A TEACHER’S RESOURCE
QUESTAGAME FOR AUSTRALIAN SCHOOLS
CREATING A NEW GENERATION OF ECOLOGISTS
QuestaGame has thousands of experts who help players identify and learn about the species they find. These experts include leading scientists from some of the world’s most prestigious scientific institutions, such as renowned museums and universities. They also include amateur field naturalists, be they retired biologists, students, or hobbyists who can identify thousands of species.
But here’s the thing:
Some of the top performing experts on Questagame - the ones who can quickly and accurately identify the most species - are amateurs.
And here’s the really remarkable thing:
Some of these top performing experts are less than 15 years old. The fourth-ranked expert on QuestaGame is 7 years old.
The fact is, if given a chance, most young students will excel at identifying wildlife. They are just as capable of contributing to our scientific knowledge about biodiversity as anyone else.
If you haven’t registered your class at http://questagame.com/schools, do so now. During registration, you’ll assign login nicknames and passwords to your students. Make sure you store these someplace where you can easily find them.
You’ll also need mobile devices to distribute to your students so they can record photos of wildlife.
BIODIVERSITY IS ABOUT EVERYONE
It turns out that biodiversity is way too vast and fascinating for professional scientists to understand it all by themselves.
In fact, if we’re going to figure out how best to coexist with nature, it’s going to require millions of people - maybe hundreds of million of people, maybe more than 50% of all humanity - to closely observe and learn about their natural environments.
NATURE IS BORING!
If we teach students about nature from inside a classroom, yes, for some students it may seem boring. See that cage over there? That aquarium? That jar? That poster with the lion? That ranger holding a terrified rabbit? That’s nature for you. That’s biology. Now open your textbooks to page 58.
When QuestaGame began exploring the idea of engaging Australian students in biodiversity studies through an outdoor adventure game, the educationalists (if that’s the term) were quick to advise: “The activity will need to comply to the Australian curriculum.” They used phrases such as “extended enquiry,” “learning strands,” “concept maps,” and so forth. They directed QuestaGame to government departments. Certified consultants. Websites willing to list “approved” educational material (as long as you paid an annual fee).
Okay. Fair enough. QuestaGame was ready to accept the challenge.
Luckily, it also turns out that our brains are predisposed to do exactly this. Nature astonishes us, captivates us, delights us. Sometimes, sure, it terrifies us too. But it always thrills us. It always grabs our attention. Few if any fictional works of fantasy - be they books, movies, online games - can compare in sheer entertainment value to a real encounter with real wildlife.
Finally, perhaps most importantly, spending time in nature not only stirs our curiosity, but it’s good for our health. It increases mental well being. It helps us heal. It strengthens our communities. Indeed, our biology yearns to be outdoors.
For more information about the health benefits of nature, read this independent review of over 200 scientific journal articles - http://parkweb.vic.gov.au/about-us/healthy-parks-healthy-people/the-research
MEETING AUSTRALIA’S CURRICULUM REQUIREMENTS AND INSPIRING A PASSION FOR NATURE AT THE SAME TIME
QuestaGame hired a certified, independent consultant to write this Biodiversity Teacher’s Resource. A document was delivered. It was filled with all the right jargon - “enquiry process,” “cross-curriculum priorities,” “consequence wheels,” “digital workshop,” and so much more.
Nowhere did it mention, however, to "get outdoors," or "listen to the sounds of trees," or "sit on a patch of grass and see what creatures crawl over you." Nowhere did it say, "look closely at bugs" or even just to “have some fun.”
The fact is, science is fun. It’s also very hard work. But it’s the fun that inspires the hard work. You can’t have one without the other.
So we’ve revised the document, while keeping the necessary criteria.
No doubt there are teachers who prefer to follow bureaucratic guidelines. Section II.5.1(a) - and so forth. That’s fine. When it comes to teaching about biodiversity, however, the ingredients of good ecological science - curiosity, play, a spirit of adventure, a willingness to get dirty and admit ignorance - can be difficult to convey in the language of bureaucracies..
So on that note, let’s get started.
STEP 1 - GET OUTDOORS!
If possible, take the class outside. Stand near organic life. Trees. A field or patch of grass. What is life? What does it mean to be alive? Can the students see life? Hear life? Smell life? What’s an organism? What distinguishes one organism from another? What’s the difference between a plant and an animal? An spider and a frog? Why are they different? How and why do we classify living things?
Ask the students to make a list of all the different life forms that exist around them. Explain that these lists represent the biodiversity of that location. Discuss biodiversity.
STEP 2 - EXPLORE AUSTRALIA’S BIODIVERSITY
Explain to the students that people have created collections of living organisms for thousands of years. Sometimes in zoos. Sometimes in museums. It could be insects pinned and stored in drawers, or small mammals preserved in jars. It could be photographs in books. Recently people have been using digital technology to turn these collections into detailed maps of biodiversity. Show them some maps on the Atlas of Living Australia (http://www.ala.org.au).
Digital technology allows the photos you take to be tagged with a precise location. Explain to the students that they’ll be using camera in the QuestaGame Learning App to create their own collection of living organisms. Explain that they want to collect as many different types of organisms as they can, and that their collection will help researches better understand and protect the environment. This type of activity is sometimes called ‘citizen science.’
STEP 3 - LET THE FUN BEGIN
Prepare the technology (15 minutes)
- Distribute the devices with the QuestaGame Learning App installed.
- Distribute logins and password (these were determined at sign-up. Not signed up?).
- Make sure the students have successfully logged in.
IMPORTANT: SAFETY CHECK. Be sure to read and discuss QuestaGame's safety guidelines.
IMPORTANT GOOFY CHECK: Mobile devices are cool. Cameras are fun to play with. It's natural for students to want to experiment with them - to start taking selfies, a cheeky photo of someone's foot. No worries, depending on your setup, you'll likely need to approve any incoming sightings from the students anyway. Newly submitted sightings will appear at http://portal.questagame.com.
Important things to know:
- Students use QuestaGame Learning to submit ‘sightings,’ which are photographic observations of a species.
- Students should only submit one species at a time.
- Students should not submit sightings of domesticated animals, humans, or cultivated plants.
- Students can submit up to 5 photos of a ‘specimen’ per sighting.
- What’s a specimen? A specimen is a living example of a single species.
- Students can add ‘field notes’ describing the sighting.
- What are field notes? Field notes are observations about the specimen. For example, what was the specimen doing? What other living things did you see around? What is the weather like? And so forth.
- Students use the “Laboratory” feature in QuestaGame Learning App to categorise theirs and other’s sightings.
Begin the Quest (40 minutes)
Get outdoors, engage with nature and submit sightings. Or, if the weather isn’t conducive to outdoor activity, go to the “Laboratory” section of the app (on main landing page) and categorise some sightings.
Some creatures, such as spiders, can also be found indoors!
Show the students how to take photos of an organism from multiple angles, as close as possible, with the specimen in the centre of - and, if possible, completely filling - the camera window.
Show the students how to categorise a sighting. Discuss the difference between the categories. What’s a bird? What’s a reptile? What’s an amphibian? And so forth.
IMPORTANT: Newly submitted sightings will appear at http://portal.questagame.com. They will not appear in the app's "Laboratory" until you approve them.