Biodiversity Survey part 4: Managing a Long Term Project

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Students will ensure that the work they are doing on the biodiversity project is being recorded appropriately and that they are following the iNaturalist community standards when posting observations.

Big Idea

A long term project requires reminders, check ins, and follow through to keep enthusiasm and effort from waning.


This lesson should occur after students have been working on the biodiversity survey project for a while.  In the case of my class, I determined that this lesson was necessary because I had been encountering so many problems with recurring frequency that it just made sense to slow down and have a "check in" lesson to make sure all students were on the same page and on track to finish the project by the end of the school year.

In our case, I taught this lesson about two weeks after parts one, two, and three of this lesson sequence.  To recap those lessons, by the time of this lesson, students should have...

  1. Become a registered user on iNaturalist
  2. Made observations of organisms in their community
  3. Begun to add their observations to our class biodiversity survey project  


The objectives for this "check in" lesson are diverse, but fairly simple:

  • Make sure all students are registered users of iNaturalist
  • Make sure all students join the LAHSA Biodiversity Survey project
  • Have students complete their profiles with a short description of themselves and some kind of icon or photo
  • Make sure students understand how to add an observation to the project and fill out the additional info fields
  • Have students try and identify an observation
  • Make sure that students understand how to fill in the additional info the project asks for
  • Make sure students understand the awards system and claim any awards they have already earned
  • Review best practices for photos, clarify the cultivated/wild issue
  • Have students make their own pocket rulers.


Connection to Standards:

In this lesson, students will follow a complex, multi-step procedure, conduct field research and use technology to produce and update their work.


Missing Members

15 minutes

The first thing I noticed that really needed some attention was that our biodiversity project did not have as many members as I have students in class. 

This could be due to two possibilities,

  1. Students did not yet register for iNaturalist
  2. Students had registered for iNaturalist, but did not become members of the project


To begin class, I used the projector to show the list of members of the project.  This list is accessible by clicking the "all people" tab underneath your project cover image on your project portal page. 

Since many students used an alias as a username, I went down the list of members of the project and asked, "Ok... 'Googler'... who's that?".  When a student claimed a username, I crossed that student off of my roll sheet.  When I finished going down the list, I used my roll sheet to see who had joined the project and who had not.  I then asked all students to work on uploading or detailing their own observations while I engaged the "missing" members. 

If the "missing" student was already a member of iNaturalist, I asked them their username and then used my computer to click the "invite people" tab to the right of the map on the project portal.

Clicking that page will open a search field to enter usernames and invite users to join the project.  Additionally, it will also give you a list of any "pending invitations", which are invitations you have already sent out but have gone unanswered by the student.  If this was the case with a particular student, I told them to log in to their account and accept the invitation to the project. 

If the student was not yet invited, I entered their iNaturalist username in the search field and clicked the "invite people" button. They could then log in to their accounts and accept the invitation. 

If, on the other hand, the student hadn't yet joined iNaturalist, I walked them through the registration process we covered in the first lesson.  Once they had done so, I entered their new user name into the "invite people" field and asked them to log in and accept the invitation.    

Everyone's Face is Boring

10 minutes

The second issue I had noticed was that even though many students had created user profiles, most had kept their user icons and profiles in the generic, default, boring condition, with no personalization whatsoever. 

This was a fairly easy fix which I actually set about fixing while going down the list of users for the project in the previous section.  When I came to a student that had personalized their user profile with an image (any image would do, plenty of my students used cartoon characters rather than their own picture), I would announce with over-dramatic, faux enthusiasm, "What a FASCINATING face this user has... I love it!". 

Conversely, for the majority of students that hadn't customized their profile, I would say in a disgusted, dispirited voice, "What a BORING looking face this person has", or "wow... is this person an alien?"  Again, at this point in the year, I'd developed enough trust with my students that they understood my gentle prodding as sarcasm (you might not want to try this on the first day of school). 

I told students that as we went through the other steps of this lesson, if they found themselves wanting for something to do, then they could update their profile with an interesting image. 

The result, after about 20 minutes of class time, was a project member list with many interesting faces

Adding Observations

20 minutes

After I had made sure that all of my students were in fact registered iNaturalist users and given them time to personalize their profiles a bit, I mentioned the fact that, as of that point, we had very few observations. 

I therefore did a quick review of how to add an observation to iNaturalist, which we covered in lesson 2:


I also knew that some students had already uploaded observations to iNaturalist, but hadn't yet added them to our biodiversity project.  So, I then did a quick review of adding an existing observation to a project, which I covered in lesson 3:


After quickly reviewing the above, I walked around the room helping students with any issues that they might have with both uploading observations and adding them to the project.  Many of the troubleshooting tips I offered my students were covered in the "Curating the Project" section of the previous lesson.  Doing this as a review just afforded time to reach more students than I had been able to up to that point.

