Get to Know CD virtually gets Canadian
elementary students out of the classroom
Alan Zisman (c)
2008 first published in CUE
some regularity, schools get notice of websites and software that, the
developers assume, will be of interest to students and teachers- often
these are sent to the attention of the principal or the librarian. In
my eternal quest to find activities to do with elementary students in
my school’s computer lab, I’ve checked out more than my share. Sadly,
most of the time, I’m disappointed. In some cases, there’s a lot of
content, but it’s poorly presented, or not at a reading level that’s
accessible to elementary-age students. In other cases, there are a
couple of games—but they’re not very educationally useful and not even
very much fun.
I get something new, I ask a few students to try it out and give me
feedback—keep it or lose it, or if it’s too simple for them, what
grades might best appreciate it. Students appreciate that their
feedback is valued, but all too often, their conclusion is ‘lose it’.
a CD showed up in my box in the office (passed on by my principal),
titled “Robert Bateman Get to Know Interactive CD”. There was an
accompanying “Dear Principal” letter, with a sidebar naming a long list
of corporations and organizations ranging from the Vancouver School
Board to Nature Trust of BC to Wal-Mart Canada. In the body of the
letter, well-known nature artist Robert Bateman expressed pleasure to
work with the Return of the Peregrine Falcon Society and Morningstar
Enterprises to create the CD in the hope of connecting “the youth of
Canada with their neighbours of other species”. The letter continues to
note that the CD “is a gift to your school” and encourages schools “to
make copies of the CD to distribute for use at school”. (No, “the CD
may not be reproduced for re-sale purposes). And the letter notes their
to webmaster Rob King, in BC, they “have currently provided 6 school
districts in the Vancouver area with the CD: Vancouver (VSB),
Northshore, Surrey, Delta, Coquitlam, and West Vancouver. There
are plans to provide all schools in the lower mainland with copies of
the CD by this spring.” A limited number of CDs are available for sale
($25) from the website.
When a pair of grade 5s checked it out,
they concluded that it wasn’t much of a game, but ‘it might teach kids
some stuff’. Worth further exploration, then.
The CD is
Windows-only (in fact, it wouldn’t run on my Win9x systems), though
this isn’t mentioned anywhere- but lacks a Windows auto-run feature. In
order to let entire classes make use of the CD at once, rather than
make 30 copies of the CD, I copied the contents onto each workstation’s
hard drive, manually adding a shortcut to the Start Menu. (Thanks to
the tech support person at gettoknow.ca who suggested that, when I
emailed that performance dropped to non-usability when more that a
couple of people tried to access it at a time across my network).
the CD starts up, a user gets options to be a teacher or a student;
teachers get access to a set of PDF lesson plans- none of these,
however, directly relate to using the CD. The lesson plans cover a
variety of topics involved in taking a class out on a nature walk-
there’s even a lesson plan on ‘owl pellets’. Useful stuff, but it
suggests a bit of a schizoid nature to this CD—it’s a series of
activities done at a computer that hope to get students and whole
classes to get up from their computers and go out and explore the
natural world around them. Webmaster Rob King noted: “The true aim in
the production of the CD is to get more students outdoors experiencing
Log in as a student and you’re asked to provide a name,
then choose a location: Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, or Toronto.
Hiking boot icons lead to a total of 24 hikes are available, 6 for each
location. (Hikes include several in the city and others in the
surrounding municipalities); magnifying glass icons link to websites
for nature-related organizations.
‘virtual hike’ asks users to use their mouse to move around a 360
degree landscape, looking for 10-11 plants and animals typically found
in that ecosystem. When your mouse points to one of these species, a
silhouetted thumbnail jumps up, letting you know that you’ve found it.
Clicking on it reveals a page with scientific name, information,
photos, video and sound clips for that species. Find all the species on
a hike and you can take a quiz—score 8 or more (out of 10 questions)
and get points towards virtual bonus prizes.
Left to their own
devices, students might find it moderately fun to find all the species,
and might listen to the bird sounds or watch the video clips, but
probably wouldn’t pay much attention to information about food, habits,
or reproduction. So being a mean teacher, I developed a set of
assignments—for, say, the Stanley Park hike, students are asked to find
each of the 10 species—for each, the need to list its scientific name,
and facts of their choice in the included categories (‘where it lives’,
‘reproduction’, ‘food’, etc). In addition, they should draw a picture
of that plant or animal. Afterwards, take the quiz and report their
Low level according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, yes. But the
grade 4, 5, and 6 classes that have done several of these hikes and
assignments have been very engaged. “Yucch! Slugs eat poop! Did you
not perfect—the mouse disappears with some regularity (move around to
the bottom of the screen then up to bring it back—most of the time!
When that doesn’t work, students have had to close the program, start
up, and log in again- luckily it keeps track of the species already
My wish list: I would love to see the CD content
available online—this would make it easy for schools to let multiple
students access it at the same time without needing the waste of
copying CDs or the time of installing it onto multiple computers. The
content seems to consist of interactive Flash-like files, so it ought
to be do-able. And hopefully this could be accessed multi-platform;
right now, Mac or Linux users are out of luck.
is a lot of educational content being produced either online or as CDs.
Your principal may be receiving emails and mailouts about it, but
treating it as junk mail. Talk to your administrator to make sure you
get in the loop.
of it is not well thought out, however—were educators involved in the
design? Was it tested on real kids? Try it out (and get kids to test
it!) before inflicting it on a class.
kids to ‘check this out’ isn’t particularly effective. Treat a CD or
website like any old-media educational resource- create an assignment.
Having clear tasks for students with clear expectations makes it far
more likely that students will approach the website or CD seriously and
maybe (who knows?) even learn something.
to the gettoknow.ca people for developing this CD, for distributing it
for free to many schools, and for allowing schools to copy and install
it as needed. (I wish they had come up with a better name, though!)
of my school’s classes have taken several virtual hikes. I know that a
couple of them are planning to follow up with real hikes to the same
locations. They probably would have gone anyway, but having virtually
explored first should help the students know what they’re going to
find—and when they see that slug on a shady trail, know what it eats.