Review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

The WildLab

Fun bird-watching site teaches research and conservation skills

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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Grades
3-10 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: It's a unique way to get kids thinking about conservation; they'll have fun exploring the outdoors and recording their findings.

Cons: You can't do much on the website if you don't also have the corresponding iPhone app.

Bottom Line: This cool program would benefit from some updates; although it helps to have an iPhone, you can still find a ton of inspiration on the website.

It's a cool program to implement in your classroom, even if you don't follow the WildLab's curriculum exactly. They've provided a formal lesson plan as well as more casual ideas on how to teach kids about conservation; both are solid resources that you can build upon for your own students. Students love to spend time outside during school; even though bird-watching is a quiet, contemplative activity, they'll be happy to spend time in nature while also learning.

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The WildLab is a website that connects kids to nature and introduces them to conservation through bird-watching. Designed as a curriculm for New York state classrooms in 2009, it takes kids outside to watch the skies for birds, asking them to note their appearance and then input their data into the WildLab app. You can view your sightings on the website by logging in with your username and password. You will be taken to your profile page, where your personal sightings are listed.

You can log sightings from your iPhone and then watch as the website populates with the information you've added. Recent sightings scroll across the top of the screen.

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It's a really neat idea that seems to have stalled a bit, judging from the infrequent updates, but there's enough going on here for your classes to have a few fun-filled days of exploring nature. You can use the original lesson plan created for New York-based students and tweak it for your own classroom; the program originally provided binoculars and iPhones to participating classrooms. They may still be able to do so; they ask that you contact them for details.

The scrolling data bar that shows recent bird sightings is fun; kids will appreciate the kooky bird names like the Blue-Black Grassquit and Manx Shearwater. Lots of urban students don't get the chance to do this kind of bird-watching very often; it seems that one of WildLab's priorities is helping such students get out into the woods, and they've created a solid program for making that happen. Although it's tricky to follow their program exactly if you don't have iPhones or iPads for each student, you can easily tweak the curriculum. The app is much better designed than the website and has more options; it would be nice if they added to the site so that it offered more features.

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Overall Rating
3

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
3

Design is basic but modern. Kids will love going out into nature to look for birds or other wildlife and later seeing their sighting marked on a Google map. 

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Field sessions effortlessly teach research skills, and kids will return from them feeling empowered, like real scientists adding important data to a study.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
3

There's not much help available, especially for navigating the website without the accompanying app. A sister site, WildLab Marine, which helps kids spot marine life, uses the same technology; there's also a Facebook page. 


Common Sense Reviewer
Polly Conway Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Chris C. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Heathcote School
Scarsdale, NY
3
Great potential but iPhone requirement is a hindrance

My overall opinion is The WildLab looks like it has a ton of potential. The need for iPhones is a huge stumbling block, especially in the lower grades were few students have their own devices, and not always iPhones.

It would be great if there was a way to use an iPad or iPod Touch to take the photo and document, in some way other than GPS, the location of the photo and then use the website, or a school's wifi, to upload the photo and add GPS data later.

I am definitely going to pursue the offer from The WildLab to help with acquiring iPhones and I will also work with my Principal and Science teacher to try to figure out a way to allow students who have access to iPhones to bring them, and use them, at certain times as part of these lessons. The ability to get out of the classroom, and school, and take a local nature walk is an amazing opportunity. I think students will love it once we can get over the technology hurdle of needing iPhones.

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