Authentic Learning with Nature

Through the readings from this past week, I have explored a seemingly disjointed array of ideas. Following is a brief overview:

Carraher, Carraher and Schliemann (1985) present the effect of contextualized learning on mental math computation processes with street vendor children in Brazil; Falk and Storksdieck (2010) share results from their study on adult leisure science learning at the California Science Center in Los Angeles; Butler and MacGregor (2003) provide an in-depth explanatory overview of the GLOBE program designed to enable “authentic science learning, student-scientist partnership, and inquiry-based pedagogy into practice on an unprecedented scale” (p.17)! Although these three readings are diverse in study and purpose, one significant theme pronounced itself throughout: the theme of contextualized learning. Regardless of the age of learner, socio-economical position, or location on this great planet, contextualized learning offers authenticity of learning and effective growth in both content areas and competencies.

When considering authentic learning, I like to refer to Herrington and Kervin’s (2007) definition:

      The nine characteristics of authentic learning include:

  1.     Authentic context that reflects the way knowledge will be used in real life.
  2.     Authentic activities that reflect types of activities that are done in the real world over a sustained period of time.
  3.     Expert performance to observe tasks and access modelling.
  4.     Multiple Roles and Perspectives to provide an array of opinions and points of view.
  5.     Reflection to require students to reflect upon knowledge to help lead to solving problems, making predictions, hypothesizing and experimenting.
  6.     Collaboration to allow opportunities for students to work in pairs or in small groups.
  7.     Articulation to ensure that tasks are completed within a social context.
  8.     Coaching and Scaffolding by the teacher in the form of observing, modelling and providing resources, hints, reminders and feedback.
  9.     Integrated Authentic Assessment throughout learning experiences on a task that the student performs i.e. project rather than on separate task i.e. test.

     (Herrington & Kervin, 2007)

Although all of these characteristics of learning are not prominently practiced in the networked communities explored during this past week, many, if not all, can be emphasized through teacher design by incorporating a combination of non-technology based and network community activities.

The follow learning outline is designed using the network community called Journey North along with other on-going non-technology nature study activities. As an individual and an educator who advocates for regular nature study as a part of one’s life, the Journey North community peeked my interest as a very viable resource to integrate with already implemented nature study practices with students from grades K-4. I have chosen two projects at Journey North that could be easily implemented with my younger distance learning students. Following is a chart with resources and activities aligned with the authentic characteristics of learning as described by Herrington et al. (2007).

Butler, D.M., & MacGregor, I.D. (2003). GLOBE: Science and education. Journal of Geoscience Education, 51(1), 9-20.
Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British journal of developmental psychology, 3(1), 21-29.
Falk, J. & Storksdieck, M. (2010). Science learning in a leisure setting. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 47(2), 194-212.
Herrington, J. & Kervin, L. (2007). Authentic Learning Supported by Technology: Ten suggestions and cases of integration in classrooms.  Educational Media International, 44 (3), 219-236. doi: 10.1080/09523980701491666


  1. Hi Jessica,
    Thank you for the in depth chart on Journey North. Like you I found my readings this week quite diverse. I too read the Falk (2012) article on the California Science Centre. What I appreciated about the research was that the researchers made the subjects clarify their answers and really dig deep as to why they attended, what they learned, and what they thought their goal of attending would be.
    I found it interesting that most of the respondents said they attended to expose their children to the exhibits, but on further questioning realized that they enjoyed science discovery themselves and they were interested in specific exhibits and learning about science, including dispelling any misconceptions they had. As a parent, I too “thought” I was bringing my children to a science centre to expose them to the exhibits but realize it was also because my husband and I also enjoy learning about science. Interesting how our perception changes when we ask ourselves the right questions.

    1. Agreed, Catherine.
      With the same article {although I see we have varied dates}, I found the identity-related needs of the learner were quite intriguing. Like you, I pretend to be a facilitator, but am an explorer at heart!

  2. Jessica,

    You have located a theme of contextualized learning that could aptly describe learning math and science in the readings and tech you selected. Indeed there is certainly potential for contextualized learning that you note from the research on Globe, in “the street”, at the Exploratorium and while engaged with Journey North.

    Your table nicely pulls together specific classroom activities, such as the Tulip Test, with these technologies and compares them with the characteristics authentic-contextualized learning as suggested by Herrington and Kervin. This type of table (comparing features/principles/objectives with the activity) would also be a good way to begin to organize and frame out a lesson for the final assignment for example.

    I like how you also raised an important point in terms of knowledge generation with digital technology, and that is if not all features of characteristics are immediately apparent in the design of the technology or the activity that one wishes to promote, “many, if not all, can be emphasized through teacher design by incorporating a combination of non-technology based and network community activities.”

    Teacher design of a TELE can help to shape the STEM experience students have doing authentic math problems from the street, contributing to the Globe database, engaging in a VFT in Exploratorium, or reporting observations of butterfly migration in Journey North. You mentioned your online and offline classroom activities in your post; how do you envision using Journey North or a similar technology in your classroom in your design?

    Thank you,

    PS. If interested in nature study and citizen science, in addition to Globe and Journey North, one might also wish to check out the various projects at: and/or the paper, Newman, G., Wiggins, A., Crall, A., Graham, E., Newman, S., & Crowston, K. (2012). The future of citizen science: Emerging technologies and shifting paradigms. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 10(6), 298-304

  3. Jessica,
    Thank you for this it was extremely interesting, can you tell me more about your “young distance learners” please?


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