Tech Tip Tuesday: Using iNaturalist as a Teaching Tool

I usually start TTT with a comment about the weather and what’s happening in nature, however doing that today would feel disingenuous. It’s hard to believe how much can change in a short period of time. I know that I’m not alone in feeling uprooted and disoriented after such a tumultuous week or two. As someone who is passionate about the natural world, I’ve found myself turning there for comfort and escape. I also recognize that easy access to nature is a privilege and not available to everyone for a multitude of reasons. Employment, location, and health status, among other factors, can all create barriers to extended outdoor recreation, especially under current conditions. Keeping this in mind, I still urge you to spend time in nature whenever it is safe and feasible to do so. And if you can’t, open a window, breathe in the fresh air, and listen to birdsong, or listen to birdsong through your smartphone or other listening device. You may find that this too brings you a brief spell of ease.

My final comments before we dive in are not nature related. In this time of social distancing, the prospect of spending extended periods in relative isolation feels scary. In these moments, we need community more than ever. Make sure that you’re still reaching out to the people in your lives who you care about. Also, reach out to people you don’t know and who may be struggling right now through acts of kindness committed from a safe distance. Despite needing to stay at least six feet away, we still need to be there for each other. Regardless of our individual situations, most of us are feeling lonely and afraid, making connection essential.

This Week on Tech Tip Tuesday

As I’m sure all of you are acutely aware (or experiencing directly), all Vermont public schools (as well public schools in many other states) either are closed or will be closing tomorrow until April 6th. I can’t even begin to imagine the difficulties this will place on parents and families across Vermont (and beyond). I want to acknowledge that for many, school is more than an education: it’s food, childcare, and a social network, among many other things.

Tech Tip Tuesday can barely even scratch this surface, however what it can provide is directions to guide you in using iNaturalist to keep the children in your lives engaged in nature education. One great aspect of iNaturalist is that you don’t need to be an expert to teach children about nature. Between its A.I. and suggestions from others, you can identify the life around your home or along your favorite trail with relative ease. You can also learn more about the species you uncover on the taxa info pages.

Since some schools are trying to hold classes online, iNaturalist also makes a great tool for remote learning. If students are of an age where they can register for iNaturalist without parental permission, teachers can potentially have them use iNaturalist to collect information around their homes or neighborhoods and share them to a class project page. The possibilities of how to use iNaturalist as an educational tool are plentiful! To learn more about how to use iNaturalist as an educational tool, check out the iNaturalist teacher’s guide and this thread on the iNaturalist forum.

However, there are a couple of things to consider before taking off. First, it’s important that you as the educator understand how to use the app. iNaturalist recommends having at least 20-30 observations uploaded before using it for a class. Second, only people 13 years or older can create an iNaturalist account. In order to use the app with younger children, either you must be the one using it, or you should use Seek, a similar app designed by iNaturalist for younger children. Third, another point that’s been raised by some in the iNaturalist community is that iNaturalist will teach you what something is but won’t necessarily teach you what its identifying features are. If you want the young people you’re teaching to take a deeper dive into identification, you can check out the Vermont Atlas of Life website for a great list of identification resources.

Of course, there is more to consider than these three things and I once again highly recommend checking out the teacher guide, even parents. While you may not be a formal teacher, the guide will still help you understand how best to use iNaturalist to engage your children.

If you’re an educator, parent, or other individual looking to educate the children in your care about nature and have any questions about using iNaturalist, please email me at or message me on iNaturalist.

TTT Task of the Week

If you know any educators, parents, or other individuals looking for a way to keep their children engaged in learning either in-person or remotely, please share iNaturalist’s teacher guide with them. If you can, please get outside. Explore, take a break from the news, and photograph as many species as you can find.

As always, thank you for helping us map Vermont’s biodiversity, stay safe, and happy observing!

Posted on 17 March, 2020 19:27 by emilyanderson2 emilyanderson2


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