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  • Help scientists establish valuable baseline data about the numbers, locations, habits and health of penguins in a range of Southern Ocean sites. This information will enable better understanding of the effects of climate change, fisheries and direct human disturbance on the Antarctic ecosystem.

    Rights: Penguin Watch, Oxford University

    Penguin Watch

    Categorising penguins, chicks and eggs in photographs taken in remote locations helps scientists develop better baseline data about penguins and use that knowledge to monitor changes over time.


    Reach: Worldwide

    Nature of science focus: Online citizen science (OCS) projects can be used to develop any of the Nature of Science (NoS) substrands. Identify aspects of NoS that your students need to get better at or understand more fully and then frame your unit to be very clear about these things when you do them.

    Science capability focus: Gather and interpret data

    Science focus: habitat, adaptation

    Some suggested science concepts:

    • Bird species are adapted to live in their particular habitats.
    • Populations are living organisms of the same species living in the same area at the same time.
    • Changes in habitat can affect the survival of populations and the relationships between them.

    Many concepts could be learned – focusing on a few can often be more powerful. Develop your learning outcomes and success criteria from these concepts as well as the Nature of Science strand and the science capabilities.

    Some examples of learning outcomes:

    Students can:

    • label and annotate the adaptive features of a penguin
    • describe that science requires detailed observation
    • discuss how logged sightings are used by scientists
    Rights: Zooniverse

    Zooniverse logo

    Zooniverse is a platform for citizen science projects that bring together researchers and volunteers to assist with data analysis and image identification.

    About Penguin Watch

    In this project, participants tag penguins observed in still photos taken from cameras at remote locations. Penguins are classified as being either an adult, chick, egg or other. There is a tutorial to assist in training.

    Rights: Dr Katja Riedel

    Insulation with feathers

    An emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) chick at guard stage, keeping warm. Keeping warm involves stopping the transfer of heat from one object to another. This can be done by insulating the object. Trapping air in layers is a very effective way of insulating an object. Penguins trap air in their feathers.

    The nice thing is that anyone older than about 5 years old can contribute to penguin conservation. Choose whether you would like to count aerial photos or images from time lapse cameras. Be warned, it is mildly addictive but it’s for a great cause!


    The task is rich in opportunities to discuss why scientists need help with this work (Understanding about science). Some of the images have an abundance of penguins, making the accuracy of tagging another discussion point. Why do we need to be accurate in our tagging? A zoom and scroll feature gives you a closer look.

    Unfortunately, the results are not available to use as a discussion point. However, an education resource has a variety of video clips, and the Talk page allows you to connect with the scientists and ask questions.

    Rights: Public domain

    Penguin life cycle

    A diagram showing the life cycle of emperor penguins, including the breeding cycle from May to December.

    The chicks go through a guard stage in December and January, this is the time from hatching up to 4–6 weeks old. The post-guard stage is when the parents leave the nest unguarded. This stage is from 4–6 weeks in January and February.

    Carefully embedded in a unit, Penguin Watch offers some rich opportunities to develop students’ understanding about what science is and how it is done.

    Nature of science

    Using this OCS gives opportunities to discuss why scientists need help analysing this type of data, how they might use the data to monitor species, including changes over time, and why this matters.

    Related content

    Other citizen science projects ask for help to analyse images of Antarctic life:

    The Ministry of Education’s Connected series includes a level 4 article on migration, On the move, including teacher support material.

    The following articles provide background information about penguins and how technology is helping scientists learn more about these hardy creatures:

    Check out our collection of great articles and resources on penguins on Pinterest.

    Penguins are among the top predators in the Antarctic ecosystem – but can become the prey as well! Find out about energy flows and who eats whom:

    Planning for students to be citizen scientists provides hints and pedagogical advice for educators interesting in joining an online citizen science project.

    Useful links

    The Ministry of Education’s Building Science Concepts series includes Book 39: Birds: Structure, Function, and Adaptation. See our adaption of this resource in: Building Science Concepts: Birds.

    MAPPPD (Mapping Application for Penguin Populations and Projected Dynamics) is an international collaboration of Antarctic researchers collecting data to study how the fragile polar ecosystem is changing through time. Contribute to this citizen science project and become a penguin detective and help build and maintain the database.

    Discover more about penguins on the Department of Conservation website and/or on New Zealand Birds Online website.

    The 2019 issue of the Level 3 School Journal, Fantastic penguins. If there is not a copy at your school, School Journals can be ordered from the Down the Back of the Chair website. Access to these resources is restricted to Ministry-approved education providers. To find out if you are eligible for a login or if you have forgotten your login details, contact their customer services team on 0800 660 662 or email


    This outline was written as part of Victoria University of Wellington’s Citizen Scientists in the Classroom project funded by the Ministry of Education’s Teaching & Learning Research Initiative.

      Published 10 April 2019 Referencing Hub articles
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