To teach and to inspire: balancing exam preparation and the joy of learning

Teachers take delight in inspiring their students. They must prepare them for exams. Sometimes this creates a tension; concentrating too heavily on assessment objectives may jeopardise the sense of wonder in a topic while too little consideration of them risks failing to prepare students for their exams.

In my role as an education officer, I contributed to a recent article ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder, which explores how teachers, university academics, and Public Engagement colleagues have sought to achieve both. As the lead author Professor Marion Turner puts it, ‘to teach and to delight’.

Our collaborative essay, published in New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy & Profession, reflects on the ‘Chaucer’s World’ study days co-organised for secondary schools by the Bodleian Library, the Ashmolean Museum, and the University of Oxford. The event is aimed at A Level students and is intended not only to help them with their preparation for the A-Level English Literature exam but also to inspire in them a wider appreciation of Chaucer’s works and medieval literature and culture in general.

In a nod to Chaucer, the article is structured as a collection of ‘tales’. In The Education Officer’s Tale, I describe the structure of the Chaucer’s World study day, explain how we have sought to overcome the challenges schools face in engaging with such events, and reflect on how we adapted to a remote delivery model during the pandemic. Materials we created are available on the Bodleian’s website on the Resources for Teachers pages. Please feel free to use these with your classes.

From the Bodleian’s perspective, the study day has been a huge success, becoming a key part of our annual offer. The combination of access to contemporary texts, exploration of the historical and cultural context of Chaucer’s writing and real engagement with experts in the field has proved to be a popular combination with several schools returning year after year. Elsewhere in the article, Charlotte Richer considers the positive impact on her students in The Teacher’s Tale.

I hope you enjoy reading the article and agree that it provides an example of how we can both enhance learning and encourage a sense of wonder through an extracurricular experience. The Bodleian’s next Chaucer’s World Study days will be in March 2023. If you would like to know more, please email education@bodleian.ox.ac.uk

Image: Bodleian Libraries

Turner et al. 2022. ‘Chaucer’s World’ Study Days in Oxford for Post-16 Students: Enhancing Learning and Encouraging Wonder. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession 3.2: 70-78. https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession/| ISSN: 2766-1768.

© 2022 by the author(s). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial No Derivatives 4.0 license. New Chaucer Studies: Pedagogy and Profession is an open access, bi-annual journal sponsored by the New Chaucer Society and published in eScholarship by the California Digital Library. | https://escholarship.org/uc/ncs_pedagogyandprofession| ISSN: 2766-1768.

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A safer internet: four steps to check reliability

I wrote this post for Safer Internet Day 2021, but the advice applies at any time. The theme was ‘An internet we trust: exploring reliability in an online world’. You can find out more, and download resources for different age groups, on the Safer Internet Centre website.

At a time when both teachers and children are working remotely over the internet, it is more crucial than ever that we can rely on the information, and sources of that information, that we encounter online.

In my role within the Education Team at the Bodleian Libraries, I deliver sessions on academic study skills, including evaluating online sources. You can find resources for this (and other course topics) on the OxLibris website. The guidance is aimed at students researching for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) and other coursework, but it applies to any online research.

1. What is the purpose of this site?

Ask yourself why the information has been put online. What is the intention of those who created the site, or posted the information? Is it to inform or educate? To entertain? Perhaps it’s to persuade or promote a particular opinion or point of view? Maybe the aim is marketing: to sell a product.

While information about the site can be useful in deciding this, it is also useful to look at any adverts on the site. While many sites will carry adverts that are unconnected with the information, ask yourself if the advertisers could be influencing the site content. This could be directly by paying for the content, or indirectly because the site avoids publishing anything that they think advertisers will not like.

2. Who has provided this information?

There are several ways we can find out who is behind a website and the information it contains. A well-run website should make it easy for users to find this out.

