Photo scavenger hunts are a great way to allow learners to use technology in nature. This idea is widely supported in nature-based learning. It helps learners develop a hybrid mind by exposing students to the natural world and integrating technology into the learning experience. Richard Louv has greatly encouraged these learning experiences.
My favorite place to take students on photo scavenger hunts is the national forest. I have also used them in the school yard and parks. As an educator in eastern Idaho, I engaged my k-2 students in photoscavenger hunts related to seasonal changes and to encourage them to connect their surroundings to topics covered previously in the classroom.
Student’s awareness can increase regarding their surroundings and the natural world by capturing pictures outdoors. Students can learn to use cameras (or the camera function of devices) appropriately and properly.
Most students find photoscavenger hunts extremely fun. Images captured in this kind of activity can be used for a multitude of activities back in the classroom. My students are always excited when they get to pick one field trip image or several to use for follow-up activities.
Designing a Photo Scavenger Hunt
Photo scavenger hunts can be simple or more complex. They can be designed to connect to a student’s prior knowledge or learn new concepts. With my k-2nd grade students, I designed numerous photoscavenger hunts for the forest that range in topic. Some required greater background in specific topics than others. Below are examples of two photo scavenger hunts I would use with students.
Photoscavenger Hunt Example 1:
Find and capture images of items that are each of the colors below:
Take a picture of something that is:
Soft Bumpy Rough
Photoscavenger Hunt Example 2:
1. Find tracks for the animals:
2. Find scat for the animals below:
3. Find an animal home.
4. Find where an animal might get water.
5. Find something an animal’s food.
6. Find a place a deer may camouflage.
The first example is simple. I use this kind of scavenger hunt early in the year when students are just learning to use a camera or device to capture a field trip image. Using boxes with the color word in them also helps students learning to read identify the color and learn the word. Photo scavenger hunts are interdisciplinary!
The second example shows a photoscavenger hunt that uses knowledge previously gained in field experiences or classroom lessons. Students must remember tracks they saw from books, identify terms like “scat” and be familiar with other ecosystem topics.
Skills Students Need to Have to Complete a Photoscavenger Hunt
Before taking your students on a photo scavenger hunt it is essential students have the skills needed to use the required technology. Digital cameras, phones and tablets are all forms of technology that can be used to take pictures. In the K-2 grade class, my students were familiar with using iPads. I used the camera tool on this with these students as they captured pictures.
It’s important for students, especially in lower elementary grades to understand the responsibility they have to care for the technology they use. Younger students are excited by technology and can often take pictures that do not relate to the task at hand. They may want to take a picture of themselves or their friend’s sparkly shoes instead of a one that meets the description or task at hand. Setting up time with a classroom aide or parent volunteers present can help you ensure students use technology appropriately in the classroom or field experiences.
Facilitating a Photo Scavenger Hunt
Taking students outside for learning experiences requires risk management. Even if your school doesn’t have a protocol for this it’s good to have a plan in place. The section of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest I took my students to on some of their photo scavenger hunts was out of cell reception. In the event of an emergency, it was important for me to have a plan in place and make sure my students were safe throughout their exercise. Here are questions that can help you manage risks outdoors with students:
- Do you have your first aid kit?
- Are there any natural hazards that students should avoid? A river? Areas with falling rock? A drop off?
- How will you keep students safe in areas that are risky?
- Do all of your students have the appropriate clothing for the weather and exploration area? Do they need a coat? Are boots necessary for muddy trails?
Your plan for carrying out a photoscavenger hunt can vary. If you are the only adult supervising the exercise it is important you can monitor all students. They may have questions along the way. This also helps minimize risk photographing outdoor, in this exercise. Choosing a large area where you can easily see students and set boundaries is ideal in this situation. I like to use cones or rope to mark boundaries. My k-2 students did not do well without physical markers visually marking their boundaries. Once you set student boundaries you can introduce the task at hand, hand out materials, and complete the task.
If you have several adults assisting you, you may break students up into groups and have them explore different areas of the forest. If you are doing this it is important you give instructions and hand out materials prior to going to exploration areas.
Depending on the pictures you want your students to capture, the length of exploration will vary. I try to aim for 20-40 minutes of exploration time.
Some students will finish the task quicker than others. Having a fast finisher activity or bonus list of images to capture can help keep these students occupied.
Using Student Images Captured Back in the Classroom
Each field trip image gathered in as photo scavenger hunt can be useful back in the classroom for one or many follow up activities. Photo scavenger hunts greatly promote interdisciplinary learning. Here are five activities I have used to with pictures students gather in photo scavenger hunts.
- Images of plants taken on the field trip can be identified using field guides, web searches, and apps.
- Students can use a photo and write a non-fiction or fiction text related to it.
- Students can create a guidebook on local plants and animals with their collection of images.
- Pictures can be used to compare and contrast the exploration area to another area.
- Students can make a poster about colors or senses if they collect images related to these areas of exploration.
Can you think of any other ways you can use your students’ images from a photo scavenger hunt in a follow-up lesson?
Photo scavenger hunts are an excellent way to encourage observation and create awareness in a natural area. They are ideal for teachers looking to connect their classroom activities to nature. They help students develop a hybrid mind and learn to use technology in early elementary school. I have used these primarily in the natural forest setting. Photo scavenger hunts can be used in countless other places too. If you can’t go to the forest, explore the schoolyard or a nearby park!
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