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I remember as a child being outside until the street lights flicked on. I’d be running around in the garden making nature documentaries that rivalled Sir. David Attenborough (minus the camera crew) or pretending to be an explorer on a new island far away. My trusty 4-legged sidekick by my side and the absolutely perfect stick in tow.

We all seem to have similar memories. It’s why we lament our kids missing these experiences. It seems our lifestyles have become so busy, that it’s harder to get our kids away from their screens. And it’s even harder to get them outdoors and enjoying it.

It’s thus no wonder that technology is cast as the villain. But it can also be a saviour if used appropriately. If your kids love technology as much as most, you can harness it to get them outside!

There are now a range of apps and resources online that turn your kids into a budding explorer. It may not be a stick or a trusty 4-legged sidekick, but it works just as well. Whether you are looking for a way to liven up your homeschooling curriculum, or engage your budding scientist after school, here are our top 5 apps that help you collect real science data and help scientists too!  

 

Seek by iNaturalist

Photo by iNaturalist

What it does

Using the data from thousands of observations submitted on iNaturalist, Seek can identify the species in your area through the lens of your smart phone.

How it’s used

The app uses image recognition technology to ‘see’ the plants and animals in your backyard using your smartphone’s camera. The app is extremely user friendly. All you have to do is point the app at what you can see and it will do the hard work for you. It identifies the species and even provides information so you can learn more about the organisms around you.

When I pulled out my phone and used it to look at the pink flowers in my garden, they transformed to a Japanese Camellia in a matter of seconds!

You can even take a photo of what you found. This keeps a record of your scientific observations automatically.

What you will learn

This app takes the guess work out of identification – no more creative answers to “what’s this mum?”! It’s also a great tool for bringing learning to life. Your child can look for new species of animals and plants in your local area. The app also labels the species as native or introduced, helping you learn outside of a textbook or worksheet.

How you’re helping scientists

The goal of the app is to help scientists collect data on the biodiversity of Australia. Every observation captured through the app is uploaded to the iNaturalist database. This data is completely open source, which means that it can be taken and used for development projects, conservation and scientific research, and many other uses across Australia.

Why we love it

What makes Seek extra fun is that you receive badges rewarding you for observing different types of plants and animals. You can also participate in monthly challenges. This will help get your gamer off the couch and outside!

What’s also great is that you don’t have to create an account or share any personal data to use Seek. Once downloaded, the app requires no internet connection and although it does need access to your phone’s GPS, your precise location or any personal data is never stored in the app or on the larger iNaturalist database. That means it’s completely child-safe, just like all Arludo products.

So if your child can’t stop looking at their screen, try looking through it with Seek.

Butterflies Australia

Photo by Butterflies Australia

What it does

Butterflies are an important part of the ecosystem. They work hard alongside the bees to pollinate fruits, vegetables and flowers that we humans need to survive. Butterflies Australia needs your help to monitor butterfly populations, by report sightings in your local area.

How it’s used

After making your own account on the website or via the app, you can log your butterfly sightings and explore other’s findings across Australia. The app doubles as a digital field guide with wonderful photos and distribution maps so you can ID anywhere, any time!

What you will learn

Butterflies Australia is perfect for learning about butterflies and how to ID them, but also a great resource for looking at colours and patterns in nature. Not many animals come in as many different shapes and sizes! It is additionally great for understanding experimental design, with the option to run your own butterfly survey at home!

How you’re helping Scientists

This is the very first citizen science project focusing on butterflies. By reporting your sightings you are helping to see exactly where they are located. This helps scientists figure out other important information such as what time of year and conditions they prefer to live in. This is valuable data that can be used for future butterfly conservation and research.

Why we love it

I can’t remember the last time I noticed a butterfly. Is that because they haven’t been around, or I just wasn’t thinking about them? Invertebrates are commonly forgotten amongst the cute and cuddly mammals of Australia. Although butterflies are appreciated for their beauty, their importance as pollinators is often missed.

We love this simple app because it promotes the importance of butterflies and helps us to learn more about them at the same time!

FrogID

Photo by Australian Museum

What it does

Frogs can be very hard to see, often hiding in hard to reach places. This makes it tricky to learn much about them. So the scientists at the Australian Museum are asking for your help to learn more about your local frogs, by recording their call!

How it’s used

Frogs make a variety of sounds that are unique to each species. This means that they can be identified just by listening to their call! After creating an account, you can record calling frogs directly via the app on your smart phone. You then can provide some optional extra information such as notes, photos and habitat types.

Once submitted, every single recording is listened to by a frog biologist at the Museum. Your frog identification is confirmed directly via email and the experts can answer any questions you may have along the way!

What you will learn

FrogID is a great way to become familiar with your local frog sounds. The app is an excellent field guide, with a filter that can show you specifically what’s near you. Or you can review all the frogs in Australia.