The results speak for themselves:

  • This image shows the sorry state of the project at the beginning of this lesson, only 3 observations!
  • After only about 20 minutes of class time set aside for students to add observations, this image shows that we had jumped from 3 to 17 observations. 
  • By the end of this period, this image shows that the map had begun to get crowded relative to the beginning of class.
  • Two days after this lesson, I took this screenshot which shows that we had jumped to 36 observations.
  • After about a week, the project began to take shape as I had envisioned it, with 61 observations posted by users with interesting faces.

Observations are Good, Good Observations are Better

15 minutes

Once students were up and running adding more observations to the project, I walked around the room giving guidance where necessary, but also taking note where students were following some of the best practices outlined in the project description handout (which they received in lesson 2) and the iNaturalist teacher's guide.  After about 20 minutes of students working on uploading and adding their observations, I called their attention to the projector screen where I displayed the following good examples of students following these "best practices":

  • This student's observation contains multiple photos and includes a simple ruler to provide a crude measurement of their observed specimen. (I already had a few of these rulers made, but I ended up having the whole class make them as they wound up being extremely useful)
  • This observation contains a thorough written description.  They also included great supplemental data in the additional fields of the project, including measurements.
  • In this screenshot, you can see that this particular student was receiving help from a member of the iNaturalist community to make a more accurate identification of the species they observed.


Once these exemplary examples were covered, I reminded students that following these best practices made them eligible for extra credit awards and projected my spreadsheet keeping track of the awards to show students that I was adding awards for the students that had supplied the exemplary work (see the "citizen scientists" section from the previous lesson for more on the awards).

I let students know we'd have a few more minutes in class to put these best practices in effect for their current observations, but that we would then be heading outside for the remainder of class to make more observations.  I then spent about 10 minutes walking around to students that felt they had earned awards, adding them to the awards spreadsheet if I agreed, or offering suggestions for improvement if I felt more work was necessary or that some clarification was needed for them to understand why they didn't qualify for an award (e.g., one student felt that they should receive a "phylum" award for a spider they had found, I told them I would award the Class Arachnida award but since other students had already identified insects, the Phylum Arthropoda award had already been claimed).

Quantitative Data is Awesome: Let's make some rulers and go outside

45 minutes

For the final portion of this lesson, I want to give students a chance to get back outside and collect some more observations while keeping in mind all of the best practices we reviewed in the lesson thus far.


Before we go outside, however, I have students make a handy popsicle stick ruler.  Although it is simple enough for every student to carry their own ruler, the idea for this project is that students will be working on it in their own time in addition to class time and, believe it or not, rulers are not exactly a "cool" accessory for teenagers to carry around at all times. 

Enter the posicle stick ruler, an invention of my own design that can hardly be called an invention, but I hope you will at least afford me the adjective of ingenious.  

A popsicle stick ruler is simple to make, I first distribute a popsicle stick to each student and a few markers and a ruler or two to each group.  From then, it's almost self explanatory, but here goes:

  • Have the students hold the ruler next to the popsicle stick and use a marker to mark the popsicle stick every 5mm.  They then number the lines for every centimeter.
  • That's it... no step two.  It's done.


I have students mark the popsicle stick in centimeters rather than inches because I have been pushing the metric system since the third lesson of the year.  Additionally, the metric system is much easier to approximate as the halfway mark between numbered lines represents 5mm.  In this way, it becomes very easy to approximate a measurement (e.g., the insect's wings were ~.5 cm wide, the abdomen was ~1.25 cm long, the flower the insect was resting on was ~6cm across, etc.) 

This isn't a great tool for making exact measurements, and it's admittedly fairly worthless for larger measurements (a tree, for example, is more than several popsicle sticks tall).  Despite these limitations, a popsicle stick ruler is a great way to easily record some quantitative data along with a photo.  Additonally, since a popsicle stick is easy to carry around, it becomes much more practical than having students always carrying rulers.  (I had one student with a large enough phone actually keep the popsicle stick in the case of their phone, so that it was available whenever they needed it). 

In this photo, you can see that the popsicle stick ruler was immediately useful on the day of this lesson for this student to communicate the size of this fairly large moth. 


Once the popsicle stick rulers are made, I have students put away their computers and get ready to head back outside.  Since we only have about 30 minutes left in class at this point (remember that this is a 2 hour block), we only head out to one open area on campus.  The idea here is for students to gather quality observations rather than a large quantity.  However, if they do happen to make several observations, hopefully they will be of a higher quality than before if the students remember to take multiple photos and use a ruler for their measurements. 

When we finally made it outside, students seemed reinvigorated in their search for interesting specimens.  These students were intently searching an access box for the school's sprinkler system and found an interesting gastropod.  These students used a jar to capture a specimen in order to photograph it from multiple angles.  Finally, in this completed observation of the moth mentioned above, although there is only one photo, the ruler does provide a built-in sense of scale and the written description provides some good additional qualitative information.

Perhaps the best argument for doing this "check in" lesson was the fact that some of these best practices stuck around, as one student brought along their popsicle stick ruler and used it for this observation of a butterfly (of which they also took multiple photos) on a field trip to investigate tidepools more than a month after this lesson.