Website review by Polly Conway, Common Sense Education | Updated November 2013

The WildLab

Fun bird-watching site teaches research and conservation skills

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Based on 1 review
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Grades
3–10 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Communication & Collaboration, Critical Thinking

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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.

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.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

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 Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

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

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

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

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Featured review by
Chris C. , Technology coordinator
Technology coordinator
Heathcote School
Scarsdale, United States
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 ...
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