Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Encyclopedia of Life

Superb crowdsourced knowledge bank teems with life for kid biologists
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Articles range from the adorable, like the above, to worms and fungi.
  • Topics are well-organized and highly visual.
  • Kids can become Citizen Scientists, adding their own research.
  • Podcasts help bring ideas to life, especially for kids who aren't great readers.
Beautiful to look at and fun to explore, it's an epic resource for plants, animals, fungi, and beyond.
Layout isn't very intuitive, so kids may need some extra guidance.
Bottom Line
It's jam-packed with vetted information on all living things; kids can become part of a vibrant community of science-minded folks.
Emily Pohlonski
Common Sense Reviewer
Classroom teacher
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Photos and graphics are lush and plentiful, and while navigation isn't especially intuitive, kids should have a great time wading through this sea of biological wonder.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Kids can be a part of building an encyclopedia about life on Earth; interactivity is exciting and empowering. As they hunt for information, they'll develop research skills while finding cool articles to read.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 4

Text is available in 13 languages, but sometimes it's hard to find what you're looking for. There's lots of help, plus a blog and podcast that branch out from EOL.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Looking for quality images or videos to support your lessons? This is a great place to start. For example, show your students one of the Google Earth Tours available as video on the site. The Monarch Butterflies Migration Tour uses Google Earth’s satellite imagery to tell the story of how Monarchs travel from Mexico to Canada. Along the way, students act as citizen scientists by collecting data for various Monarch experiments. This video and others like it may inspire your students to research Monarchs or get involved in field research -- EOL is all about getting kids in on the action.

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What's It Like?

Encyclopedia of Life is a free online collection of information about all life on Earth. This includes text, photographs, video, classifications, maps, and other multimedia tools. An excellent research tool for students working on life science projects, EOL can help kids learn about biodiversity, evolution, and conservation. To access the various learning resources, just click on Discover and scroll down to the Getting Started menu at the bottom. There are tons of articles to browse through, and EOL News highlights interesting content each day. EOL also has an online environment, called LifeDesk, where kids can write and publish their own taxon pages about living things. Teachers must serve as curators and are responsible for checking each page before it is published.

Students Sharing Species Images on EOL – Use Flickr to collect and share images of living things with students around the world.

Caterpillar to Chrysalis Transformation - Watch actual sped-up video footage of a caterpillar turning into a chrysalis.

One Species at a Time Podcast - Listen to the story of how tiny island foxes have evolved and how conservationists helped them stage a comeback.

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Is It Good For Learning?

It's huge, but EOL's help page puts you at ease with the classic quote from Douglas Adams: "Don't panic." With a super-comprehensive set of information and resources on plants, animals, and fungi, junior biologists should have a field day exploring the site. Unfortunately, the site layout isn't terribly intuitive, so kids may need some navigation assistance. Note: The complexity of content varies; some articles may be too challenging for young readers, while others are just fine. As for the crowdsourced information aspect, there's no reason to worry about inaccurate content. Anyone can add articles, but there's a certain amount of quality control, as all articles get reviewed by experienced community members. Another caveat: Kids will need to know the Latin species name of an organism to search for articles in the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

EOL has teamed up with iNaturalist so that users can make observations and upload them to the collection. (See our review on iNaturalist for details on how kids in your class can act as citizen scientists.) However, EOL is available in 13 different languages, so many non-English-speaking students can access info.

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