  • An ‘About’, ‘About Us’ or ‘Who We Are’ tab in the menu or navigation bar is a good place to start. This should provide information about who is behind the site and their reasons for creating it.
  • Contact details can often be found on a ‘Contact Us’ page or link. Ideally, this should provide as much contact information as possible, not just a web form or email address. Look for a registered telephone number and a postal address.
  • Organisational information. If the site is a business or charity this should be obvious. In the UK, companies, including non-profit companies, should be registered. Their company number will allow you to look up details of the company and its directors. Charities should be registered with the Charities Commission. Their registration number should be present and can be checked to verify their charitable status.
  • If the website collects information about you, perhaps through a sign-up form for news updates, it should include a Privacy Notice saying how they will use any personal information they collect, the legal basis for processing your information, how you can opt out, and who you can contact if you have any questions about this.
This homepage has an ‘About us’ tab, contact details, charity and company registrations, and a link to a privacy notice. Image credit: fullfact.org

If you can’t find this information, ask why this might be. While it may just be poor web design, it could be because the creators want to remain obscure.

3. Are there references for primary sources?

A primary source of information is written by the person who first produced the data, information, idea or opinion. Websites often summarise this information. This may be to disseminate it more widely, or to make it more accessible for non-specialists. It may also be to support the author’s own ideas, or to place a particular slant on the original information. In extreme cases, it can be used to create ‘fake news’ by surrounding a kernel of fact with misinformation.

You should be able to trace the original source of information by looking for references. These should detail where to find the source, which could be a book, published article, news item, or online publication. Wherever possible a link to the source should be included.

It’s important to check sources, especially for controversial topics. This enables us to verify not only whether the information is accurate but also whether it has been interpreted in an accurate and unbiased way. It’s particularly important to check sources for claims made on social media.

4. Has the information been fact checked?

Following up references enables us to check facts, but this isn’t always possible, particularly for fast-developing news stories, or information communicated over social media platforms. Fortunately, information may already have been fact-checked. A number of organisations have arisen in recent years to meet the need for objective fact-checking of claims that are made online and in the news.

When using such sites, we need to be as careful as we would with any site over who is running it and why, because some sites which claim to be objective in fact promote a particular viewpoint. Two sites which are both independent and reliable are fullfact.org and fact-check.org.

Full Fact is a UK-based charity and non-profit company that provides a fact-checking service for topical news items.

Fact Check is based in the United States and focuses on US politics, although there is some coverage of international topics.

A particular favourite of mine is politifact.com. While its scope is largely restricted to US politics, I do enjoy the six-point ‘truth-o-meter’ ratings it gives to statements, which range from ‘True’ for verified facts, to ‘Pants on Fire’ to outright fabrications!

When attempting to navigate the myriad of information available online, taking a little time to go through these four steps will go a long way to ensuring that the sources of information you use are reliable.

If you are interested in online safety, you might like my post on Lessons from a Ransomeware Attack.

Supporting Learning: History of Medicine

A new series of resources that I have been working on is designed to support teaching of the history of medicine.

Moments in Medicine was originally conceived as a workshop session for school groups visiting the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. We have now adapted it as a series of free resources available online on the Bodleian’s website.

The series draws on original sources held at the Bodleian. These range from medieval works covering topics such as uroscopy and medicinal herbs, through to the birth of the NHS. Items include significant texts such as Ibn Sina’s Canon of Medicine, the first edition of the Pharmocopoeia Londinensis, and Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, but also more ephemeral items that give an insight into everyday life such as a leaflet sent to householders in 1948 telling them about the new National Health Service.

Circular medieval uroscopy chart showing eight urine flasks.
Medieval uroscopy chart

Each resource includes a brief description explaining the background to the text, which helps place it in context, and questions which prompt students to explore the source and its significance to the development of public health in Britain. There are also links to digitised versions of the texts and to further reading on the topic.

The resources have been evaluated by a range of volunteer test users and have been piloted in schools. Each resource is fully accessible to assistive technology – such as screen readers – and all the images have explanatory alt text.

