This design-based research project examines three iterations of Tree Investigators, a learning environment designed to support science learning outdoors at an arboretum and nature center using mobile devices (iPads). Researchers coded videorecords and artifacts created by children and parents (n = 53) to understand how both social and technological supports influenced observations, explanations, and knowledge about trees. In Iteration 1, families used mobile devices to learn about tree characteristics and identification in an arboretum; in Iteration 2, families used our mobile app about trees’ life cycles and completed a photo-collage task documenting life cycle phases; Iteration 3 used a refined version of the Iteration 2 mobile app with children at a nature center summer camp, along with customized tools embedded into the app for documenting photographic evidence of tree life cycle phases in the forest. Findings suggested: (a) learners engaged in science talk representing observation and explanation practices (perceptual, conceptual, connecting, affective talk), and varying learning conversational patterns emerged based on refinements to design implementations; and (b) making connections between concepts introduced on the mobile app and application of them outdoors was challenging for learners without explicit social and/or technological support during identification tasks; specifically, appropriation of scientific vocabulary, noticing relevant features, and accurately identifying life cycle stages needed structured, on-demand support. Findings point to empirically-based implications for design of socio-technical supports for mobile learning outdoors.
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