Creative ways to use iNaturalist

Hello,

Curious to learn more about interesting, creative, unusual possibilities/ways how iNaturalist can be used for education that is dedicated to an amateur/non-scientific audience.

Thank you.

Projects can be fun. These are basically collections of observations. People can add their own observations to a project, or add observations made by others. As an iNat user, you can join as many projects as you want, so you could either make a project for your group, or have everyone find a project they thought was fun and join it. The only tricky part is if you want to make a project where people manually add observations to it (a traditional project) you need to have maybe 50 of your own verifiable observations posted, so you can’t be a brand new user.
Some examples:
A traditional project dedicated to my favorite color, that may introduce people to some fun organisms they haven’t seen before: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/blue
A traditional project devoted to animals visiting birdfeeders, that could get people more excited about what’s visiting their yards: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/bird-feeders
A collection project (automatically collects observations based on their GPS coordinates) devoted to my university, to get my students more excited about making iNat observations: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/life-at-northern-kentucky-university

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A few questions. Do you have specifics for any of the following? There are some commonalities but differences too.

  • Age level (teen, college, families, seniors),
  • Setting (school, informal education institution like a zoo or nature center)
  • Learning objectives or what you want people to learn?
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You could try to make a scavenger hunt of interesting taxa in your local area as a checklist but instead of listing them as their name try making them riddles?
For instance: I am a tall tree that sheds it’s lower branches and I don’t bear fruit. My leaves are thin and grow in bundles of 3. My bark is furrowed and looks like plate armor. What am I? (Loblolly Pine tree)

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I don’t know if this is particularly creative, but there is something I enjoy doing with iNat observations, although I suppose it works best for plants. I call it “naturalist’s geocaching”

Put simply, you search up interesting species near you, check the location, and then go out to that location and try to find it. Technically, one doesn’t even need an iNat account or have to make observations since you just use Explore mode. Nice thing about plants is they generally stay in one spot: even annuals will reseed at or near their location (otherwise how would they have grown there in the first place?).

Of course, one will need to take into consideration when a plant is in bloom or most likely to be seen, but besides that I find that even non-iNatters find it a lot of fun. I once tracked down a cool Krameria species that was observed the year before by another user. I later took several people out on a “plant geocaching expedition” to refind it. Although it was a bit past prime bloom season and the mowing didn’t help, we managed to find it again.

Also, it’ll often reveal a lot of cool things that are right in your area, so you don’t have to go out anywhere far or to some trail or something. The main limitation is just seasonality!

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I’ve stumbled upon a geocache once by accident while collecting observations at a local park. It was at the base of a tree with a very interesting growth pattern.

More on topic I have totally done this more than once with hermit crabs and orchids. It’s like creating your our mission objectives for an IRL RPG.

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Sometimes my 9 year old asks to play the “iNaturalist game”. You think of a species (or broader taxonomic group) and search for observations to see how many observations it has. Then you have to think of a species that you think has fewer observations than that one. The goal is to think of as many species as possible between your starting species and something with (ideally) just 1 observation. We usually just get down to Axolotol at the lower end. It’s a loosely directed way to explore different taxa, and often there are surprises in what is more or less commonly observed.

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iNat Bingo is fun! If the automatically generated cards are too difficult because of rare taxa, you could make your own with the most common observations for class use. Also, ID quizzes (like this one for poison ivy) may be a great way to make educational use of iNat observations in a classroom.

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Maybe everyone does this eventually, so maybe not the most creative, but checking to see what neighbors exist for any species you’ve already observed.

For example, if you’ve seen an American Robin, clicking on the Taxonomy tab and browsing the genus name: Turdus to see what other species exist and discovering there’s one called Turdus maximus :poop: :chart_with_upwards_trend:.

A more practical use of this is to go up(?) the taxonomy tree to learn what to call related species and to filter one’s area by this name to see if any species exist that can be confused. For example, here are all the wild Cashew Family species in an area I like to observe/identify in.

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Actually I can’t play it. It shows me random taxa from all parts of the world, what can I do about them?

I teach a course on evolution at a local college. One thing I’ve done with iNat is to have the students look at multiple observations of one species to examine variation within a population, and between different populations. (I use Asian Lady Beetles – they vary considerably in the numbers of spots, which are easy to count.)

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You need to choose the location there, on default it shows california.

Yes, go down to the drop-down menu that has San Fransisco County by default and click on that to change location to something more local for you. You can do this for any location available on iNaturalist. I like to do it for all our local State Parks, for example.

Thank you, @m_whitson! Super inspiring projects – especially the Blue and Bird Feeders!

Great questions, @anneclewis!

Age level – adults
Setting – anyone without botany/life science education
Learning objective – training visual awareness of plants, inspiring to learn more.

Wonderful suggestion, thank you @dinothedinosaur !

It is creative, @arnanthescout! I would say seasonality could also be turned into an additional reason to go find the plant and see how it’s doing during the whole year! Thanks!!

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This is awesome! Super cool game for the amateurs!! Big thanks for sharing it!

Before working with others it’s crucial to check https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/teacher’s+guide and previous topics on organization of events.

Ah, yes, I do that too. I spent almost a year waiting for some violets in my greenbelt to bloom :smile:
It can be a long waiting game at times, but imo worth it. I check in with my local plants as if they’re old friends…

Meanwhile this Sida spinosa I found still eludes me. This observation was the closest I got to catching it with a flower open. I swear, it was taunting me with that flower bud!

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