I hope that Moments in Medicine will complement any GCSE History course, and will also be of wider interest. I am developing further resources in the series, including insights into the role of subscription hospitals in the nineteenth century and national public health approaches during the twentieth century. Please let me know if there is anything else you would like to see included.

If you found this useful, you might also be interested in my earlier blog posts on resources to teach study skills.

Images: The Bodleian Libraries

Ten Things to look forward to in Autumn 2020

I have been writing these ‘things to look forward to’ posts at the start of each school term for a few years now. Of course, 2020 was the year everything changed. Like everyone else, I didn’t anticipate at the start of the year that we would all have to cope with lockdown and then adjust to living with COVID-19.

Nevertheless, after all the planning as schools prepare to return for the start of the new school year, there is still plenty for us to look forward to. Many events will have changed their format, but hopefully their essential character, and importance to schools, will remain the same.

Autumn Term Top Ten

  1. It may not feel like it, following a chilly August bank holiday weekend, but we still have a few weeks of (hopefully) warmer days and longer evenings before the nights really draw in. British Summer Time ends when the clocks go back on Sunday 25th October.
  2. It’s a new school year! Remember that feeling when you wrote your name on a new exercise book and opened the first fresh page full of possibilities. This year, more than ever before, children will have that same feeling. This is an opportunity to help them capture that feeling and go on to achieve great things!
  3. During the lockdown, many of us noticed the natural world more than ever before and took solace from spring blooms, birdsong and other signs of environmental renewal. Now we can take delight from the many signs that summer is turning into autumn. Which plants are coming into bloom now, later in the year? Which fruits are ripening and which leaves are changing colour? Which birds and other animals do you notice? Noting such changes helps us see that no two days are alike. You can find ideas on how to safely get more actively involved on this Wildlife Trusts’ webpage on Looking After Yourself and Nature.
  4. The annual Macmillan Coffee Morning is now in its 30th year and has become a firm fundraising fixture in many schools. This year it is taking a different format and is running throughout September. You can sign up and get more information and a fundraising kit here: World’s Biggest Coffee Morning 2020 and find further information on running safe, socially distanced events here: Coffee Morning Guidance.
  5. In the UK, October is Black History Month, which honours and celebrates the contribution Black Britons have made to our vibrant and diverse society. In recent months Black Lives Matter has drawn our attention to the work that remains to be done to tackle racism across British society, including decolonialising the curriculum. Perhaps this October can be a focus in addressing these issues not only for one month but all year round. You can find out more about events and activities throughout the year, and order a school resource pack, from blackhistorymonth.org.uk. There are also regional listings so you can look for events local to you.
  1. There are a wealth of other key dates, holidays and festivals you may wish to mark during the Autumn term, including:
  • Saturday 19 September Rosh Hashana
  • Tuesday 22 September Autumn Equinox
  • Monday 28 September Yom Kippur
  • 31 October Halloween, or All Hallows’ Eve
  • 1 November All Saints’ Day
  • 2 November All Souls’ Day
  • Sunday 8 November Remembrance Sunday, with Armistice Day falling on Wednesday 11 November
  • Saturday 14 November Diwali / Deepavali
  • Sunday 29 November Start of Advent
  • Monday 30 November Scotland celebrates St Andrew’s Day with a bank holiday
  • Friday 11 December is the First Day of Hanukkah, with the Last Day falling on Friday 18 December
  • Monday 21 December Winter Solstice
  1. Your school may already be involved in one of the many National and international Awareness events that take place in the Autumn term. This year, many organisers have modified their events to enable teachers to take a more flexible approach. As well as being Black History Month, October is also time for the annual Big Draw, with artistic events around the country. Registration is now open for the 2020 Big Draw Festival and this year’s theme is #ClimateOfChange. A fundraising event that has become a regular fixture in many schools is Jeans for Genes Day. This year, the format is more flexible with schools able to hold their day at any time during the week beginning Monday 14 September. You can find out more and register at jeansforgenesday.org. We are all encouraged to #ShareAPoem on National Poetry Day on Thursday 1 October. You can download free resources from the education pages of the NPD Website. Many groups and charities that receive funding from the annual BBC Children in Need appeal have been helping disadvantaged children and families during the COVID-19 outbreak. This year’s event is planned for Friday 13 November. Another event featuring in the calendar of many schools is Anti-Bullying Week, which this year takes place between Monday 16 and Friday 20 November. The theme is ‘United Against Bullying’ and you can get more information and resources from the Anti-bullying Alliance.
  2. When the nights do draw in, and the weather gets colder, humans have responded by making lights and loud noises for as long as history records. In the UK, our excuse to celebrate with bonfires and fireworks is now Guy Fawkes Night on 5th November. Worth a reminder about firework safety and undoubtedly there will be additional guidance on staying safe.
  3. Some of the best school traditions happen in the Autumn term and will be upon us before we know it. Whatever guidance is in place to keep us safe this winter, it’s probably worth checking your Christmas jumper for moth holes, changing the battery for the LED lights in your elf hat, and starting to plan the school Nativity Play right now.
  4. At the end of this term, the Christmas holiday and New Year! Here’s looking forward to 2021!

