Square Meter Project

I am piloting a project for educators: the Square Meter Project is a project to help educators engage students in exploring the concept of species richness. Square Meter Projects consist of observations of each species (not each organism) in a square meter plot which are curated into an iNat project for data analysis and sharing.

I set up my first square meter project on the campus of a science center earlier this week. Later this month, I am taking a group of educators to Badlands National Park where each educator will make observations for their own square meter projects. My working hypothesis is that there will be a higher level of species richness in a square meter of the Badlands than there is on the Kentucky blue grass lawn. But we will see.

Students surveying square meters (or feet, or the inside of a hula hoop, or 100 inches) is nothing new. What is different about this variation of the activity is adding the iNaturalist element which turns the focus of the activity from data collection to data analysis, or from an activity that can be done only during certain times of the year (depending on geography) to one that can be done at any time.

One of the challenges of having students do this during the school year is that in temperate zones there is a very small window of opportunity during ecologically active times. Where I live, the window is at the very beginning of the school year and then again in May, right when school is getting out. iNat makes it possible surmount that time limitation. Students can analyze data collected by (hopefully) the teacher and others in locally and regionally familiar places even in depths of winter.

Also, if enough people world wide create Square Meter Projects on iNaturalist that adds the geographic lens to the learning.

So to that end, I am inviting everyone to set up their own Square Meter Project on iNaturalist and share it in this thread. I will curate them in an umbrella project to facilitate access by educators. If you would like to contribute a project, I’ve created a Field Guide for more step by step instructions. Please note that you will have to adjust for the Badlands National Park specific language.

Caveat: This Square Meter Project is not quite ready to be put in front of educators as fully baked and frosted. This is a work still very much in development with lots of bugs to work out. The project journal will have more information as this project develops. I would be thrilled if teachers helped me pilot this understanding it’s a pilot but please don’t pass this along to your sister’s-in-law cousin who’s a teacher as something they must try. I need to develop more resources to support the data analysis component. And first, I need more data to analyze!

Since this is still early days, I am also interested in hearing constructive feedback especially from those who have contributed a square meter project. What barriers or challenges are you finding? What worked well? What ideas has this sparked?

I will update occasionally as this project progresses. I think it has potential to be a powerful tool for learning.


My only input is to make sure students are instructed to take quality photos.

-A guy who just sorted through 500+ poor quality student bioblitz plant photos which were either out of focus or showed multiple species with no direction as to which to ID.


Agreed that there will need to be a whole section devoted to having students add photos to iNat. I actually think that Seek is the better tool for students to use to conduct their own Square Meter Project survey as the pedagogical value is having students analyze data from iNat rather than contribute to it. iNat provides an opportunity for students to put their local data, which may not be on iNat even, into context.


I would add that being strict about each student making their own independent observation is important. It seems pretty common for students participating in iNat projects to just copy each other’s photos rather than taking their own.

Also, getting them to take it seriously too. Often with student projects there is an upsurge of intentionally bad identifications, additional ‘observations’ of random stuff that doesn’t really fit, etc.


I really like the idea of analyzing data from a teacher-provided survey dataset- meaning, a 1x1m survey by teacher, just part of the teacher’s own iNat observations and placed into the teacher-owned 1x1m individual project. Then any equity issues with things like camera access/skills are nothing to worry about. As a lab instructor I’d normally just be in the mindset of “make them do it themselves so they learn”- but they can do that style in a Bioblitz or something.

It would cool if they ended up having discussions on different observations of note in the project, like many folks normally do around here. :)


It sounds an ideal situation for setting up an emergence trap for insects.