Never Home Alone: Classroom Edition
You Are Not Alone
In studying life, scientists have overlooked many regions. Some regions have not been studied because they are so remote. Others because they are so diverse that it is hard to know where to even begin. Then there is the great indoors, which we believe has been understudied in part because it is so immediate.
This project aims to document the species that live indoors with humans, including but not exclusive to arthropods. In doing so, we are embarking on real science and expect to discover new species, species living where they were not previously known to live and new patterns with regard to what kinds of species live where and the consequences of such species. We expect scientific discovery after scientific discovery.
Why do we expect these discoveries? Because even in the first few dozen houses we have studied we have begun to make them. In studying the arthropods (insects and their kin) in Raleigh, North Carolina, for example, we found more than one thousand species in homes.1 As we have studied homes in other cities, we have found even more species, some of them new to science, virtually all of them poorly studied.
No one is ever really home alone. With this iNaturalist project we now seek your help in recording the species in homes around the world. You can be part of this project in two ways, first as an observer, and second in helping us to understand what we have observed. Once we have 20,000 observations (and we are close) we will begin to analyze the results from homes, schools and other buildings. When we do, we will share the results, even before we are certain exactly what they mean.
1 Bertone, M. A., Leong, M., Bayless, K. M., Malow, T. L., Dunn, R. R., & Trautwein, M. D. (2016). Arthropods of the great indoors: characterizing diversity inside urban and suburban homes. PeerJ, 4, e1582.
The power of citizen science
Citizen science connects communities, scientists, researchers, and educators through research and actively engages the public in the scientific process—from collecting and analyzing water samples to mapping the migration of birds, to identifying new plant and animal species, to monitoring the nesting activities of sea turtles. Together, citizens and scientists can advance our understanding of the world while providing insight into 21st-century environmental issues, including water quality, biodiversity, and climate.
What is citizen science?
Citizen science is scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions. Data collected by citizen scientists help professional scientists answer research questions about wild plant and animal populations, as well as features of the environment such as water clarity or temperature. Wild species’ populations are always changing, and conservation efforts need to be based on data from many locations over long time spans. More and more, scientists are relying upon citizens to be their “eyes and ears” to study populations and habitats.
But citizen science isn’t new. Regular people, such as farmers, have been collecting weather data for over two centuries. The first organized biological projects probably engaged citizens in collecting data on bird distribution and abundance. And there is a long history of lay interest in insects—for example, the field notes and reports of many Victorian collectors document important contributions to our understanding of butterfly range, behavior and abundance. Today, organized citizen science programs are flourishing as scientists need data and many citizens want to contribute towards the understanding and conservation of the environment.
Why do we feel it’s important to engage students in citizen science?
So that they have opportunities to:
- Participate in authentic scientific research
- Feel ownership over their learning
- Be part of a growing community of citizen scientists
- Improve scientific literacy by understanding the process of science rather than just memorizing facts or doing canned science experiments wherein we already know the results
In order to help you avoid some common problems, here are some pointers for teachers seeking to use iNaturalist in the classroom:
- Try to add 20-30+ observations before considering how you will use iNaturalist with your students. iNat will make a lot more sense to you after some firsthand experience. This can be as simple as using the app on a short hike or a walk around your block, or better yet, try to use it at a place and time that are similar to where and when you are expecting your students to use it.
- You definitely don’t want to learn how to use iNat at the same time as your students, so make sure that you test out your protocols before teaching them to others. That means test out the following: recording observations, adding comments, and adding identifications.
- When working with elementary students, I have found that collecting photos to upload on multiple devices — but then using one teacher/classroom account on iNat has worked the best. Each student team selects their best photos, and we collect them all in one folder. As a class, we then upload them together, creating great discussions on identification, camera placement, and improvements to make moving forward.
How to participate
Citizen science students of any age can contribute to real research without needing any qualifications — just the ability to follow directions. Students from Kindergarten through 5th can all feel a sense of agency as they help real scientists with their work.