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Science Education Comes Alive on Ossabaw Island:
Dr. Rita Hagevik Prepares Teachers in a Living Laboratory

Funding constraints and school crowding often make science labs a last Photo of Participants of Ossabaw Island coursepriority, but all schools have outside playground areas or flower beds that can serve as a living laboratory for enriched science learning. The same is usually true for universities and colleges from which new teachers emerge. Most have planted landscapes or naturalized areas that could be used for excursions. Nature study in local areas of these sorts usually costs little if anything. One possible answer to better preparing teachers to use the out of doors as a living laboratory is a course I teach called Ossabaw Island: Ocean Beach & Estuarine Ecology Education. This course involves an extended camping trip to a remote and pristine island off the coast of Georgia called Ossabaw Island. Teaching duties are shared with scientists from the fields of ecology, geology, astronomy, biology and other disciplines.  Education students who majored in biology as well in mathematics and early childhood education, and who wish to become teachers, are the main enrollees. During the course, the participants make extensive collections of specimens, use field guides, create their own nature journals, take photographs and create videos of nature, design and conduct experiments, and plan environmentally based lessons for their students. 

Photo of Ossabaw Island shelter Participants in the course learn how to use geospatial technologies (GT) to study and to teach about the environment.
The recent report, Learning to Think Spatially (National Research Council, 2006) states that geospatial technologies can support problem-solving in real-world contexts in K-12 education. GT, of which global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) are a part, have the potential to facilitate learning across a range of subjects, supporting interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning (p. 218). Since it is a tool for both scientific research and problem-solving, it provides a link between science and policy. The visualizations produced from scientific investigations that are linked to specific geographic contexts are often used to predict environmental outcomes. This makes GT an important tool in environmental science and natural resource management. In fact, when using GT, participants are using the same tools and skills as the professionals.

The course involves four pre-trip class meetings on campus for a total of 15 hours, a four day camping trip to Ossabaw Island, located near Photo of Ossabaw IslandSavannah, Georgia, and one three hour post trip class meeting on campus. While on the island, the course participants resided at the only camping site on the island. Ossabaw Island is maintained as a wilderness preserve, to be used solely for natural, scientific, and cultural study, research and education, and environmentally sound preservation of the island’s ecosystem. Because the island is so remote, only drinking water, water for bathing (no bathrooms or electricity), a covered pavilion with picnic tables, and a primitive palm-surrounded “facility” are provided during the four-day camping trip. The focus of the course is the flora, fauna, and barrier island processes. Participants are disconnected from the "human built" environment and focus on the natural environment during the course.

Image of GPS receiverDuring the pre-trip class meetings the students in the course learned how to use GPS receivers along with nature journaling. Each entry in the journal included the latitude and longitude of the observation along with the drawings and descriptions. The course participants practice navigation using GPS receivers by locating way points during the pre-trip classes. Google Earth, digital maps, and a geodatabase of the island are used to prepare for the residential experience on the island. A Google Earth tour of the Image of Google internet mock-up of Ossabaw Island Buildingisland was created and is used and added to during the course. The participants in the course used wikis to plan their menus for the camping trip and for general communication such as carpooling and camping equipment. The use of wikis contribute to community building as no one usually knows each other before the course.

While on the island, the course participants use GPS units along with their Photo of collection of sea organismsnature journals to collect data for the geodatabase and the Google Earth tour. Examples of the data collected for the Google Earth Tour include flora such as live oak, yaupon holly, and Spanish moss and fauna such as sea turtle nests, alligators, and fiddler crabs. The participants analyzed relationships between the different environments on the island. GIS maps are used to visualize the physical features of the island and surrounding landscapes. Students complete the Mapping Our School Site (MOSS) GT project (Author, 1999) while on the island. Along with the GIS maps, video and digital photography are used together with nature journaling to gain a deeper appreciation of the environment through in-depth nature study.

Photo of Ossabaw Island participants conducting an experimentStudents complete their own experiments in groups while on the island. Examples of past year experiments include: “Bird Density at the Shoreline at Low and High Tides”, “Behavioral Response to Stimuli in Fiddler Crabs” and “Variation of Soil Type, Plant Life, and Animal Life in Tidal Zones”. Participants design a final project called the “nature teaching improvement plan” (NTIP) or teaching unit at the end of the course. These teaching units, designed to be used with their K-12 students the next school year, focus on wetlands and included their nature collections and at least one mapping activity.

There is little research on using GT in science teaching and even less on thePhoto of Ossabaw Island use of GT in pre-service teacher education courses. I have been researching how the use of GT affected developing perceived technological pedagogical content knowledge in teachers and how the use of this technology impacted the out of door experience. I have found a significant increase in technological knowledge and geospatial knowledge with no pre- to in-service teacher group differences. Though the course is brief, albeit an intense experience in nature, participants are able to describe examples of how they used or planned to use the natural environment in their science teaching. Experiences such as those found in the Ossabaw Island course seem to be a way of preparing educators who can teach the next environmentally and technologically literate generation.

Photos courtesy of participants in Ossabaw Island course

Web manager's note --- Dr. Hagevik hopes to offer this course during summer session or June 2012 as a special topics in biology course for undergraduate/graduate teachers or majors.



Hagevik, R. A. (1999). Mapping Our School Site (MOSS). Retrieved 2003, from .

National Research Council. (2006). Learning to think spatially. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Publications related to this research:

Hagevik, R.A. & Stinger-Barnes, P. (2011). The Effects of Geospatial Technologies on Preservice Science Teachers' Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge. In Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2011 (p. 4104-4111). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved from

Hagevik, R. & Stinger-Barnes, P. (2011). The effects of geospatial informational technologies on preservice science teachers’ technological pedagogical content knowledge. (NTLI Award) Association for Science Teacher Education, Minneapolis, MN.

Hagevik, R. (in press, 2011). Mapping Our School Site. Educar em revista.

Hagevik, R. (in press, 2011). Developing 21st Century learning using the power of the globe and GPS.  The Middle School Journal.

Hagevik, R., Stubbs, H., & Whitaker, D. (2010). Situated learning in environmental education: using geospatial technologies for preservice secondary teachers. In A. Bodzin, B. Klein, & S. Weaver (Eds.), The Inclusion of Environmental Education in Science Teacher Education
(p. 297-309). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Publishing Co.

Hagevik, R., Melear, C., Lunsford, E, Sadler, K., &  Smith-Walters, C.  (2010). Joining the last child in the woods: An argument for environmental education in teacher preparation. In P. Kurtz and Fujun Ren (Eds.), Improving science spirits and building a harmony society (p.76-83). Beijing: Chinese Science and Technology Press.  [in Chinese]

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Updated: Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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