Starting a summer project for HS Students

Hello, I will be teaching a summer HS program for Upward Bound students in North Central Florida and am looking to connect with instructors and researchers who have prior experience using iNaturalist and have succeeded in implementing their programs.

While there is a plethora of information available via the Teacher’s Guide, I would welcome communicating with others, hearing about their successes, whether they used BioBliz or some other format and more importantly about what worked, what didn’t and potential pitfalls to avoid. I greatly appreciate any and all constructive replies.

Chris

3 Likes

Welcome to the forum! Just noting that I changed your post to be in the “Educators” category.

3 Likes

Thank you. I’m new to using the forum

1 Like

I’m not a teacher, but look at one of students’ programm, one advice I have is spent some time (days/classes, the longer the better) teaching what iNat is first, without students observing, it will result in better quality of observations and will be easier for participants to make them, starting with observing results in many mistakes that are hard to edit if you don’t know the platform and also will likely result in a more negative experience for students, also avoiding set number of observations/species to make is a way to avoid students posting photos from the web, etc.

7 Likes

Thank you for your thoughtful input Marina. It is appreciated.

1 Like

For many years I taught summer programs for AP Biology Teachers and we always used to incorporate Upward Bound students both as enrichment for the students and as a way for teachers to do trial runs of the lesson plans they were developing (marine biotechnology and bioinformatics). I did not use iNat because we were focusing on the dynamics of a single cryptic invasion, the Mytilus edulis complex in California, but we used a similar mix of technology and field work, along with wet lab work. I am also an experienced user of iNat, both identifying and observing.

Last Fall I developed a Google Presentation https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1b1q7qc0UEnBK5ChSJHaW97fdS04R7P6toSf75AmMTLo/edit?usp=sharing for instructors thinking about using iNat with college and high school students.
Since the instructors are for different courses teaching a wide range of students the idea behind the presentation was to use it as a guide and inspiration for their own presentations to students. Perhaps you will find it useful.

My main advice is to go slow, provide lots of instruction, and do a bunch of observations together in the beginning and gradually build up in a very structured way to a bioblitz fieldtrip only when they already have had a lot of practice with the technology and have learned a little about taxonomy. From what I hear and see, turning high school or lower division students loose to “get out in nature and take photos of living things” backfires, becomes very boring and unsatisfying for the students.

The presentation covers how to make good observations, a bit on how the iNat community functions, the difference between the web version and the app, the powerful GIS and biodiversity aspects, and the project possibilities. It’s not a deep dive into any of those.

10 Likes

I very much agree. A classroom presentation on the app followed by a guided nature walk to assist students in making observations works well. I have encouraged students to not make the same observations as each other but find their own - leads to a little healthy competition to find something cool, but not too much.

Common pitfalls are observations of cultivated plants (or domestic animals) and taking pics from other students or just copying images from online to get to a quota. I would recommend explicitly monitoring student activity for the first few days to make sure they are on the right track. A project (either collection or traditional type depending on your needs) is a good way to pull observations together, make them visible to other students, and create some healthy competition.

I advise against having any kind of quota for identifications - this just leads students to agree to other IDs in many cases where they don’t have much experience.

Another good lesson to give is how to make a good quality observation. I usually do this with a couple plants/trees. I show them how to take multiple pics of different characters like bark, leaves, overall forms, buds/flowers, etc. and then group into one observation. iNat is much more satisfying for students when they get responses in the form of IDs, so if they make low quality observations, they can get frustrated with little feedback.

I also go through and assist with IDs as much as I can to help them get more feedback.

Good luck!

5 Likes

I have a few comments that apply generally to iNat student assignments… sort of a wish list, I guess.

