Animal and Plant Identification with Field Trip Apps
I taught kindergarten through second grade for four years in Idaho. During that time, I took my students into the forest, near our school regularly. I also ran the summer STEM program for k-8 that utilized the forest as a classroom, on many occasions. I found a few quality apps that benefited my students on these trips in nature. A field trip app can be a great tool to gather data, help identify species, and allow students to learn more about topics on the go.
Below you will find a list of my favorite apps to use for plant and animal identification with students:
1. Picture Insect
Insects are one of my favorite creatures to observe with students. These species are often stereotyped as “gross” or “creepy”. Insects are essential to decomposition and pollination, both important processes contained in the NGSS science standards. Getting students out on field trips to find and observe insects can be fascinating. Picture Insect is my favorite app to use with students on trips to the forest where we look at insects. You can take a picture of an insect and the app will identify it for you. It also gives you a description of the species, answers questions about it, describes the species size, habitat, and species protection status. It can be used in the schoolyard or in the classroom to find information about insects students are studying.
This app has short articles on topics related to insect identification. They explain how the app analyzes the pictures to make identifications. This is great for students that want to know the why and how their resources. I know in my class, I always had that one student that would ask “Mrs. V how does the app know it’s the ____insect?” The app gives informational text so you can answer students’ questions like this.
Picture Insect has a premium version too. This version gives access to a greater database and other resources related to pest management. I have found that the free version of app is an excellent resource for working with younger students. If you are studying more complex topics related to insects, you may want to check out the premium version.
2. Picture This
Picture This is my go-to app for identifying plants and trees. It is available as a free app or as a premium version. Picture This allows you to take a picture of a plant with or without its leaves and flowers and identify it. If you find a pinecone on the ground. Simply taking a snapshot of it provides you with an identification of the tree it came from along with images other users have captured in the app. If a plant has a fungus growing on it. The app will diagnose the invader or sickness the tree or plant possesses.
Picture This breaks plants up into eight categories. You can find information about plants in each category when you are in or out of the classroom. This makes the app an excellent resource for plant research at any time.
The premium subscription of the app contains informational texts on plant related topics. If you are looking for a way to connect science to texts in ELA studies, it may be worth investing in the premium subscription of the app.
iNaturalist is an app that allows you and your students to record observations and compile all student and class observations into one place. I have found this app useful for students observing on the go. It allows them to make notes and capture images as they go. The app eliminates the need to carry a notebook in the field. All students need is a phone or tablet. I have found students in 2nd grade and up can use the app without too many hiccups in and out of class.
This app requires the most pre field trip training and preparation. You need to set students up with accounts to log into iNaturalist. As an educator, you need to set up projects on the website, invite students to be part of the projects and teach your students how to take notes on the app. If your students are taking a field trip to participate in a local citizen science event, this app will likely be utilized by the organizing party to compile all observations gathered by participants. If you use it regularly for observations with your students, they will be ready to take part in Bio Blitz field trips or other similar events.
iNaturalist notes can be used from observations back in the classroom. Students can learn to use field guidebooks or online resources to identify their findings from field trips. They can use the app to communicate their findings to teachers, share their findings with classmates, and be part of something bigger as members of the citizen science community. If you are looking for an outdoor app that is versatile… this is it!
4. iBird Pro Guide to Birds
This app is great for students exploring topics about birds. Students can use this field trip app to identify birds by taking a picture. iBird Pro has information about a bird’s range and diet. This information may be helpful students are looking at birds and learning about what they observe in the field. It can also serve as a resource back in the classroom. iBird allows students to hear birds’ calls. This can be helpful when learning to identify the call of local birds on a class hike. This app has a cost associated with, but if you’re studying birds, it’s a priceless resource.
Apps are a great way to allow students to develop their hybrid mind. They connect nature and technology. Our world is highly technological but our basic necessities all come from the earth. It’s important for students to understand the importance of each and how they can be integrated into their education and daily lives. Using a field trip app such as the ones discussed above can greatly enhance your next class outing.
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