What do you most look forward to in Autumn? Let me know if there are any dates or events that I’ve missed here.

Looking for some more inspiration for assemblies? Have a look at these educational quotes for Monday morning motivation.

Festival dates from timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby

Supporting Learning: Teaching Study Skills

Last month, I wrote about a series of Study Skills Guides I had produced as part of my work at The Bodleian Libraries in Oxford. They are available online as part of our OxLibris programme.

I have now finished a set of tutorials that take students through the topics covered. These are Primarily designed to help students taking the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) but they are applicable to any coursework or essay research. They are a development of teaching resources we have previously delivered in schools, or to school groups visiting libraries. These units are intended to either be used as a teaching aid in school or college, or for students to work through independently.

The five tutorials form a set covering good academic practice. Alternatively, each can be used as a stand-alone unit. Once a tutorial has been covered, the accompanying study skills guide acts as a handy single page aide memoir for students as they carry out their own research.

Effective Online Research covers how to form a precise research question, the limitations of search engines, and how to use advanced search engine tools for more effective online research.

Evaluating Online Resources shows students how to evaluate the quality of information from online resources, cross-reference sources and spot fake news.

Effective Note Taking covers how to take more effective notes that focus on connecting ideas and concepts to reinforce your learning. The unit uses Cornell Notes as an example of an effective tried-and-tested system.

Avoiding Plagiarism Shows students how to ensure that they acknowledge their sources of information correctly and fulfil the requirement to avoid plagiarism in their work.

Referencing covers how to reference sources of information in work using in-text citations and a bibliography. The unit explores how to use two referencing systems: the Harvard name-date system and the recurrent number system.

I hope you find these learning units helpful, either in your teaching or as resources to support students’ independent learning. Please do let me know what you think of them in the comments. I welcome suggestions for improvements, or for additional topics.

If you’re interested in effective study, you might like my earlier post on music and revision.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 8

For Diverse Book Week this year, I have been reading David Olusoga’s Black and British: A Forgotten History. I explained why I chose this book at the start of the week. This is my concluding update. I know a week doesn’t have 8 days, but I needed a little longer to finish! You can catch up with my previous daily posts here:

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 1.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 2.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 3.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 -Day 4.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 5.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 6.

#DiverseBookWeek 2020 – Day 7.

The final chapters of the book take us from the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first. This was a period of huge social change in Britain and themes that run through this section are a nation uncertain of its identity in the light of these changes, and differing views among individuals about what it means to be British.