  1. It would be really helpful to prep the students with some basics in how to make identifiable observations, for example, promote the taking of a series of photos to show different features/aspects. E.g.: Show the whole plant, not just the flower. Conversely, don’t just show the tree from a block away, also get close in. Here’s a tutorial that touches on it: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/video+tutorials#idable
  2. Provide some explanation about how iNat is used (and why ID integrity actually counts).
  3. Provide links to some on-line resources that will help students ID what’s likely to be seen in their area.
  4. Explain that observations shouldn’t be “agreed with” simply to acknowledge the response (like “Likes” on Facebook) or to be “friendly”. Agreement should be based on having researched the suggestion (at least a little bit), that is, having some personal insight that it “looks right”. Conversely, it’s okay to be wrong too… The point is to just try to put a little effort into it!
  5. The iNat photo recognition app apparently works well in some areas, while in others, it is quite unreliable. Again, before “agreeing” to an ID suggestion, stress that a little research should be done to check for reasonableness (does it even look similar?; does it even occur there?)
  6. Explain that observations should only be ID’d to the level that the provided detail supports - not every observation can get to a species level and shouldn’t.
  7. Explain that observations made to iNat are public and potentially seen by a very large group of ID-ers, including knowledgeable people and many acknowledged experts. Student projects seem to often become a closed circle or a game, where IDs and comments from outside the circle of students are summarily ignored. It becomes almost impossible to “break through” with facts when the group has latched onto some incorrect ID and each student just mechanically agrees with it.
  8. Explain the iNat criteria of “wild” versus “captive/cultivated” and why it’s important and provide some guidelines on how to tell the difference.

Most of this applies, of course, to new users in general, but an advantage of student projects is that there is opportunity for some “ground rules” to be set out before the students are turned loose.

Well, like I said, it’s a wish list…

8 Likes

Like @marina_gorbunova, I’m not an educator, but I like to teach moth ID on iNat. This might be a helpful thread - https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/intro-to-inaturalist-3-minute-overview/31079/14
One of the pitfalls of iNat is that some experienced folks simply correct incorrect ID’s without giving reasons why. I would assume it would be daunting to a new user - I know I find it a small bit annoying, but I’ve been doing this for some time. I do try to explain why I change an ID. So before using iNat, I would stress this aspect. Personally, I have found most people who identify to be receptive to questions, but not everyone would agree with that assessment.
Personally I find plants, and “lower” life forms (I hate that term - such arrogance on our behalf!) hard to identify, so the students may not get a lot of feedback with common plants. Birds and mammals seem to be readily Identified. As well as some insects. It may be good to prepare students to the fact that they may not get much feedback for some observations.
But like others have said, good luck. iNat is a great place to learn a lot about non-human life, if people take the time to learn. Perhaps present it as a ‘gateway’ to that world?

1 Like

I’d also think about iNat as not just a “go outside, take photos, and generate data” thing, but an opportunity to also look at it through the lens of a data user. See this discussion.

In addition to that, I notice a lot of teachers seem to just have their students take photos and use the computer vision suggestions wthout thinking about them. To me iNat (or Seek) is the perfect opportunity to introduce students to the biases and problems (as well as the benefits) of machine learning models, as their world will be increasingly reliant on them. Discuss why iNaturalist might suggest something that’s incorrect - what about the photo might trick it? What other factors should you keep in mind when getting information from a machine learning model? Even if they never want to step out into nature again, they’ll learn how to critically think about these things.

10 Likes

Henrik, thank you very much for taking the time to respond to my post. I look forward to looking at your Google Presentation to get some ideas.

best,

Chris

Thank you very much for your suggestions Chris. I too work with herps, specifically snakes of the subtropics and neotropics. I am encouraged by the amount of substantive support I have received from the community thus far.

Chris

2 Likes

Projects also point us at who to contact if the students are misbehaving–we can assume the project owner is the teacher. Otherwise it can be difficult or impossible to know who is in charge.

6 Likes

This is a great presentation, and I particularly like the way you introduce the audience to the community of iNaturalists by tracing back IDs to the identifier’s profile (and even looking at who else they follow). It helps teachers and students see that if they make good quality observations, their contributions wil be taken seriously by this science-based community. (And the “local endemic” slide is a great demonstration of the power of iNaturalist mapping!)

2 Likes

Thanks @janetwright - I intend to keep pushing iNat because it has such tremendous potential in education. So the feedback is appreciated!

2 Likes

Thanks for your input. I appreciate it.

Chris

Ian, this was very thoughtful.

regards,

Chris

1 Like

Hi Tony, are there formal iNatualist kits or supplies for sale that are designed for educators, similar to what you might find on Carolina Biological Supply? The Upward Bound program administrators asked me to inquire. Please advise.

Chris

1 Like

No, there aren’t.

1 Like

Fair enough. They have a budget for supplies and it is a case of use it or lose it.

thank you!