Archive for the ‘Citizen Science’ Category
Spring has sprung! Citizen scientists like you can now shed your winter layers and say hello again to the great outdoors. Here are ten projects that can help your appetites for citizen science blossom along with the flowers this season.
Track, report, and follow the spring hummingbird migration to understand how hummingbirds are impacted by climate change. The Audubon Society needs citizen scientists to follow the spring hummingbird migration in real time. A free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings, share photos and learn more about these remarkable birds. You can participate at any level – from reporting a single sighting to documenting hummingbird activity in your community throughout the life of the project!
Although it spans three countries and has been documented since the 1880s, North American dragonfly migration is still poorly understood, and much remains to be learned about migratory cues, flight pathways, and the southern limits of overwintering grounds. Become part of an international network of citizen scientists and help monitor the spring and fall movements of the 5 main migratory species in North America, or report on these species throughout the year at a pond or wetland of your choice.
Collect microbes from stadiums, cell phones and shoes! Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station (ISS). Your samples will be mailed to the University of California Davis where they will be sequenced and analyzed. Results will be shared on SciStarter so you can compare your samples to those from other locations, including the International Space Station! In addition, up to 40 samples will be selected to fly on the International Space Station where their growth rates will be compared to their counterparts in the UCDavis lab! Wouldn’t it be cool if your sample is sent to the International Space Station!?
WNYC Radio invites families, armchair scientists and lovers of nature to join in a bit of mass science: track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by building homemade sensors and reporting your observations. Magicicada Brood II will make its 17-year appearance when the ground 8″ down is a steady 64° F. Help predict the arrival by planting a homemade temperature sensor in the ground and reporting your findings back to to WNYC. Your observations will be put on a map and shared with the entire community.
Help researchers better understand relationship between dogs and owners! The Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in NYC is investigating the different ways people and dogs play together, and we need your help (well, you and your dog’s help). We are cataloguing all the ways people play with their dogs and asking dog owners to submit short videos of their own dog-human play. By participating in Project: Play with Your Dog, citizen scientists are providing valuable information into the nuances and intricacies of our relationships with dogs.
Help scientists understand changing climates in your area by making regular observations of your plants! Project BudBurst, a NEON citizen science program, is a network of people across the United States monitoring plants as the seasons change. We are a national field campaign designed to engage the public in the collection of important ecological data based on the timing of leafing, flowering, and fruiting of plants (plantphenophases). Project BudBurst participants make careful observations of these phenophases. We are interested in observations from five plant groups – deciduous trees and shrubs; wildflowers and herbs; evergreens; conifers; and grasses. To participate, you simply need access to a plant.
By just taking photos and observing spiders, you can help the Explorit Science Center learn about which climates certain spiders live in and track the distribution of spiders over time. Join the Explorit’s Community Science Project by finding and recording spiders in your home or neighborhood (as many as you can!). Use your camera or smart phone to take a photo of the spider and submit it online to add to our geographical database.
Spy on nature, and contribute to science. Share photos and observations through SciSpy and you’re contributing to research initiatives that rely on amateur participation. Created by Science Channel (Discovery), SciSpy enlists paticipants to document the natural world of their backyards, parks, cities, and towns. Photos and observation data are tagged and stamped with date, time and location information and will hopefully provide helpful information to track migrations, changes in the natural environment, seasonal trends and more.
Help scientists study tree species distribution by identifying and locating tree species on your iPhone or iPad! Leafsnap is an exciting new mobile app that is designed to help citizen scientists identify and locate tree species from photographs and ultimately help the scientific world develop a better understanding of biodiversity. Developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution, Leafsnap contains a unique visual recognition software that helps users identify species from the photographs taken straight from your iphone or ipad.
The National Severe Storms Laboratory needs YOUR help with a research project! If you live in the area shown on the map, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project (PING) wants YOU to watch and report on precipitation type. Why? Because the radars cannot see close to the ground, we need YOU to tell us what is happening. Scientists will compare your report with what the radar has detected, and develop new radar technologies and techniques to determine what kind of precipitation—such as snow, soft hail, hard hail, or rain—is falling where.
Whether you’re cicada tracking outside or swabbing microbes indoors, we wish you all the best with your experiments this season. Be sure to come back and tell us about it in the comments!