The late nineteenth century saw the emergence of social Darwinism and other ‘scientific’ approaches to ‘race’. As a biologist, I find this an extremely uncomfortable aspect of scientific history. There is no biological basis for the assertion that there are different races within humanity, yet this period saw many applying dubious methods to make not just that claim, but that some races were superior to others. Unsurprisingly, the purveyors of such ideas placed themselves at the top of any supposed hierarchy.

This came to a head in horrific enactment of eugenic policies in Nazi-occupied areas before and during the Second World War. Because the horrors of the holocaust turned the world against such ideas, it is now easy to forget how prevalent they were beforehand, both in Europe and the United States. This resulted in vicious forms of discrimination based on entirely false ideas and was often used as a justification for prejudiced views. The horror with which many British people reacted to the prejudice of white American GIs against their black comrades is particularly well recounted. It is evident that what induced the most aggressive response among these racists was the prospect of inter-racial sexual relations, an irrational fear based in the ridiculous notion of ‘racial purity’.

Sadly, while British citizens may have deplored the violence Black GIs were subjected to, it is clear that in post-war Britain many held the view that children of mixed parentage were somehow inferior and ‘neither one thing nor the other’. This, despite the long history of intermarriage both in Britain and throughout territories under her influence. Such views were rooted in the same irrational pseudoscience of race originally constructed to justify the exploitation of black populations. While it’s clear that only a minority of The British population held prejudiced views, its also apparent that, for too long, a much larger group was not prepared to contest them.

In the light of the long history covered in this book, the struggle for equality in the post war period, which still continues, can be seen not only in the context of contemporary issues such as employment or the influence of individual politicians, but also as the resolution to the various legacies of our past. It seems that both politicians and sections of the populace seemed genuinely surprised that black people of the Empire/commonwealth should want to live in Britain. The subsequent response to that wish in immigration law, employment, Education, social segregation, and day-to-day prejudice (not to mention hate crime perpetrated by extreme right-wing organisations) created a long-standing wound in British society.

That wound is evident now. Those living in substandard and disgracefully unsafe housing of the type that led to the Grenfell fire are more likely to be from BAME groups. These same groups are more likely to be employed in medical and caring roles at the forefront of tackling COVID-19, and at the same time more likely to succumb to it.

I hope it is not too optimistic to think that the current Black Lives Matter protests offer us all an opportunity for real lasting change. Looking back over almost 2000 years of history as this book does, it seems clear that the vibrant mix of ethnicities and cultures we see in modern Britain is exactly the joyous outcome we should expect to result from our history. The fact that so many still see Britain as a land of opportunity is something we should celebrate.

Black and British: A Forgotten History has shown me that it’s time to remember our history, both it’s courageous highlights and it’s more uncomfortable truths, in order that we can at last shuffle off the vestiges of myth, propaganda and prejudice from the past that too often hold us back from building our future.

What I’m reading for #DiverseBookWeek

Monday 8 June 2020 is the start of Diverse Book Week.

The aims of this week are to promote the reading of books from authors from diverse backgrounds, to expand the horizons of readers and ultimately to encourage more people to support authors and help to encourage new ones.

If you’d like some suggestions, you can find a reading list on the BAMEed Network website. There is a wide selection of books, so there should be something for everyone.

Last year, I found Akala’s Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire hugely thought-provoking and it certainly challenged some of my assumptions as an educator. It is written from an individual perspective and made me think about the extent to which, while we both grew up in the UK, his were so different from mine.

For Diverse Book Week this year, I’m going to try to fill in some of the gaps in my understanding by reading David Olusoga’s Black and British a Forgotten History. I’ll let you know how I get on with a brief update each day.

If you’d like to join the conversations during Diverse Book Week on social media, use the hashtags #DiverseBookWeek and #BAMEed.

