Teaching about Life on Earth in Early Years


This summer at the Apple Distinguished Educator Institute in San Diego our theme for the week was ‘Life On Earth’. To kick start the week we had a fantastic keynote from famed biologist E.O. Wilson, author of the new Life on Earth multi-touch textbooks available for free from the iBook Store.



The keynote set the tone for the week and we left our ‘teacher hats’ under our desks and set out around San Diego wearing biologist, scientist, researcher and learner hats. We visited many different environments: coastal, wetlands, rivers, mountains, forests. Each habitat faced its own problems, with serious consequences for life on Earth. We visited places affected by severe forest fires, coastal erosion, water pollution and conflicts over land use. We studied renewable energies, plankton, conservation, disease and the impact foreign species have on environments. We also adopted newly planted trees in a recovering forest fire zone! It was a fascinating and challenging week, packed with high level learning taking me out of my comfort zone of Early Years.

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Each location made good use of technology in the researching of issues and attempts to address these problems. As ADEs we were all very keen to capture the stories in each location using a whole host of technology.

Here’s my story from the week, ‘San Diego: From Where I Stood’.

Now back to Early Years.

So this experience took me out of my comfort zone of my Foundation classroom, but Apple challenged us to take this learning home. I have already blogged about our ‘Connecting Classrooms Across Continents’ project but there is more that I could be doing with my own class about life on Earth.

Even though E.O. Wilson’s Life on Earth textbooks are wonderful resources, packed with fantastic animations and photography, they are slightly above my little ones understanding (only slightly though!) I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to think of ways I can bring this Life on Earth learning back to my Early Years classroom using technology.


My first signpost was the One Best Thing chapter ‘Thinking Like a Scientist’, by ADE Julie Hearn. You can download this here, for free. Julie’s book talks about getting outdoors and has a whole range of apps and activities to support the use of technology in outdoor learning. Thank you Julie for taking the time to share your story. I enjoyed our reflections in San Diego too, you really helped contextualise my learning journey.

My next signpost came from The National Trust in the form of a TV advert for ‘Fifty Things To Do Before You’re 11 and 3/4‘. Again, another app and website designed to use technology to support outdoor learning.

My third signpost came when ADE Bea Liederman published her third multi-book over the summer. Bea’s multi-touch books are fantastic. The photography and films are all spectacular and are shot on her iPhone using an Oloclip. Take a look at her latest book, The Lady and the Aphid here. Some of the text is probably better suited to a shared reading session for my age group, but the multi-modal aspects of her book are definitely accessible for our younger ones. The images are enchanting! It was a real pleasure to meet Bea this summer at the ADE Institute, especially after admiring her work for a long time!

These 3 resources all demonstrate the technology can, and should, be taken outside as they all promote investigative science skills. So much knowledge could be captured by my class using photograph and video, and documenting their ‘research’ about Life on Earth using a range of authoring apps (MyStory, Puppet Pals, Explain Everything, Story Creator to name a few).

Bea’s photography has inspired me to have a go myself. I didn’t purchase the Oloclip though, instead I went for a £4.99 model from an unknown brand on Amazon. I also purchased a tripod for my iPhone, costing £11.99. These two accessories clip on to my iPhone 5 easily and are ready to use as soon as they are attached. Here’s a few shots that I took, and a few better ones from my friend Tim (I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing them!)

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Here’s a shot of my new kit. ADE Alex Findlay recommended that I try out ProCamera, TrueHDR and Snapseed apps to improve my iPhone photography. He also suggested that I use a matte screen protector on my iPhone and iPad to reduce the reflections when using these devices outdoors. It does work pretty well! I also purchased a Mipow PowerTube as an external battery for my iPhone 5 which is brilliant to have outdoors. This summer I have also been able to install the developer’s beta of iOS 8 which introduces a Time-lapse camera to the iSight camera app. I was capturing a great time-lapse of a flower closing as the sunset but my battery lost power and I missed out on the full effect!


Anyway, back to the story…

This year I want Life on Earth to be a running theme, one that we can return to at different times to observe the changes in our environment (whether they be physical or human changes). I’m sure my leaners would be able to use there macro lenses to capture wildlife, it really is as simple as point and shoot!

I could even use the children’s photography to author ‘Just-Right for Me’ books about Life on Earth for my class. If you haven’t read about ADE Kristi Meeuwse’s success with authoring her own non-fiction books for iPad, watch her story here or read Kristi’s One Best Thing chapter here. It’s a great story from a fantastic ADE, and a good friend of mine, about the power of technology, authoring and reading progression.

Final Thoughts 

This all takes me back to my NQT year when I first started this blog and wrote about my experiences of Education for Sustainability in the Early Years. I have planned this challenge in to every year and still thoroughly enjoy listening to the children debate a global issue at their level. I’m now looking forward to enhancing those debates with my new learning.

2 thoughts on “Teaching about Life on Earth in Early Years

  1. What a great post! I’m very happy to know you can share my work with your students. I am currently working on two book ideas, both aimed at younger kids. Maybe we should talk before I hit the Publish button. I love chatting with little kids, but I’m not so good at judging what is best for them to read.

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