Citizen science

Students need opportunities to apply what they are learning to new situations and to experience what scientists actually do. But it’s a challenge to design and conduct authentic activities with real-life applications. Fortunately, many institutions and organizations have set up citizen-science or community-based research projects in which students and teachers can participate. It’s a win-win scenario—the sponsor gets additional observers and data-collectors on the task, and the students get experiences that can extend into careers or lifelong learning.

As an advocate for (and participant in) citizen science projects, I’m excited about NSTA’s partnership with SciStarters—you may have seen the promotion on the Science Teacher site. SciStarters is a searchable collection of community-based and citizen-science projects–regional, national, and international. There are projects appropriate for all grade levels and on a variety of topics.

Citizen Scientists: Investigating Science in the Community describes several examples of citizen science and provides links to the project sites. The authors point out that many of these projects have components specifically geared to the classroom, and the teacher’s role is help make the connections between the project activities and the curriculum learning goals. These types of projects were also described in Community-Based Science, the November 2012 issue of NSTA’s Science Scope.

In the Communities, Cameras, and Conservation, students monitor remote cameras and analyze data to help with a study of mountain lions in Colorado. In addition to learning about patterns of animal behavior, the students also had experiences in using GPS and GIS technology. The authors include a summary of data (and photograns) from several participating schools. OK, most of us don’t have mountain lions to study, but the article has a link to learn more about starting a CCC project in a location near you.

Many citizen science projects are already set up for your participation. Flying Into Inquiry has information about several bird studies, including Project Feederwatch and eBird.   In these projects students collect and submit observation data, but they also have access to databases to study bird population trends—sample maps and graphs are included. And as noted in Citizen Science in Your Own Backyard, entomology can be another project focus in the classroom or a summer learning experience.  [SciLinks: Birds, Insects, Aquatic Entomology]

In addition to collecting and sharing data, people engaging in “citizen science” can also participate in outreach projects and community action. Project Citizen describes an interdisciplinary way for student to identify and investigate topics of interest in their communities. The authors describe a six-step process and provide examples of topics.

Be Your Own Groundhog is another example of using existing data in an investigation. The author challenges students to examine longitudinal data (physical and biological) and predict when spring will “spring.” This phenology lesson could be connection to graphing in math classes, too. [SciLinks: Reasons for the Seasons]

Don’t forget to look at the Connections  for this issue (December 2012), which includes links to the studies cited in the research article. These Connections also have ideas for handouts, background information sheets, data sheets, rubrics, etc.

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One Comment

  1. Hannah Read
    Posted January 16, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    I just learned about a citizen scientist computer game called EyeWire that was developed at MIT. The game involves coloring in brain images to help scientists map the connections between neurons. Players earn points for their accuracy in matching the colored areas completed by other players. Players also earn points based on the quantity of area they color. Essentially, citizen scientists have the opportunity to help neuroscientists gain a better understanding of how the retina functions. The game is geared for all age levels.

    Here is a link to the website:
    https://eyewire.org/

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