There are easy to click through profiles of each species, complete with sample calls and photos. Additionally, on the FrogID website you can access a variety of free activities, worksheets and lessons to assist with learning in or out of the classroom. You can even make yourself a Frog Hotel!

How you’re helping scientists

FrogID is Australia’s first national frog count. Through audio recordings we can learn so much more about frogs than just where they are calling from. Frogs call to attract mates so scientists can understand their preferred weather and habitat conditions for breeding, plus much more!

The team at FrogID have already published 9 scientific papers using the data collected from people just like you, so you truly are a citizen scientist directly contributing to research, while having fun exploring your local creeks at the same time.

Photo by Jodi Rowley

Why we love it

FrogID is a great way to engage your children with the sounds of nature, rather than just what they can see. You won’t be able to stop hearing potential frogs after a few tries!

You can join your local frog group on the FrogID website and work together to record as many frogs as you can. By recording regularly you can work your way up the leader board that is viewable on the website – now that’s a high score to aim for!

Using the FrogID app quickly becomes a part of your daily walk routine, checking in on the frog populations you’ve discovered.

Big City Birds

Photo by Big City Birds

What it does

It’s hard to imagine the iconic bin-chicken (or more politely, the White Ibis) living anywhere else but in our skip bins. however, it wasn’t always this way. Humans have altered the environment completely in our major cities, leaving many species to adapt and change their natural behaviours to survive within it.

This is a lesson kids learn – why birds have changed their behaviour and how it happened – when they play Hungry Birds in our 8-week program about the Living World. And now they can continue their journey by exploring it in real life! Big City Birds is assessing the adaptation of birds to the urban environment and they need your help to collect important data.

How it’s used

Using the app or website you can submit your own sightings of bird species found in cities. Alternatively, you can flex your photography skills and report your sightings on social media using #BigCityBirds or tagging the project @BigCityBirds The app focuses on five main bird species, the cheeky Sulphur-crested Cockatoo, the Australian Brush-turkey, the White Ibis, the Little Corella and the Long-billed Corella. However you can report other species or empty nests that you can see too.

What you will learn

The Big City Birds app is great for introducing kids to the concepts of urbanisation effects on native animals. It is also a great learning tool for observing natural behaviour. You can go out on a quest to find the birds in your area, and try to find examples of as many behaviours as you can.

Some examples are nesting, foraging or roosting. You can use the sightings from other users as guidance with the interactive map on the website.

How you’re helping scientists

Big City BIrds is collecting much needed data. This information is helping scientists look at the way behavioural traits have helped birds adapt to the challenges of urban living. This information can help with future management plans to ensure birds continue to live happily with us.

Why we love it

Big City Birds is a great way to introduce difficult concepts to kids such as the effects humans can have on the environment. The app provides tangible examples that they can see – the birds in your neighbourhood!

This app may inspire you to modify your own garden to support the birds. This could be by installing nesting boxes or planting some of their favourite foods. How about that as a great integrated  homeschooling project – it teaches biology, design, tech, and more!

DigiVol

What it does

DigiVol is a crowdsourcing platform that is converting the Australian Museum’s physical collections to a digital format. The team needs help transcribing field notes and labels of special specimens, identifying and tagging photographs and much more. So for this citizen science project, you take on the role of a museum curator!

How it’s used

After signing up through the DigiVol website, you can choose which projects interest you most. There are easy to understand induction videos for each task. You can also see in real time what others are helping with across many different global institutions. Give 5 minutes of your time or 5 hours, it’s completely self-directed and every bit counts!

What you will learn

DigiVol is an excellent way to access real examples of our natural history. It develops a range of important life skills such as transcribing, and managing data. Best of all DigiVol puts the less adventurous of us in an explorer’s shoes, discovering the hidden treasures of the past from the comfort of your own home!

How you’re helping scientists

You are directly helping the DigiVol team liberate information locked away in the collections. This means hundreds of years of observations and research will be accessible and available for learning – something we at Arludo are passionate about.

Why we love it  

DigiVol is a great educational volunteer opportunity particularly for high school students) to add to their extra-curricular activities. Additionally the processed collections can be used for school assignments to go above and beyond. Although this project isn’t taking your child outside, this a great rainy day activity or in the case of our post covid-19 world – during lockdown!

Conclusion

As we showed here, technology doesn’t have to be the villain if used wisely. It can be your little explorer’s new trusty side-kick! The 5 apps we have featured rely on the power of the community and technology to understand and explore the natural world we live in. Not only are they fun and great interactive tools for learning, you are collecting important scientific data at the same time.

 Which one are you going to try? Come back and leave us a comment and let us know what you think! Or take a photo and tag us on Twitter, Instagram (@arludo), or Facebook (@TeamArludo) – we’d love to see what you’re up to!

And if you know of other projects to share, let us know in the comments and we’ll do another post for the new ones you share with us!