Cultural Probes for Environmental Education: Designing Learning Materials to Engage Children and Teenagers with Local Biodiversity

Sónia Matos, Alexandra R. Silva, Ana Moura Arroz, Duarte Sousa, Ana Picanço, Isabel R. Amorim, Simone Ashby, Rosalina Gabriel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Direct contact with nature is paramount in deepening children and teenagers' interest in biodiversity. Learning materials chosen to convey information and engage participants during outings in nature-rich environments are varied and can support rich learning experiences. For this purpose, learning materials can be acquired "off-the-shelf" or developed for site-specific locations or projects. However, there is little guidance on potential techniques for those wishing to generate contextually relevant materials. With the view of responding to this challenge, we propose the cultural probes technique. We demonstrate that the technique, commonly used in qualitative research to generate novel insights in conversation with participants, can instigate innovative and thoughtful approaches to materials designed for children and teenagers to explore nature. With this view, we created a cultural probe toolkit that draws on the cultural probe literature, inquiry-based learning, and the value of sensory, emotional, and aesthetic experiences in environmental education to structure our study. To test our approach, we adopted a descriptive research design and a mixed methods approach whereby we collected questions from young participants (ages 10 to 18), inspired by their visit and responses to exploratory tasks contemplated in the toolkit. We tested our toolkit along a trail located in the Nature Park of Terceira situated in the Azores, a Portuguese volcanic archipelago. Here, we present and reflect on the data collected during visits and one post-trail activity. Results demonstrate that cultural probes' open-ended and playful character offers a novel way to engage children and youth with nature-rich environments through questioning. Our contribution also highlights that the technique can instigate encounters that tap into the value of sensory, emotional, and aesthetic experience with and in nature with positive outcomes for participants' encounter with the toolkit in the park context.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0262853
Number of pages30
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 10 Feb 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Biodiversity
  • Child
  • Culture
  • Environment
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Male
  • Problem-Based Learning


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