Still got some spring in your step? Check out even more citizen science projects in our Project Finder!
Each year since 1996, the National Geographic Society joins with the U.S. National Park Service to host one BioBlitz, and this year it will be held down on the bayou! On May 17th-18th citizen scientists will join field biologists to map and inventory the living creatures in the Big Easy’s Jean Lafitte National Historic Park and Preserve.
A BioBlitz is a 24-hour biological survey during which volunteer scientists and park officials guide teachers, students and families to catalogue an area’s biodiversity in a brief but intense manner. Located on the Mississippi River delta, Jean Lafitte Barataria Preserve is a 23,000-acre wetland containing an astounding diversity of plant and animal life. This includes nutrias, 200-plus bird species, and various marsh, swamp and forest plants and insects. Volunteers will be led by park officials and expert scientists who will help guide the cataloging process.
This is a unique opportunity for non-scientists to conduct real fieldwork that will contribute to the park’s official species list. Last year’s volunteers included over 2,000 schoolchildren! But the event is not all notebooks and specimen bags. In true Nawlins style, this event will include a Biodiversity Festival, with music, food, art, and fun!
Sustaining biodiverisity is of both biological and economic importance. Now, BioBlitzes are held in various countries around the world and are opportunities for scientists to engage and educate the public about biodiversity a fun and interactive way. Look for one near you!
Locations of past NGS/NPS BioBlitzes include Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Biscayne Bay, Florida and Indian Dunes National Lakes. Last year, over 5,000 volunteers participated and catalogued 489 species of plants and animals in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park.
Volunteer registration opened April 14th, and inventory groups fill up quickly! If you are interested in volunteering for any part of the event, email firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about the project at National Geographic’s website. Scientists interested in volunteering should visit this link for more specific information. There are also additional learning resources for educators.
“Never judge an ant at first glance,” warns Dr. Eleanor Spicer Rice, myrmecologist and head of the School of Ants project.
Meet Forelius pruinosus. At first glance, it may seem a little unimpressive, even underwhelming. However, the more you learn about Forelius, the more you realize there’s more to it than meets the antennae. For one, they’re masters of climate and can survive just as well in the arid desert as it can in your kitchen or bathroom. Surprisingly, they also smell good. These ants secrete an odorous alarm pheromone that attracts their nestmates, a trait that comes in handy when they’re in danger. Forelius are known to be light on their feet as well. When faced with conflict or danger, they shake their bodies and communicate with others by dancing.
Believe it or not, Forelius has yet to acquire a common name, as common as it is in the household and beyond. That’s why Your Wild Life is holding a competition to name it! They’ve taken submissions from all over (museums, science events, online) and received a plethora of creative suggestions–from “Fancy Ant” to “Lady Gaga” and everything in between!
Here are the top four contenders for Forelius‘ common name. Visit the special voting page to pick your favorite! Hurry, the deadline is April 30, 2013!
1. Barricade Ant – Forelius pruinosus use chemical defenses and elaborate teamwork to barricade the colony openings of ants four times larger than themselves during foraging.
2. Blockade Ant – F. pruinosus does not allow other ants to leave their nests if they’ve found something delicious nearby; they surround their competitors’ nest and shoot chemicals out of their butts!
3. High-Noon Ant – F. pruinosus have been described as thermophilic, or heat-loving, and are typically the only ants actively foraging at noon when the sun is at its highest. This is one of the best ways for ant scientists to collect them – go out at the hottest part of the day and you’ll even be likely to find a F. pruinosus!
4. Highway Ant – F. pruinosus forms thick trails as they forage during the day, they form wide ant highways as they travel from a food source back to their nest.
You can view a compilation of all the creative suggestions on the text map below. Click for the interactive version!
You might wonder, why bother with picking a common name at all? “Who would want to talk about Forelius when they could talk about ants that had way more interesting common names like carpenter ants, thief ants or big-headed ants?” emphasizes Holly Menninger, who manages the naming competition for Your Wild Life. What she means is that when something has a common name, it becomes more accessible to people. Sometimes science can be a bit esoteric, even intimidating. However, Your Wild Life has made finding a name for Forelius a democratic process, open to any and all who want to participate: “I think people like to be heard, to have their opinions and ideas make a difference – I think that’s why lots of folks are attracted to voting contests.”
