Chad Love: Trail Cams in the Classroom

Trail cameras are, for hunters, becoming so ubiquitous that we often don't think about their potential for other uses. I certainly never did until my son said he wanted one for Christmas, not for hunting, but to record all the various wildlife that travels through our rural back yard.

I thought it was a great idea, and in the broader context I thought it had real potential to get kids interested in the outdoors. But as I was perusing the excellent Southern Rockies Nature Blog recently I discovered a link to a teacher who had already figured that out.

From the blog:
_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._

_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.
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._

Curmudgeonly hand-wringing about the future of our children is something we all engage in. I'm quite guilty of it myself.

But the fact is, our kids are growing up in and are being shaped by a different world, a more connected, wired and technological world than we did, and no amount of teeth-gnashing and nostalgic bemoaning will change that. The trick now is to figure out a way to get kids engaged in the natural world through the mediums they understand. This is an absolutely brilliant way of accomplishing that. I salute Dawn Tanner and I predict similar programs will start popping up in schools all over the nation.

PHOTO BY Willy4003 -- entered into our October Trail Cam Contest