Want to energize your classroom? Try including some citizen science!
According to Citizen Science Central at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, citizen science involves “projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real world questions”. In a K-12 context, the volunteers are our students who partner with scientists via dozens of websites devoted to exploring specific scientific questions.
Citizen science is part of a broad concept called Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR). Included under this banner could be everything from playground temperature recording activities by elementary school students, to sophisticated sky observations made by amateur astronomers. The unifying factor, however, is the partnering with professional scientists to intentionally gather data to focus on a question.
Citizen science projects are not new. The Audubon Christmas Bird Count has been around for over 100 years and is a classic example of utilizing citizen participation to gather information over a huge geographic area. Gathering data on the scale of the Audubon Bird Count would be impossible without citizen volunteers.
Teachers across the country are seeing the power of citizen science activities. Thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there is a central place to find descriptions of dozens of citizen science projects. The site provides an opportunity for new projects to add information to the site, making it a constantly expanding resource. Although the site does not claim to provide a complete list of citizen science projects, it is an excellent starting point for teachers who are curious to see if there might be a project that aligns with the local curriculum.
Another great citizen science project locator was brought to our attention by a C&NN Teacher Network reader. Check out “Scistarter: Science we can do together”.
This wonderful site provides the ability to pick an activity (e.g. at school, at home, at the beach in the car, etc.) or a topic (e.g. animals, food, insects, etc.). The site features a project of the day, newsletter and a blog.
The Scistarter site makes it very easy to get a quick overview of many citizen science projects available. For each project listed, Scistarter gives a very practical one page overview of the project, plus a sidebar that provides at-a-glance information about fees to participate in the project, other expenses, location restrictions, indoor or outdoor activity, appropriate grade range, and any special gear or equipment needed. This handy overview can save valuable time by allowing you to narrow down very quickly to the project you wish to explore in more depth.
I continue to be both amazed and gratified at the enthusiasm generated when children take part in scientific studies connected with other schools and real scientists. As one student said. “This isn’t textbook stuff—it’s the real thing!”. Check out both Citizen Science Central and Scistarter— it’s time well spent!
Fabulous! Thanks for sharing!
Thanks so much Juliet! You are such a positive contributor to this site!
This has been such an important part of our one-room schoolhouse Science curriculum and I'm so glad to see it being written about! We have had the most extraordinary experiences with scientists from around the world and find the scientific community at large so open and generous to schools. Here are just a handful of the wonderful opportunities we've had: 1. working with a scientist doing a bat study of outer islands 2. helping to catalog and add to a reptile/amphibian guidebook that had no data on Maine islands 3. working with Vanderbilt University's Medical Center doing polycoms and face-to-face about animal adaptations and participating in a study on tardigrades called water bears that they intend to use in their cancer research 4. connected with various scientists during a unit on weather and climate change called the STORMS program that is too comprehensive to even list 5. currently working with scientists at Bigelow Labs here in Maine (the largest phytoplankton repository in the world) on both phyto and zooplankton...they just recently skyped us from their research vessel traveling from South Africa to Australia.
I think that few teachers even understand the potential out there, and the immense enrichment that doing "real science" can have on their classrooms. It has really blown me away. What's more, many of these scientists are working off grants that have special clauses that usually include some sort of educational outreach to sustain the grant, so they are not only willing to work with schools, they often need those connections to continue funding on their own work, so it's a win-win situation.
Thanks so much for this wonderful post Michelle! I'm glad that you mentioned the use of Skype as an additional tool to aid in doing citizen science. What an incredible opportunity for students to actually see the scientists were working on these very important projects.
You make an excellent that many of these scientists are working under grants that actually require that there be some sort of educational outreach, frequently to the K-12 community.
Your one-room schoolhouse sounds like a fabulous teaching venue!