(In this post on the PLOS blog, Caren Cooper also expounds on the importance of common nomenclature, with a nod toward Your Wild Life’s naming contest.)
So far, the contest has attracted a spectrum of participants–from kids at the kindergarten level to retired seniors. Menninger says, “Our big goal at Your Wild Life is to engage the public in the study and appreciation of the biodiversity in their daily lives. Specifically with respect to ants, we want folks to learn a little bit about their tiny 6-legged neighbors, the ants who wander about their backyards and playgrounds.”
This project is a testament to how citizen scientists can make a lasting impact on scientific research–whether the impact originates from a source as large as a whale or tiny as an ant.
Want even more critter-friendly citizen science projects? Check out these exciting projects from our Project Finder!
Photos: SchoolofAnts.org, YourWildLife.org
April 23, 2013
Every day, across the country, ordinary Americans known as “citizen scientists” make critical contributions to the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) by collecting, analyzing, and sharing a wide range of data—from weather phenomena, to sightings of migrating birds, to the timing of flower blooms at different latitudes. Now, the White House is preparing to honor some of the Nation’s most effective contributors to these important but sometimes-overlooked public servants.
Public participation in scientific research, also known as citizen science, is not a new phenomenon. In fact, before the establishment of discipline-specific training programs in the 18th and 19th centuries, most scientific research was carried out by amateurs. Many of our country’s most prominent scientists got their first taste of science by participating in citizen-science projects, and even today—despite the ascendance of a professional scientific corps—society has much to gain by including non-experts in the scientific enterprise. Among other benefits, public engagement in science can help citizens critically consider science-related public policy questions, make more informed decisions regarding the pros and cons of new technologies, and provide knowledgeable input about how tax dollars should be spent.
Today, advances such as Internet-based social media platforms and other information technology resources are increasingly allowing individuals to share information over large distances, enabling like-minded citizens to participate in research projects at unprecedented levels. Many practicing scientists today are discovering that citizen scientists play an indispensable role, by helping to collect and analyze data at unparalleled rates and over wide geographical distances.
To recognize the substantial contributions and achievements of citizen scientists across the Nation, the White House will host a Champions of Change event on Citizen Science on June 4, 2013. The White House Champions of Change program highlights the stories and examples of ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things for their communities, their country, and their fellow citizens. This event will focus on individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exemplary leadership in engaging the broader, non-expert community in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) research. Of particular interest are efforts by individuals or organizations to include women, the economically disadvantaged, persons with disabilities, and racial and ethnic minorities underrepresented in STEM.
Do you know a citizen science leader who is using citizen science to help catalyze positive change in his or her community? Members of the public are invited to nominate candidates for consideration.
Click here to nominate a Citizen Science Champion of Change before April 30, 2013 (under “Theme of Service,” choose “Citizen Science”).
Joan M. Frye is a Senior Policy Analyst at OSTP
We’re taking citizen science to the National Science Teachers Association and the San Antonio Spurs game. Join us!
|Dionn, MBA, Former Warriors cheerleader||Regina, Medical Doctor, Former Redskins Cheerleader||Laura, I.T.,Former Spurs Cheerleader|
Meet Science Cheerleaders Dionn, Laura and Regina on April 11 at the National Science Teachers Association in San Antonio from 2-3 pm and join them at the San Antonio Spurs game on 4/12 to collect microbes to send to space!
Project MERCCURI (Microbial Ecology Research Combining Citizen and University Researchers on ISS),a new research project from Science Cheerleader, SciStarter and UC Davis, is being made possible by Space Florida and NanoRacks LLC. Both organizations partnered in late 2012 to sponsor the “International Space Station Research Competition” and support innovative research payloads getting to space.
Project MERCCURI was selected as a winning project for the competition, and will facilitate the study of how microbes in buildings on Earth compare to those found on the International Space Station. Through December 31, 2013, the public can join the research team to collect swabs of surfaces at sporting events, in classrooms and at other venues. The microbes collected on the swabs will be characterized by analysis of their DNA; this will allow comparison of microbial distributions across the country. Some living microbes from the swabs will be grown in the laboratory and then sent to the International Space Station for growth rate comparisons and microbial playoffs! All results will be shared with the public.