Computing, creativity and cheating

Creativity and coding

I believe that creativity is at the heart of computing. A couple of years ago I marked the passing of the creator of Logo, Seymour Papert with this post on his legacy. He created and promoted that computer language to foster creativity in students. The focus on creativity also drives many of the current generation of educational developers. Scratch, a free online scripting language allows all users, most of whom are children, to create and share stories, games, and animations. Created in 2007, Scratch now has more than 4.3 million users worldwide, mainly between the ages of 8 and 18, and nearly 7 million projects. It is used widely in UK schools and is many children’s first experience of scripting code instructions. Creativity is also a driving feature behind other computing innovations commonly used in UK schools such as the coding language Python, the Raspberry Pi and BBC Microbit.

Problems with assessment

If we accept this central role of creativity, it follows that the assessment of computational thinking, and its practical output as novel solutions to coding problems, must take account of this. Unfortunately, in recent years the assessment of GCSE Computer Science coursework has been bedevilled by the appearance of programming solutions to the set problems on the internet. This has forced the exams regulator, Ofqual, to remove this element from the assessment. The current situation is that a programming task forms part of the course, but marks do not form part of the assessment, which is therefore based solely on terminal exam papers. Unfortunately this is an issue that occurs not just at GCSE, but at all levels of education.

Ofqual consultation

Ofqual are currently consulting on this issue for exams from 2020 onwards through a consultation document on the future of assessment for GCSE Computer Science. You can respond to the consultation document here.

I think that they have thought carefully about the pros and cons about different methods of assessment. I am disappointed, however, that there is not more explicit mention of creativity in Computer Science. Ofqual make a comparison with other subjects with a coursework element, such as design technology, but this seems to be in consideration of practical skills which, while important, are not the whole picture. I feel that what is missing is the role of creativity in the elements and practice of computational thinking.

Nevertheless, I think Ofqual have left the door open to a solution that will allow students to demonstrate creativity in their thinking. In enabling exam boards to issue pre-release material to candidates (in a similar way to creative subjects such as art), there is scope for students to think and prepare for a creative response to a particular context, without the details of the specific task being revealed. I hope that in the future, developments in technology will mean that creative computational thinking can be securely assessed in a way that more closely mirrors the reality of programming than the exam hall.

The consultation closes at 4pm on Monday 3rd December 2018. I would urge anyone involved in teaching computing to take some time to make a response.

Image: Pixabay

One in a million find

Really pleased to be running #ProjectInsect with colleagues from Oxford University Museum of Natural History. So many pupils have become enthusiastic young entomologists and Sarah’s find is the icing on the cake!

In the UK, anyone can submit wildlife finds to the Biological Records Centre database using the iRecord website or app. I’ve written about how to do this here.

If you are near Oxford, we still have a few places for 10-14 year-olds on our Insect Investigators Summer School which takes place 13th – 17th August. Please email education@oum.ox.ac.uk for more information or to book a place.

More Than A Dodo

The Museum’s collection of British insects already houses over a million specimens, and now it boasts one more special insect.

Ten-year-old Sarah Thomas of Abbey Woods Academy in Berinsfield, Oxfordshire discovered a rare beetle in her school grounds while taking part in a Museum outreach session. To Sarah’s excitement, the beetle is so important that it has now become part of the collections here at the Museum – and it is the first beetle of its kind to be added to the historically important British insect collections since the 1950s.

Sarah Thomas examines her beetle under the microscope with Darren Mann, entomologist and Head of Life Collections at the Museum

Sarah’s class took part in a Project Insect Discovery Day, where they were visited by a professional entomologist, learnt about insect anatomy and how to identify and classify specimens, and went on the hunt for insects in the school grounds. Project…

View original post 311 more words

From budding biologists to citizen scientists

Children often take a keen interest in the natural world and national curriculum science contains several elements exploring biodiversity including sorting, identifying and classifying different species, and understanding the interdependencies that exist between organisms.

I have written previously about the importance of practical science, so I was interested to be introduced to a website and mobile app that enables budding biologists of any age to become citizen scientists by adding their wildlife finds to the database of the national Biological Records Centre (BRC).

iRecord is not primarily aimed at children, but can be used by professional biologists, volunteers and amateur enthusiasts, and anyone who takes an interest in the natural world. The app allows users to log wildlife finds by location and date, and to upload photos if they have one. Each uploaded record verified by an expert, so the photos are extremely useful.

