Treasure Hunting in Botanical Garden

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A team in action
Discovering plant names with a pocket PC
(Primary school)

Several Italian botanical gardens are successfully experimenting with a “Treasure Hunt” of plants with children of elementary schools, using keys produced by KeyToNature on mobile devices. A colour map of the botanical garden is marked with dots for ten woody plants to be identified. In the garden each plant is recognizable by a numbered billboard of the same colour as the dot on the map.

The activity takes place in several steps:

  1. Preliminary Step: before the start the teachers explain to children the rules of the game, stressing the importance of observation to identify the plants and experimenting with the use of the keys in the garden of the school. Here the children learn the few basic concepts which are necessary for using a key.

  2. Once in the botanical garden, groups of three-four children are formed, each group has a pocket PC. The first activity is an explanation of the use of the pocket PC. The same plant is identified together by all groups to get acquainted with the new instrument and with the key.

  3. The treasure hunt! Each group of children, first accompanied by a teacher, then alone, has about half an hour to find and identify the 10 plants shown on the map. With some orienteering, when a group finds a plant and thinks to have identified it, they run to the teacher who has a table with the names corresponding to the numbers. If children have made a successful identification, the group can continue the "hunt", otherwise they must go back and try to understand where they went wrong. After c. half an hour, all the groups gather near the teacher, who announces who has won the game, calculating the number of correct identifications, the time spent, and the number of errors.

The children learn how to use the mobile device quite rapidly, and seem to be highly attracted by its use. The main problem, at the beginning, is to learn "how to click", i.e. where exactly to click and with what pressure to go on with the key.

With very small children (6-7 years) who have just learnt to read, we had to re-adapt the key. The first version proved to be too wordy: to distinguish between two species there were sentences like "Leaves compound. Flowers yellow, radially symmetrical. Fruit fleshy", which proved to be too long for the children. We immediately prepared a special version of the key, where the text was reduced to a minumum. The new version proved to work very well.

It is almost incredible how children of 6-7 years are able to identify correctly 10 species of trees in half an hour, having fun while learning and observing nature with new eyes!

The Treasure map of a botanical garden