Discovering Local Flora and Fauna

After reading this article about Transylvania’s farmers, I was interested in the statement by an ethnoecologist that anyone over 20 years old can on average recognize and name more than 120 species of plants. Even young children know 45 to 50 percent of species.   (Source: )   I know that many students and even adults would be hard pressed to name a single species of tree they encounter every day.     Throughout the year, students bring me all manner of bugs, spiders, and even birds and mammals, and the first question they always ask is “what is it?”    I show them how to use field guides, or in recent years, how to use the internet to search for the identify of their specimen.   It’s exciting to them, they often race off to tell their friends that they discovered an imperial moth or that the spider is not actually a brown recluse.


Imperial moth found outside, fascinating in size and coloration. A simple google search helped identify it, even though it’s missing a head.

In an effort to foster more long term collaborative projects, I’ve modified a lesson shared with me in a summer class that showcases local animals, plants, and other species.   The original lesson presented slides of various organisms with a picture and a few facts about the specimen.  The slides were intended to be shown throughout the year as an ongoing tutorial to introduce students to local wildlife.

In the modified version, students are asked to be the CREATORS of the slide show by adding images and facts about organisms they may encounter in their area.    The project uses google docs, so you can create the presentation and then invite students to edit the document.  The entire class then works collaboratively to curate local species and present as a single document.  It is meant to be a long term project, either over the semester or even the entire year.   Teachers can be flexible with how they assign and assess participation, requiring students to add an organism to it at least once per week or assign specific groups throughout the year.   Grouping might work better to facilitate more diverse specimens, for example, ask students to submit slides based on the following timeline

Week 1-2 –  two mammals
Week 2-4  –  two reptiles
Week 4-6  –   two fungi
Week 6-8   – two birds
Week 8-10  – two amphibians
Week 10-12 – three plant species (not trees)
Week 12-14  –  two trees

The list above could be modified to match the timing of lessons, or your school semester.   The important thing is that the end they have a presentation that showcases flora and fauna of their area.  The act of creating the document will help them learn about the species they are showcasing and requires them to read the submissions of their classmates.

The instructions and template for the presentation include a discussion about digital rights and crediting the work of photographers.    Using Flickr as a source, students can search for images licensed as “creative commons.”   Google image search may be a quicker way, but it subtly encourages copyright infringement, because photos that show up in an image search are not necessarily free for everyone to use.

This project also aligns with the Common Core Standard related to production and distribution of writing:  “Use technology, including the Internet, to produce, publish, and update individual or shared writing products, taking advantage of technology’s capacity to link to other information and to display information flexibly and dynamically.”     A final reflection essay can also be assigned, though may not be necessary.

Instructions and template can be viewed directly from Google Docs (   Download or save to your own google drive to make modifications and start a template for your own class.