Developing curriculum for multiple classes from different schools

I am working with a group of educators to develop place-based, standards aligned environmental curriculum for several small, rural school districts in California that are connected by a long distance hiking trail.

I have an idea is to develop a program where all the school districts would share access to one project on iNaturalist. Students would collect observations on their own school grounds, but be able to see observations made by students from nearby districts. Beyond some cool projects a classroom can do on their own with the data, I’d love this to turn into some sort of pen pal project where students pair up with one another over the platform to read each others entries, and write to one another about what they are observing.

Has anyone used iNaturalist in this way? Maybe this isn’t an appropriate use of iNaturalist? Any advice, precautions, ideas, would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance!

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I think it sounds like a lovely idea. Usually the main hurdle with school projects is explaining to the students what is a “cultivated” plant and why the ones planted on their school grounds must be marked as such (or not observed at all.)

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Hi, welcome to the Forum! :)

To start, I would suggest you and the teachers you work with spend a little time getting familiar with iNat before making the curriculum.

There are lots of ways to customize a project. I’d recommend using several Collection-style projects which can then be collected together in an Umbrella project. Once you have enough observations of your own, you can create a Project and start experimenting with the settings. If you search the Forums you can find more information, and we are also here to answer questions :)

Also, I’m assuming all the students are 13 and up?

Lots of people use iNat for school assignments, with varying levels of success. In general, the more you understand what iNat is, and is not, the better your experience will be. Also, please be prepared to “clean up” after your students, as hundreds of observations with haphazard IDs and no quality control can be a little frustrating for local identifiers.

Thanks for reaching out ;)


I would recommend that a generic memberID be created for each class. Then have all students in a class work as a team to take photos. Then select a few to upload to iNat. this will allow class discussion around how to take good photos, etc.
You could then set up a collection project and set one of the criteria to be memberID.
the project could have a number of journal posts related to specific species or themes. Students could then add comments to the journal posts.
This is just one idea but it really depends on the age group of the students.
Teachers or parents need to be involved.

In general, this is a very appropriate use of iNat, I think, and hopefully will lead to a good learning experience! But as others have noted, there are a few keys to making school projects work well:

If students aren’t at least 13 years old, they need to use a group account administered by a teacher. This isn’t too hard, but requires a little more teacher management.

The projects should be closely monitored by teachers in general to make sure that observations are appropriate, not just a ton of cultivated organisms, not pics taken from the internet, etc.

Training for the students is critical, both about how to make good observations (especially of plants), to either avoid observations of cultivated plants or always denote as such, and ideally avoid multiple students all standing around taking pictures of the same organism (which while not strictly against the rules, is pretty annoying). One of the more frequent frustrations of iNat IDers is large school projects uploading high quantities of poor quality (ie, can’t be IDed) observations or cultivated plants.

You can make locations for each of the schools and add them to iNat to facilitate students observing things at their schools. @trh_blue’s suggestion to use collections projects and an umbrella to pull school’s projects together is a good one.

You could also consider the value of having students make observations outside of school (around homes, communities, etc.). In my experience students really enjoy this and getting to share what they find near where they live.

Hope it turns out well!


Oh, also, realize that it takes time to get IDs, because they’re all supplied by volunteers. Follow up with students a few days/weeks later once more observations have been identified/verified – same-day results are rare, except with charismatic vertebrates.