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OCH BLOG

iNaturalist Teaching through a Local Lens to Connect Students with the Real World

Connecting our Learners with Local Environments

How can we connect learners with their local environment?


Similar to many residents in Orange County, I spend time out in nature exercising and exploring our local places. My main interest is learning about our marine habitats and over time, as a science teacher, I have shared these experiences with students to spark curiosity and wonder. This past year, a parent had remarked to me about their daughter’s increased interest in science outside of the school after I shared observations of tide pool organisms from iNaturalist during class. Using the free iNaturalist app, anyone with access to a cell phone is able to photograph and record their observations. Discussions, curriculum support, and projects are just three of many ways that local observations could be used by teachers, facilitators, and families. 


Observations may be used for active discussions that engage students thinking about the local environment. Teachers and facilitators could reference A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas to develop a prompt that includes questions relating to core science ideas. If student notebooks are used to record discussions, these may be helpful to reference during their experiences on field trips such as those facilitated by OC Habitats. 



Prompt questions source - National Research Council. (2012). A framework for K-12 science education: Practices, crosscutting concepts, and core ideas. National Academies Press.


Observations can support science practices such as asking questions and modeling. With curriculum such as OpenSciEd that might involve a unit of learning connected to a non-local event such as oyster die-offs in the Pacific Northwest, teachers might consider referencing similar species found in Orange County. Beyond observations, population size, range, and taxonomy are all available on the iNaturalist app.


OpenSciEd - Initial modeling activity from High School Chemistry - Unit C4


iNaturalist can be used to support classroom projects as well as local citizen science projects. Because one does not have to sign up to access iNaturalist data, students can conduct research for classroom projects on biomes, food webs, and migrations. By signing up as users, families can participate in local citizen science projects such as biodiversity surveys in Orange County like the Crystal Cove State Park Snapshot Bio Blitz during the summer. Before using iNaturalist with students, it is important to review online privacy guidelines in the iNaturalist teacher guide.


Citizen Science Project - Local Biodiversity Survey


For an educational project this Spring, I investigated students’ perceptions of local life using an iNaturalist observation activity. Twenty-six 6th grade students completed the activity and were surveyed. Over 90% of the students surveyed think it is important to learn about living things found near their home, but a few said that it is not. A large plurality of students think that safety is a reason to learn about living things found near their home. Other students cited familiarity with local life. Most students agreed that learning about living things interests them and that they have an interest in exploring living things in their community. I plan to use this information to further inform my thesis and to develop iNat opportunities in my future classes.


  1. Survey Question: Is it important to learn about living things found near your home such as living things that you observed in the Los Cerritos Wetlands?



  1. Survey Question: Why is it important to learn about living things found near your home such as living things that you observed in the Los Cerritos Wetlands?




  1. Survey - I am interested in exploring living things in my community.



  1. Survey - Learning about living things interests me.



With online tools such as iNaturalist, parents and teachers have access to make local connections and ignite student curiosity. Science is not a memorization activity, but a constantly revised system that can only move forward with those willing to be curious and ask questions. It is my lifelong mission to lead a student-centered classroom that values questions and discussion: students deserve an education that allows exploration and experimentation with nature. 



Check out the corresponding presentation!


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