment and learn as they go because it gives students a voice and control over their own learning (p. 278). The most interesting quote I’ve found relating to sensory tours from the article is that “Sensory Tours…go where a child goes and see what a child sees” (p. 10).
I’ve tried Google searching this term and, surprisingly, the only relevant content I found was only from this article.
Here is a brief snapshot of interesting points I found in the article:
A Hands-Off Approach from the Adults…
Green’s research definitely stressed that this study be conducted on the students that required the least amount of interference of adults as possible while the students were in the forest. She frequently made mention of the fact that she believes that adults are too involved in students’ discovery processes while studying student’s learning, and that it affects the data that is collected. This makes sense to me; I know that as an elementary student I definitely acted differently around my teachers than I would around my peers and friends, and even more so if I knew that they were researching me. I think this is why Green is a promoter of children using wearable cameras to document their learning: it avoids the issue of adult researchers parachuting into their play with big cameras to document what the children are doing.
…And Putting the Control In the Students’ Hands (or on their heads)
This article thoroughly describes how important it is for students to feel independent in their learning, not only to grow more in their independence, but also to increase students’ engagement in the topic (they will naturally be more engaged in something they feel they have contributed to). Green introduces her research by describing the current issue with giving students (especially younger students) cameras to document their learning: it means that both of the students’ hands are tied up holding the camera instead of focussing on engaging with the environment around them. And you already know how the article would describe letting adults hold cameras in and around students while they are exploring their environment…
This is another reason why wearable cameras are so great: they are a very practical way of documenting students’ interactions with the environment and their peers without students taking time from exploring to document what they are experiencing. In fact, Green’s research mentioned that most students actually forgot they were wearing the cameras while they were outside (p. 287), which is very helpful for their research and for teachers to get insight into how those students behaved when they were outside of the typical classroom setting and interacting with their peers.
One question that I am curious in looking to that came out of reading this article was the question of safety. If it is so important for students to have time away from adults to explore and engage in their own learning in an outdoor setting, how does a teacher monitor the students to ensure they are safe? At what point does the benefits (and necessity) of keeping students safe outweigh the negative impact of having adults be even slightly involved or present in the inquiry learning process each student undertakes for that period of time outside?
Personally, I think this comes with setting boundaries around the inquiry-based learning experience students would have outside with their wearable cameras, such as how far they could go in the space they are in. I also feel like both ideals are achievable through significant preparation before students get into the new environment on the part of the teacher, which would include scoping out the environment for dangers to students’ safety and finding a place in the environment where they would be able to see all (or at least most) of their students at one time.
I feel like as I continue to go through the Elementary Education program, the amount of times I read something or hear a lecture and begin brainstorming ways I can incorporate the articles’ or lectures’ ideas into my future practice has increased dramatically!
One really interesting idea that Green uses in her research to find out about why students acted or said the things they did during their “Sensory tour” was by playing back parts of the videos each student had made on their wearable cameras to the students who made them (p. 290). Allowing students to see video footage of what they were experiencing in the forest was a great way to get students reflecting in groups on their experiences in the forest without adults speaking into their experiences for them (p. 290). What I would do, if I could get my hands on some wearable cameras for my whole class and take the students somewhere outside (such as a beach) with these (hopefully waterproof) cameras to do their exploring, is have a follow-up lesson where each student would learn basic video-editing techniques for them to choose the most interesting clips of their videos to share with the class, perhaps with iMovie or a similar accessible video-editing platform. I would have a third class time be devoted to each student “director” of the video footage and playing each of the clips of the videos the students had edited themselves, and then have a “talk-back” time after each showing of the films for the students’ peers to ask them some questions about their video. Furthermore, I would want the experience of students exploring a certain outdoor environment to be the “provocation” to an inquiry-based unit on whatever environment the students may be exploring, and that students could then identify a specific area they wanted to research further during the “talk-back” after the “premier” of their video clip.
Another idea for a lesson I could lead my class in while using wearable cameras would be for me as a teacher to either find a local, easy geocache game or create my own for my class, and students could choose to wear their cameras as a way to show the routes they took to find the geocache. The students would likely need to know how to use a compass and have some basic mapping skills, which would mean that this lesson would be directed to Grade Seven students or older (as very basic map creation is a suggested way to address a content goal in the new B.C. Social Studies 7 curriculum).
In fact, our next post for this technology inquiry project will be about geocaching and a great app we recently stumbled upon called “Questagame” and how each of them could be used in the classroom as a way to address some of the requirements of the B.C. curriculum.
Thanks for reading! I really loved reading Green’s research, and am inspired by how she encourages student use of wearable cameras for educational purposes, and I hope my post has prompted you readers to think about using wearable cameras for more than just pleasure, but to either help with a job or to teach others.