After verification, records are added the BRC database. In contrast to some citizen science programmes which are designed mainly to raise awareness, rather than gather robust data, iRecord enables anyone, including children to assist research by adding records to this verified national database.

Setting up an account

Accounts can be set up on the iRecord website: www.brc.ac.uk/irecord or via the app, which is available for both iOS and Android devices. You’ll need a user name and an email account. This can be a single account, perhaps one set up for the school or class for this purpose. If you’re using the app you log into this account and finds are attributed to it. If you use the website to record finds, you can attribute finds to different observers while logged in as a particular user. There is a more advanced function where you can set up an activity, for example a survey or bio blitz at your school, and invite users to join. This might be suitable if children have school email accounts. You can also join activities set up for others.

Recording your finds

You can record what you find using the website or the app. I’ll describe making and submitting a record on the app, which I find gives an immediacy when using a mobile device with a camera, whereas the website is better for uploading several records in one go.

At first, I didn’t find the interface particularly intuitive, but I quickly got used to it and there is an extensive help menu explaining the icons and menu items, with tutorials on how to use them. You can also select a ‘training mode’ which allows you to practice creating records.

To start a new record, click on the + symbol at the top right of the screen (you could also click on the camera icon next to it to start your record with an photo).

This will open the screen for a new record. You start by entering the name. The example assumes you will start with a binomial scientific name (or abbreviation of one), but the predictive text works equally well for common names. Start typing and a list of suggestions will appear:

Click on / touch one of these suggestions to select it. This will add the record to your list, but we still need to add some details and a photo, if we have one. In the example below, we’d click on /touch the record we started for a garden bumblebee to select it.

This opens the screen for our new record. There are several fields for information and a red prompt that no location has yet been added.

Adding the location

To include a location, we select that field from the screen. This opens a map. As we zoom into our location, the map changes from geographical to a street map, then a satellite map.

Just click touch the location and a red square appears. You can change it if it isn’t the right spot. A grid reference will automatically be added at the top of the screen. We also need to add a place name in the field below it. Pressing the back arrow returns us to our record.

There is an advanced function to set up an activity. This could within a defined geographical area such as a school grounds. The app can then be set to default to this activity, recording finds in that location.

Adding a photograph

A photo isn’t essential, but is most helpful to having a record verified. To add one, we click on the camera icon at the bottom left of the screen. This opens a prompt to open the camera on our mobile device, or the photo gallery. I find that it’s best to take photos first and then open iRecord, rather than hope that whatever I’ve seen will stay still long enough to open a new record before photographing it. From your gallery, select the picture(s) you want to add. You can’t edit them within iRecord, so it’s best to do this before you start. Most of my records are insects so I often crop photos, so that the focus is on the species I have found.

Once we’re happy with the photo, we can add other information about the find:

  • Date
  • Abundance – how many individuals you saw
  • Comments – additional information, for example type of habitat or behaviours
  • Stage – adult, juvenile or pre-adult
  • Identifiers – the name of anyone who helped with the identification of your find

Uploading the record

The record is now complete but we haven’t yet uploaded it to the BRC. To do this, click the paper plane icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Bear in mind that you won’t be able to edit it once you have done this. Records are run past clean-up algorithms which validate the data you have entered and sent to volunteer verifiers. A verifier will then confirm the identification of your find, and may send you an email message asking for further information. In your account settings, you can set the frequency of messages. I have mine set to send a weekly email. You can also check progress of your uploads via your account. Verified records are included in the national BRC database.

I hope you feel inspired to have a go. I’ve found that iRecord has made me much more observant of the natural world. I think it has great potential to transform learning about ecosystems by enabling children to become contributors to the scientific record, as well as users of it.