Digital Learning Resources

Free digital resources and tools to support educators, students, citizen scientists, and the general public provided by SERC.

If you have any questions about the content or want more information about a particular project, please feel free to send us an e-mail at

You can be a citizen scientist from your own home or community. Check out the projects below!

Chesapeake Bay Otter Alliance
The Chesapeake Bay Otter Alliance is a group of researchers from across the Smithsonian and local universities (and it was started right here at SERC!).  The group studies and educates the public about North American River Otters in the Chesapeake Bay. Very little to no research has been done on otters in the Chesapeake Bay and there isn’t much known about their  health,population and role in the Chesapeake Bay Ecosystem.  With your help, we are going to change that!  Citizen scientists get involved by reporting sightings of otters (or evidence of otters - yes we are talking about their scat!) and some people even get involved by capturing images and videos of otters using game cameras.

You can help us by e-mailing your otter sightings or scat finds. Contact Karen McDonald at

Chesapeake Bay Dolphin Watch (App for Android or Apple Users/ Available Online)
Dr. Helen Bailey and her team at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are studying how often dolphins come into the Chesapeake Bay, how long they spend there, what areas of the Bay they are using and why. The app allows citizen scientists to get involved in the project, by reporting dolphin sighting locations, time, and allows users to post photos as well.

Ebird (App for Android or Apple Users/ Available Online)
Every bird counts. Advancing science and conservation.
eBird is a way for anyone around the world to store their birding observations, their photos, their sound recordings, and make them available to educators, to scientists, and to other birders. Your sightings contribute to hundreds of conservation decisions and peer-reviewed papers, thousands of student projects, and help inform bird research worldwide.

SERC has its own listing on eBird where participants can input their sightings, sounds, and other observations.

These are just a few projects, find other projects in your area that you can become a part of using SciStarter!

You can be a citizen scientist by assisting digital projects. Check out the projects below!

Zooniverse is a popular citizen science platform that gives people of all ages and backgrounds the chance to participate in real research with over 50 active online citizen science projects. Work with 1.6 million registered users around the world to contribute to research projects led by hundreds of researchers.

SERC has two projects on Zooniverse:

1. Fossil Atmospheres
The Fossil Atmospheres Project is focused on understanding what carbon dioxide (CO2) levels looked like millions of years ago. Researcher Rich Barclay, a researcher from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and a team of citizen scientists are running an experiment where they compare modern Ginkgo leaves with fossilized Ginkgo leaves that may provide some answers to climate challenges of the past and present.

Learn more about the project and get involved - all you need is the internet!

2. Invader ID
Help us track changes in coastal environments by identifying marine invertebrates. If you’ve ever looked underneath a dock, you’ve probably noticed that it is covered with living things! This group of organisms, known as a fouling community, contains a wide variety of invertebrate animals, algae, and bacteria.

The Invader ID Zooniverse Project helps us track changes in fouling communities that settle on tiles we've placed around the US and look for new occurrences of invasive species. By tracking changes in these organisms through time and in different locations, we can better understand how coastal areas are changing and hopefully see early warning signs of environmental changes. Start identifying organisms HERE!

Check out some of our downloadable resources:

North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC)
North America is home to over 200 orchid species, and more than half are endangered or threatened. The NAOCC was established by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden to assure the survival of all native orchids in the U.S. and Canada.

Free and downloadable 3D models of orchids that can be folded like oragami. 

Floor Puzzles

Below are coloring pages that you can print out:

There are some great resources that you can use to sharpen your plant and animal identification skills. Check them out below!

Leafsnap (App for Apple Users Only)
Leafsnap is a series of electronic field guides being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. The free mobile apps use visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. They contain beautiful high-resolution images of leaves, flowers, fruits, petioles, seeds and bark.

North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC)
North America is home to over 200 orchid species, and more than half are endangered or threatened. The North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) was established by the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Botanic Garden to assure the survival of all native orchids in the U.S. and Canada.

NAOCC focuses on establishing collections of seeds and orchid mycorrhizal fungi, developing protocols to propagate and restore all native orchid species and developing an interactive website, Go Orchids, to give the public a platform to identify and learn everything that is known about our native orchids.

iNaturalist (Apps for Android or Apple Users/ Available Online)
Nature At Your Fingertips
Record your observations, share with fellow naturalists, discuss your findings.
Every observation can contribute to biodiversity science, from the rarest butterfly to the most common backyard weed. iNaturalist shares your findings with scientific data repositories like the Global Biodiversity Information Facility to help scientists find and use your data. All you have to do is observe.

At SERC, we have used this App for numerous groups to get them engaged with their surroundings and then explore more once they are back in their classrooms. It is a great tool for educators or naturalists wanting to explore!

Seek by iNaturalist (Apps for Android or Apple Users/ Available Online)
This is a great app for families who want to spend more time exploring nature together.
Take your nature knowledge up a notch with Seek! Use the power of image recognition technology to identify the plants and animals all around you. Earn badges for seeing different types of birds, amphibians, plants, and fungi and participate in monthly observation challenges with Our Planet on Netflix.

