Apps, Education, K-12, Science, Teaching Tools


Screen Shot from Leafsnap app
Screen Shot from Leafsnap app

My Kinder GT students are learning about “Scientist Thinking.”  This includes looking at things closely and trying to put them into groups based on their attributes.  Around this time last year we had a plethora of ladybugs in the field behind my classroom, and my then-Kinder GT students had a grand time collecting them, examining them, and trying to identify them.

Strangely, the ladybugs have not graced us with their presence this year. However, we do have a plethora of leaves all over the ground (and pollen).  So, we decided to go leaf hunting.

I am horribly inadequate when it comes to naming plants and trees.  For this particular situation, I decided that, rather than risk misinforming my students, we would use the Leafsnap app on the iPads for this activity.

First, the students gathered a few different leaves each during an outdoor walk.  Then we came back inside, and I showed them how to use the app to take a picture of each leaf on a white piece of paper. Once the user clicked “Snap It” the app contacted a database of plants and generated a list of possibilities.  The students could then look at the list and determine the most likely label to give each leaf.  They worked with partners, and it was interesting to listen to their conversations as they consulted each other and debated the true identities of their leaves.

Leafsnap is a collaborative project from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution.  They are working to include trees from all over the continental United States, but began with trees from the northeastern portion.  Therefore, the app might have difficulty recognizing leaves from other regions.  We live in Texas and, overall, I think the app was pretty accurate.  Of course, just about the only tree I can be relied on to identify regardless of the season is a palm tree 🙂

Leafsnap is free.  It currently appears to be available only on iTunes, although I did find some mentions of it as an Android app as well.  It’s not a new app.  According to my research, it has been around since at least 2011.  (If you learn that it is available for Android, I would appreciate it if you would comment below with the link.)

2 thoughts on “Leafsnap”

  1. Hi Terri, Would this app work if you used images of leaves as opposed to the leaves themselves? Obviously, real leaves are better, but for urban schools or during winter, could this activity be adapted to use photos? How “clean” would the background have to be for the app to “recognize” the leaf separate from the background? Thanks!

    1. I think you might be able to use photos if you cut the leaves out. According to the app instructions, the leaf must be on a white background in order to be captured correctly. I haven’t tried it other ways, but let me know if you learn the answers to any of those questions!

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