Digital Tools to Connect Your Students to Wildlife

digital tools to connect students with world wildlife dayOne of the best ways to ensure future generations can enjoy our planet’s rich biodiversity is to raise awareness about the importance of conserving our natural world. World Wildlife Day aims to make that happen with an annual day of observance and call for wildlife conservation and education.

This year’s theme, “Connecting People and Planet: Exploring Digital Innovation in Wildlife Conservation,” is a great avenue for middle and high school students to get involved. Most children already gravitate toward animals at a young age. It can be tougher to get older students interested in conservation topics, but pairing wildlife with technology is an easy win.

This guide looks at apps and other digital resources to connect, educate, and inspire older students about not only World Wildlife Day, but wildlife conservation as an important goal. 

1. Observe Wildlife

The first step to understanding and appreciating wildlife is for students to observe the habitats around them. 

Take this one literally with your students. Wildlife webcams set up either in your school community or monitored by groups like the National Park Service are a good introduction to how researchers monitor animals in the wild. Bring students on nature walks where they record footage (from a safe distance, of course) of the local wildlife for digital storytelling projects.

If there are opportunities for bird-watching outside of your classroom and you’re able to load a few student devices, use one of the apps below to lead students on a wildlife scavenger hunt:

  • Audubon Bird Guide (Free)
  • Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab (Free)
  • Picture Bird: Birds Identifier (Free)
  • Smart Bird ID (Free)
  • iBird Pro Guide to Birds (One-Month Free Trial)
  • Sibley Birds 2nd Edition ($19.99)

Plant identification apps like PlantSnap, Picture This – Plant Identifier, and LeafSnap-Plant Identification, all free, can add another layer to lessons on native vs. invasive plant species. Pair these apps with the Invasive Species activity from the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide.

While native plants are essential to the health of a habitat, invasive species can harm local wildlife populations. Have students think about potential effects as they observe what’s happening in their local community. 


2. Participate in Citizen Science Projects

Scientific research is a key component to conservation efforts and to determine whether existing efforts are working, but researchers can’t be everywhere. Introduce students to citizen science platforms like iNaturalist, WildTrack, or The Great Sunflower Project where individuals contribute their data to research and conservation projects. 

Show them that what they may see as “small” findings support the work being done by larger groups that work within wildlife conservation. These kinds of projects also support digital literacy in the classroom. Students learn how to use their devices to record findings, upload them, and even analyze their data for trends and patterns.

If you saw a spark in students around bird-watching activities, platforms like eBird and the Motus Wildlife Tracking System use observers’ findings to map bird ranges. This supports bird conservation and informs trends and potential challenges in bird movements. For younger students, you can pair this with the Together for Birds activity collection, perfect for students in grades K-2 (with modifications for grades 3-5).

Digital content added to eBird may even be added to the Macaulay Library, an archive of data for bird images, video, and sounds. This could be a huge confidence boost for students new to research.


3. Record Environmental Changes

Changes to the environment like climate change, pollution, and deforestation disrupt wildlife habitats in a variety of ways. They can alter food sources and nesting sites and can force changes to migration patterns for birds. This can all threaten biodiversity in our communities.

Help your students feel less helpless by introducing them to online tracking or observation tools like the Google Earth Engine that support monitoring changes in the environment. That added layer of education about what is happening to the environment around them is the first step to broader change.

These kinds of tools are also a good way to learn about scientific data collection and enhance your students’ STEM learning. Introduce lessons on analyzing data points and trends. Have students hypothesize what may be behind any changes they observe. These kinds of questions lend themselves to group projects, too. Here are a few more related apps to use in the classroom:

  • GLOBE Observer (Free)
  • Earth-Now (Free)
  • ISeeChange Tracker (Free)
  • bloomWatch (Free)


4. Target & Monitor Pollution

Pollution affects wildlife habitats by contaminating the air, water, and soil that is so important to healthy biodiversity. Your middle and high school students likely already know about plastic pollution and toxins in the air, but they may not know how pollution affects their local environments.

Start with interactive maps from agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Their EnviroAtlas Interactive Map can be used to look at pollution in the air, water, and land based on things like pesticides, erosion, and toxins. Their maps also look at the success of local efforts to reduce pollution by doing things like planting more trees and cleaning up waterways. 

You and your students can also participate in the Great Nurdle Hunt, especially if you’re near a beach. Nurdles refer to any piece of small plastic used to make more plastic products. Since they’re so lightweight, they’re often unintentionally released into the environment by companies that use plastics as part of their production.

Taking part in the hunt involves searching for and counting nurdles you see in your chosen environment. You don’t need to remove them, but the organizers do have some ideas for what students can do with nurdles they find. From there, students can report on their findings using an online form.

Here are a few more apps that students can use to track and monitor pollution locally:

  • The Ocean Cleanup Survey App (Free)
  • IQAir Air Visual (Free)
  • EPA AIRNow (Free)
  • WaterQuality ($4.99)


5. Connect With Others

A big piece of this year’s theme is connection. Technology allows us to share information globally and connect with what conservationists are doing outside of our classrooms’ walls. Take students on virtual field trips, schedule Zoom calls with experts in wildlife conservation, or show students how to participate in online discussion forums that focus on conservation. 

Create opportunities in the classroom for digital storytelling. Have students come up with ways for how they’d use social media to raise awareness about wildlife conservation issues. In the Life on the Edge activity from the Explore Your Environment: K-8 Activity Guide, students model processes that can lead to species becoming rare or endangered. As part of the activity, they become advocates, creating “public relations campaigns” on behalf of these rare or at-risk species of plants and animals. Connect with other classrooms doing the same and post online using this year’s hashtags: #WWD2024, #ConnectingPeopleAndPlanet, #DigitalInnovation, and #WildlifeConservation.

To really be your students’ favorite teacher, connect with tech experts who can bring a virtual reality (VR) experience into the classroom. Use VR to immerse students in habitats they aren’t able to access otherwise to help them develop an appreciation for places outside of their own.

Treat these ideas as a gateway to learning more about wildlife and wildlife conservation. The most important part is finding ways for your students to connect to these important topics. Support student-led projects that use your classroom’s tech tools to show off their research on endangered species, conservation projects, or environmental issues affecting wildlife.

Tapping into these topics will likely spark something in your students!

Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez

Rebecca Reynandez is a Marketing and Communications Consultant and Principal of Spring Media Strategies, LLC. She has worked with nonprofits for the past 10 years and currently focuses on working with environmental organizations. She is based in Minneapolis, MN.

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