The July #STEMchat on Citizen Science was quite a learning experience. As you’ll see in the summary below, participants shared many great ideas and tips for getting involved in citizen science research projects on topics ranging from birds and bees to extraterrestrial life. Our panel (Jen, Laura and me) was capped by a true rockstar in the world of citizen science, Caren Cooper, PhD.
Read below to find a summary/trimmed and cleaned transcript from our chat. Be sure to to click on the links to learn about the amazing citizen science research and observation projects. And if you’ve got a favorite project or resource that wasn’t mentioned during our chat, please let us know in the comments!
CITIZEN SCIENCE is…
- Experiments, projects, research and observations with lay people & scientists work together.
- Something even average citizens can participate in. No, PhD needed. Citizen science can involve contributing observations, processing or interpreting data, and acting on data.
There are a lot of citizen science research projects involving birds. Maybe because birds are everywhere (easy access) and people like watching them. Some call bird projects the “gateway drug” to other citizen science projects. Great Backyard Bird Count has been around for awhile.
HOW IS CITIZEN SCIENCE DIFFERENT THAN DIY SCIENCE? (I.E. DOES ONE HAVE A GREATER EMPHASIS ON RESEARCH?)
Citizen science is often massive collaborations between public & scientists; they are DIY don’t necessarily involve scientists.
WHAT TYPE(S) OF CITIZEN SCIENCE ACTIVITIES LEAD TO THE BEST EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING?
- Recent study showed social interactions are key to learning, and talking about research topic process.
- Projects or research in which students can observe patterns and/or changes over time in their natural surroundings.
- Whatever grabs the kid’s interest.
- Some research suggests authenticity of the citizen science research may matter: it needs to be real, not token.
- Often contributing just a few observations may feel small, but could be seen like voting…every bit counts when taken.
- Projects for students looking to solving problems in their city or community as well as solar system or universe. Ambitious types may even try to get involved in the “space elevator.”
- Here’s a handy toolkit for getting started with citizen science.
- Some projects have curricula: e,g, Birdsleuth and Zooniverse. on SciStarter there are ~600 projects, many nationwide or global & for all ages.
- Globe is an international project.
- DIY communities like Public Lab and maker spaces
- Project Noah, great way to get kids using tech, learning, and exploring nature.
- The Education program at Cornell Lab has new book of curricula with citizen science, not just with birds.
HOW DO ELEMENTARY AND HIGH SCHOOLS (INCLUDING HOME SCHOOLS) EDUCATION PARTICIPATE IN CITIZEN SCIENCE?
We have a STEM lodge where Girl Scouts can see the water use, what’s from rainwater, how much electricity from solar panels. Some home schooled girls have used Girl Scout STEM programs to supplement science curriculum.
Rather than an ongoing classroom series, some students, even young ones, might participate in citizen science activities during field trips to science centers, something that a growing number of institutions are offering citizen science opportunities to patrons on a single visit as well as ongoing programs.
Some science centers also offer virtual field trips. One participant noted that his or her local science center offers virtual field trips. Search online to see if your favorite, but distant, museum offers something like this.
WHERE CAN FAMILIES OR INDIVIDUALS GET INVOLVED OR LEARN MORE ABOUT CITIZEN SCIENCE? (See also Q. 3)
Here are some NASA citizen science projects.
Look for projects run through local or national groups concerned with topics of environmental justice, pollution, climate change, etc.
I (Kim) initiated a “Science Day” at Farmer’s Market this weekend. Do something in your community to make them more science aware. You don’t need to get fancy. Our science day was staffed by middle schoolers who are active in Science Olympiad. They brought some hands-on activities, including a classroom kit from Chicago’s Field Museum. It was enough to engage younger kids, and a few adults, too.
SETI@home Use your computer to help find download and anaylze radio telescope data.
Look for local, informal citizen science projects at museums and nature societies- one example is Hawkwatch at Delaware Nature Society. Look at local organizations with research and public education components. Some have programs that encourage citizen participation.
It would be great if schools could do a better job of helping families connect with citizen science projects and ideas.
This one’s a bit gross and currently inactive, but fascinating in its own way. Learning about wildlife through examining roadkill.
I read of a citizen science project where kids measured the decomposition rate of cow paddies (relevant to global climate change)
Another example of citizen science in Chambana – Cosmology at Home.
Weather- the topic is probably bigger than birds. The National Weather Service has a co-op program for citizens. Thomas Jefferson wanted the public to collect and contribute data on weather (twice a day).
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY ABOUT THE LONG-TERM IMPACT OF PARTICIPATING IN CITIZEN SCIENCE?
I would think being a part would make people more likely to keep learning, researching, etc.
Science literacy- it’s abysmal now and needs to be better. THAT should be the impact.
Knowledge from science conveys power to influence policy, personal decisions — citizen science provides access to that.
Raising generation of people who value science and know how to put it to use is of huge value
A big benefit is kids feel they can contribute to knowledge base and their actions make a difference.
ARE ALL CITIZEN SCIENCE EXPERIENCES AUTHENTIC CONTRIBUTIONS TO SCIENCE? DOES IT MATTER?
With such a variety of projects. I’m sure it depends on the nature and goals of the project. Some more “authentic” than others.
Panelist Caren Cooper (@CoopSciScoop said that 90% of her research is based on citizen science data, so its authentic to her. She noted that at the time data are collected, she may not anticipate the utility those observations may serve later. Weather records would be an example of this.
Caren said she feels that she does get quality date, but not all of it is useful for everything. That said, most of it is useful for something. She deals with biases, outliers, etc.e.g, if birders tend to make observations only on weekends, that is a problem for some analyses, correctable for some, etc.
Many participants noted that with kids they were less concerned about authenticity than hooking kids on science.
WHAT STEM LEARNING COMES FROM DIY SCIENCE, CROWD SOURCING, AND OTHER STYLES OF CITIZEN SCIENCE?
The amount of learning could potentially be endless. One project may lead to another or spark a new STEM interest and so on.