Join the Science Cheerleaders and our partners at the National Science Teachers Association conference in San Antonio on April 11 from 2-3 pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, 215.
Then, come to the San Antonio Spurs game on April 12 where we will collect microbes from the stadium, court and game ball. The Spurs are offering discount tickets in addition to providing access to their court!
If you can’t make it to San Antonio, have no fear! We’re in the process of confirming similar events across the country and WE NEED YOU! If you’re interested in hearing from us as we build out our Project MERCCURI event calendar and/or as we analyze results, please sign up here.
PSSST: Every participant will earn a MERCCURI mission patch, too!
March may be ending, but March Madness is still in the air! Here are sixteen sweet projects in honor of the Sweet Sixteen:
Families, armchair scientists and lovers of nature are invited to join in a bit of mass science: track the cicadas that emerge once every 17 years across New Jersey, New York and the whole Northeast by building homemade sensors and reporting your observations.
Project MERCCURI is an investigation of how microbes found in buildings on Earth (in public buildings, stadiums, etc) compare to those on board the biggest building ever built in space – the International Space Station.
The Audubon Society needs citizen scientists to track, report on, and follow the spring hummingbird migration in real time. A free mobile app makes it easy to report sightings, share photos and learn more about these remarkable birds.
If you live in the area shown on the map, the Precipitation Identification Near the Ground project (PING) wants YOU to watch and report on precipitation type. PING is looking for young, old, and in-between volunteers to make observations—teachers, classes and families too!
Help researchers learn more about dogs (including your dog! by recording and sharing specific interactions with your dog. You’ll learn your dog’s cognitive style by playing fun, science-based games –- an experience that gives you the insight you need to make the most of your relationship with your best friend.
Where is your ice rink? Pin the location of your rink on a map, and then each winter record every day that you are able to skate on it. Scientists will gather up all the information from all the backyard rinks, and use it to track the changes in our climate.
Did you know you can print live cells from an inkjet printer? Come join the ongoing BioPrinter community project! Whether it’s hardware hacking. programming, Arduinos, microfluidics, synthetic biology, plant biology, cell culturing, tissue engineering – everyone has something to learn, or something to teach.
Marblar is unique and fun way to engage in citizen science and exchange ideas across disciplines. Marblar posts dormant technologies in need of creative, real-world applications and then asks you to come up with those applications.
Help collect hedgehog records from 1st February until 31st August 2013. Understanding patterns of hedgehog behaviour across the UK will enable scientists target the conservation strategy for this charming animal, which is currently in severe decline.
Help the Large Pelagics Research Center improve scientific understanding of large pelagic species by catching, measuring and releasing juvenile bluefin with conventional “spaghetti”-ID tags.
Read the rest of this entry »
Recently, someone asked us why we require a log-in before we send people off to other websites where they can get involved in a citizen science project. Although we haven’t heard this question from our community members, we thought we’d share our perspective with you. Perhaps you’ve wondered but never asked.
When we started SciStarter, then named Science For Citizens, we wanted to simply provide a database of curated, searchable citizen science projects. A simple aggregator would do (we thought!). Our goal was, and still is, to make it easier for people to learn about and get involved in citizen science projects. Back then, we didn’t require a log-in. If you found a project you liked, you’d click on a URL and you were sent directly to that project’s website.
We started to hear from visitors that they didn’t want us to point them away from the project database, never to be heard from again. And that’s exactly what would happen. Once they left, it wasn’t easy for them to find their way back to learn about different projects. They had a “one and done” experience which wasn’t helping anyone.
At the same time, we started hearing from project organizers that, while the field of citizen science appeared to be growing, recruiting and retaining participants was still a major uphill battle. Some of the more popular projects have their own communities to tap (particularly projects done exclusively online), but most new projects have to start from ground zero to develop new communities of participants.
Our long term vision is to create and support a large, shared, vibrant community to help match and recruit people for all types of citizen science projects. There’s no shortage of opportunities available but we need to be able to reach people in order to share these opportunities.