  • Get outside and point the Seek Camera at living things.
  • Identify wildlife and plants you see and take pictures to earn badges
  • Learn fun facts about the organisms all around you

We are working on creating short lesson plans for all our educators out there. Make sure to check back, we hope to have more soon!

Movement of Life Initiative: Discover What Makes Sharks Move
Our knowledge about animal movement and the processes that regulate it only begins to scratch the surface! Join the Smithsonian's Movement of Life (MoL) Initiative in their mission to advance the understanding of how all living things, big and small, move across land and seascapes to better sustain a biodiverse planet. This is the first of the MoL collections focused on discovering shark movement along the Atlantic Coast of the United States. What makes sharks move? Dive in to find out!

**Lesson plan included (with teacher strategies) that follows NGSS for 4th graders where students are the scientists, they map and analyze shark movement!

Contact Smithsonian scientist Dr. Matt Ogburn at for inquiries about the shark tagging project or visit his lab's website for more information!

An Introduction to Phytoplankton
Phytoplankton are an important part of the world's ecosystems, including that of the Chesapeake Bay. In this lesson you will explore what they are, why they are important, and how their imbalance can cause problems for the health of our waters. You'll also meet our SERC scientists and learn about what they are studying.

**Lesson plan appropriate for middle school- early high school

Blue Crab Adaptations
Blue crabs  are specially  adapted  for surviving.  In this  lesson you will  explore their  physical adaptations  and why they are good survivors.

***Lesson plan appropriate for upper elmentary school- early high school

Exploring Smithsonian:

  • Blue Crab Tagging
    The Chesapeake's beloved blue crabs entered a downward spiral in the 1990s that lasted almost two decades. Now they've started showing signs of recovery. But what will it take to ensure that blue crab numbers remain healthy for generations to come? Marine biologists at the Smithsonian have been tracking blue crabs on the Chesapeake since the 1970s. Tuck Hines, director and blue crab guru at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Md., takes TV host Josh Bernstein for a trip on the Rhode River to show him how it's done.
  • Electrofishing
    How can electricity help scientists study fish? Blue catfish are an invasive species in Chesapeake Bay, in part due to their voracious appetites that disrupt the food web. In some areas of the Bay, invasive catfish can take up 75 percent of the total biomass. But tracking their numbers can be tough, as the Chesapeake's waters are notoriously murky. So marine biologists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) use a less conventional way to catch them: zap the waters with electricity. Electrofishing doesn't harm or kill the catfish--it only temporarily stuns them so they float to the surface. SERC marine biologist Rob Aguilar took TV host Josh  Bernstein out on the Patuxent River in Maryland to show him how it's done.
  • Catfish Surgery
    Blue catfish are a delicious but dangerous invasive species in the Chesapeake  Bay. Their ravenous appetites have caused serious disruptions in the food web. But they're also very fast and, in the Bay's clouded waters, tracking their movements can be a challenge. Marine biologists at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center insert small acoustic tags into the fish, enabling them to track them with sound. TV host Josh Bernstein joins SERC biologist Rob Aguilar to perform "catfish surgery."
  • River Seining
    What life is hiding beneath the clouded waters of Chesapeake Bay? While scientists have devised several high-tech ways to peer beneath the surface, they also rely on one tried and true method: dragging a giant seine net through the water and seeing what they catch! Marine biologist Stacey Havard of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center took TV host Josh Bernstein seining in the Rhode River, where they discovered the tiny creatures that can make a big difference for life in the Chesapeake.

Making Sense of Climate Change: A 6 Part Series by Bert Drake
Smithsonian scientist emeritus Bert Drake hosted a free 6-part lecture series on the science and history of climate change in winter 2017 that's now completely online, with additional references and suggested reading. In the videos below, discover how we got here, how we move forward, and what it could mean for our food, our coastlines and our homes.

Want to go deeper into climate science and history? References and Further Reading are also available.

Movement of Life:

  • Shark Surgery
    Did you know there are sharks in Chesapeake Bay? SERC biologists are tagging four shark species so we can follow their migrations along the Eastern seaboard: dusky, blacktip, smooth dogfish and bull sharks. These four shark species mostly remain on the edge of the ocean. Although unlikely to appear close to shore, their locations still make them some of the shark species most vulnerable to human activity. Watch the video to see how our shark biologists catch and tag them!
  • Tracking Cownose Rays
    Every summer, cownose rays stream into Chesapeake Bay to mate and give birth to their pups. When autumn comes, they disappear—presumably to migrate south, but no one knew for certain where they spent the winter. Now, after a three-year tagging study published Aug. 23 and led by the SERC scientists have solved the mystery. Check out the video to see where they go!

Smithsonian Educator Resources
A wealth of resources and digital tools support inquiry-based learning and active engagement to spark creativity and curiosity.

Smithsonian Learning Lab
Support deep, meaningful learning with an online universe of authentic resources and tools for making them your own. Teach effectively by creating your own interactive learning experiences- or adopt exemplars made by teachers and Smithsonian experts Understand history, art, culture, and the sciences through inquiry and analysis.