When we spiffed up SciStarter about 1.5 years ago we made an effort to quickly build and support a dedicated, engaged community by offering a free service for project organizers and potential participants. We still curate and aggregate projects but we do a lot more than that now. Through partnerships with the National Science Teachers Association, Discover Magazine, Public Library of Science, Instructables and others, we help researchers share their projects with audiences they might not otherwise reach while providing people a one-stop-shop for projects that suite them. Bringing this community together in one, shared space, helps the researchers and the participants.
To build a community, we implemented a log-in process requiring a user name, email and password OR a sign in via Facebook. During your first visit, before we direct you away from SciStarter to a project’s website, we ask you to log in. After you log in once, you can return to our site anytime in the future and be directly connected to project websites without logging in again, unless you opt to log out, of course.
We don’t “harvest” emails, sell or share your email address, etc. So what do we do with your email address? Well, once every couple of weeks, we email you with information about new projects we think you’d enjoy. That’s it. The log-in also enables us to begin to help you keep track of projects you are interested in or have contributed to, activities you’ve performed and accomplishments you’ve made. We have more plans to help make it easier for you to get involved in multiple projects, without signing into a bunch of different project websites to create a bunch of different user accounts. This will take time, but this is our vision.
A recent development has made us more determined than ever to build and support a sustained community. In partnership with Azavea, SciStarter is wrapping up an Alfred P. Sloan-funded study to better understand the landscape of tools and platforms available to power citizen science projects. We’ll have that report to share in the coming month or two. In the process, it has become crystal clear that no matter what awesome technological tool or platform powers a project, no matter how cool the project itself is, without a sustainable community of active participants, the project will suffer.
This is a critical gap and one SciStarter hopes to fill. We are seeing some success in this area and it’s led to hundreds of project organizers adding their projects to the SciStarter Project Finder in an effort to promote their projects and recruit participants. More and more, we receive unsolicited feedback from project organizers thanking us for our work while citing success stories of how, after we featured their project, participant rates doubled and even tripled.
But we recognize our log-in process isn’t a perfect system and we’ve been looking at ways to improve it (keep it, ditch it, make it optional, test other ways to help people navigate back to the project finder, etc?). Coincidentally, this week, we received the first results of a two-part SciStarter user study conducted by a graduate class at the University of Michigan. Interestingly, the users surveyed cite our emails as added value. Here’s the report if you’d like to read it. SI 622 A4 Interviews Personas Scenarios report
The students just rolled out this related online survey. In it, they ask questions specific to the log-in process. This presents a perfect opportunity for us to invite you to weigh in. You might even win a $50 Amazon gift card. Thanks for your consideration and we look forward to hearing from you!
Imagine something more mysterious than the trenches of the deep sea, more convoluted than the intricacies of the human genetic code, possibly even more infinite than the vastness of outer space. Meet the human brain.
Memories, mental disorders, language capability, motor skills, and so much more are encoded in this singular organ. Yet, neuroscientists don’t even know precisely how many different types of cells are in the brain. It is truly a modern mystery. (See all the currently unsolved questions in neuroscience.) There are numerous plausible theories about how the brain works, but solid evidence is sorely lacking.
“The brain is probably the most complex biological structure on the planet,” says Joy Hirsch, professor of functional neuroradiology, neuropsychology, and psychology at Columbia University. Hirsch’s research includes the development of brain mapping procedures for neurosurgical planning. “A complete understanding of the brain and its function is an ambitious goal that requires our best combined technologies, computational facilities, and neuroscientists.”
The Obama administration announced a decade-long scientific effort to examine the human brain and build a map of its activity, a project that seeks “to do for the brain what the Human Genome Project (begun in 1990) did for genetics.” This $3 million undertaking comes from the Brain Activity Map (BAM) project spearheaded by the Kavli Foundation. As science journalist John Rennie shares here, some in the neuroscience community harbor doubts about whether the time is right for a high-profile, inevitably politicized project like this one. Science takes time, and data analysis on this scale would certainly not happen overnight. Some say that the Human Genome Project left us realizing there is still so much more to learn. Will the Brain Activity Map and projects like it encounter the same challenges upon completion, whenever that may be?
The Challenges of Brain Mapping
The tricky part is that scientists have yet to find a way to record the activity of more than a small number of neurons simultaneously without invasive physical probes. New technology enables us to provide the right kinds of images to “map” the brain, but the volume of images that come through would be so overwhelming that it would take an insurmountable amount of time to process the data. Even today’s leading technology, from neuro-nanotech to optobiology to synthetic biology sensors, is limited when it comes to such a large undertaking.
Here’s where projects like EyeWire come in.
EyeWire is an online community of “citizen neuroscientists” who map the retinal connectome (neurons in the retina) by playing an online game. Because the feat of mapping the human brain solo (or even as a small team) would be infinitely large, EyeWire has made use of crowdsourcing strategies to collect data.
“Researchers have calculated that with today’s technology it would take one person 100,000 years to map one cubic millimeter of the brain without the aid of artificial intelligence,” says Amy Robinson, who works on the EyeWire team. (Just to give you a scale, an entire human brain is roughly 1,000,000 cubic millimeters.) “It takes a researcher at our lab…upwards of 50 hours to map an entire cell, depending on its size…and there are over 80 billion neurons in the brain.”
Rules of the Game
For EyeWire, over a time span of seven days, teams on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Google+, and a formidable-sounding Team X (veterans) competed in the games. Each day, the EyeWire team gives updates on the project’s progress via their blog. “Players” who participate in the game trace neurons based on images of the retina acquired at the Max Planck Institute of Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany (see below). The data directly contribute to neuroscience research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
It’s competitive, accessible to the masses, and even–for lack of a better word–fun. No game would be complete without a prize, however, so EyeWire has that covered too. The team that maps the most 3D neuron volume in this time frame receives neuron naming rights.
The genius of this project is in the gamification of the scientific process. By tacking on a time limit, assigning teams, and offering a prize, EyeWire spurs competition in potential “players.” Not only are players contributing to scientific research in the long run, but they can also see their contributions directly in front of them in the game in more-or-less tangible form. The gaming aspect of this citizen science project is what sets it apart from many others like it. Projects like the Human Connectome and Blue Brain have similar objectives but very different plans for execution. “When gamified, crowdsourced science is more than expediting data collection and analysis–it helps communicate science with the world,” states Robinson.
The EyeWire team comprises of members hailing from notably impressive backgrounds–game design, software development, community outreach, artificial intelligence, data structures, in addition to neuroscience. This notable cross-disciplinary approach has resulted in a project that brings the best of these worlds to the citizen science constituency.
Benefits of Crowdsourcing
Robinson goes on to explain why crowdsourcing is an ideal strategy for the future of scientific research: “Labs can no longer continue to work in academic isolation. If we hope to expedite our progress, we need to find ways to invite the world to help make discoveries…Not to mention crowdsourcing brings citizens into the heart of the scientific process.”
If nascent neuro-mapping projects like EyeWire fare well in the long run, it could mean that crowdsourcing will play an even more significant role in larger scientific research projects. Joy Hirsch adds, “We need to think outside the box. Outsourcing part of the task to individuals who may not be card-carrying scientists, but [who are] capable and willing to do some parts of the project, could become a major component of the success of [projects like this].”
Amy Robinson humbly quotes Sebastian Seung, the creator and director of EyeWire: “To understand how our knowledge machine works is more than just meta–it’s epic.” The EyeWire Games are simply a precursor to larger crowdsourced scientific research projects to come. If the greater scientific community chooses to participate, the odds just may be in our favor.
Sebastian Seung’s TEDTalk:
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter. Although she holds dual bachelors’ degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine, Lily has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. Lily has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served a year in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter in California; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. She currently works in public media at WGBH Boston and the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns (mostly to entertain herself). Tweets @dangerbui.
By Carolyn Graybeal
Hummingbirds are mesmerizing. Their iridescent feathers. How they hover in the air. But these tiny birds are not just eye candy. Hummingbirds play a critical role in the ecosystem. They help keep insect populations in check. They pollinate flowers as they roam for nectar.
Unfortunately scientists are observing that migration patterns are changing, a presumed result of global climate change. A study released last month reports the migration patterns of the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), the most common hummingbird in North America, has shifted by about two weeks earlier than usual. This is bad news for both the birds and ecosystem in general. These birds are arriving at their northern breeding grounds while food may be scarce.
Recognizing the critical nature of these birds, the National Audubon Society has launched Hummingbirds@Home. Starting March 15th, the Audubon Society invites you to help track and report hummingbirds you see using their free app. Learn more about Hummingbirds@Home and how to join here.
If you need a little help spotting these birds, Cornell University published this handy how-to guide for attracting hummingbirds to your property and learning more about hummingbird behavior such as nesting, feeding, and migration patterns.
Be sure to check SciStarter for more hummingbird-related projects and for opportunities to help other feathered friends. Until then, happy (humming)bird watching!
This is a guest post from Sandra Henderson, Director for Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network.
When I first became involved in online professional development (PD) courses about 10 years ago, the casual approach to participation in terms of time and attire were often noted as desirable features. An often-touted advantage to online PD was that individuals could participate at 3 a.m. wearing pajamas and bunny slippers. Over the years, as the boon in online PD has expanded, I sometimes wonder if the sale of bunny slippers has kept pace with the expansion of online PD opportunities for educators.
Online education has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the large number of colleges and universities providing accredited online courses as part of their degree programs. Powerhouse universities like Stanford and Yale helped lead the way a few years back by offering their courses online and attracting hundreds of thousands of students. The widespread acceptance of top-notch universities provided an endorsement of sorts for the effectiveness of online education. The demand for online education continues to grow and this includes PD opportunities for educators.
Traditionally, PD for educators was synonymous with face-to-face classes, workshops, and seminars. Face-to-face PD, while valuable, is generally location- and time-limited which can exclude many educators who have other obligations or do not have flexible schedules outside of teaching due to family, extracurricular obligations, or other time constraints. Online PD courses that are self-paced are very appealing because individuals can chose when to participate based on their unique situation. One of the most appealing aspects of online PD is that it can be a great equalizer, providing PD for educators at all stages of their lives and careers.
As online PD has gained popularity, citizen science (CS) has also enjoyed a time of rapid growth. In recent years, CS programs and activities have proliferated, and many are Internet-based. Examples include Project BudBurst, Project Feederwatch , and The Great Sunflower Project It is widely known that effective PD results in better implementation of programs and activities. In the case of CS, effective PD may also help with data quality.
CS programs that are entirely online — such as the NEON’ s Project BudBurst – may not have the opportunity to offer face-to-face PD or employ the old tried and true “Train the Trainer” model. We decided to test online PD using Project BudBurst and created our first course Introduction to Plants and Climate Change for Educators. In January, 2012, we informally put out the word that we had a pilot online PD course for educators hoping to register about 15 people. Within a week, we had over 200 registrants and had to close registration as we could not meet demand. That is when it became clear that online PD was needed and that NEON could fill this important niche through the development of an online academy devoted to citizen science professional development – the NEON Citizen Science Academy (CSA).
NEON’s Citizen Science Academy Mission Statement: Provide online professional development resources for educators to support effective implementation of Citizen Science projects and activities that focus on ecology and environmental sciences.
The NEON CSA is intended to be a complete online PD resource for educators and will include online courses, modules, tutorials, and a virtual community of practice. Initially, I had been concerned that sharing and communication, a hallmark of face-to-face PD, would be sacrificed for the convenience of online courses. I have been pleasantly surprised to observe the exchange of ideas and thoughts in our virtual classrooms via discussion forums. Perhaps wearing bunny slippers encourages these informal exchanges.
As CSA develops, we intend to partner with other online CS programs and partner to offer a full suite of online courses and resources that support all aspects of CS for educators. Further, through a partnership with the National Geographic FieldScope program, CSA will also include innovative, free online mapping, analysis and data visualization tools that facilitate data analysis.
In the case of Project BudBurst, we now offer several courses for a wide variety of educators. One of our educators used her online PD participation to write a successful grant to engage her students in making observations of trees in their schoolyard. Another educator shared her efforts to have students in her art class take photos of plants as the seasons change. Several informal educators have designed exhibits and displays that feature Project BudBurst.
We hope you will join the growing CSA community by signing up for one of our online courses (citizenscienceacademy.org). Bunny slippers optional.