Archive for the ‘Nature & Outdoors’ Category

Celebrating the Next Generation of Bird Watchers [Guest Post]

By January 9th, 2015 at 9:37 am | Comment

This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the children in her daughter’s third-grade classroom. the project, Celebrate Urban Birds was one of our Top 14 Projects of 2014. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Celebrate Urban Birds is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!

Mourning Dove DSC_4427 copy

The Mourning Dove, a common rural and urban bird perched upon a rock (Image Credit: Elroy Limmer, used with permission)

Public school teachers have always been my heroes. When I first began to research and write about citizen science, I was particularly interested in easy-to-do, inexpensive, age-appropriate, classroom-friendly projects that I could take to teachers like my own daughter Maria—then in her second year in a third-grade classroom in the small border town of Deming, New Mexico. Unsurprisingly, one of the best programs I found—Celebrate Urban Birds–was also recently named by SciStarter as one of the best citizen science projects of 2014.

Designed and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Celebrate Urban Birds asks children and adults to choose an urban, suburban, or even rural area half the size of a basketball court and watch bird activity for ten minutes. Any observations of sixteen designated species are recorded on a data form. For Maria’s class of twenty-four, Cornell Lab promptly sent twenty-four kits written in English and Spanish–instructions, forms, colored posters to help us identify the birds, packets of flower seeds to plant, and stickers that said “Zero Means a Lot!” The “Zero Means a Lot!” theme was repeated a number of times. “Send us your observations,” the Lab enthused, “EVEN IF YOU SEE NO BIRDS in your bird-watching area. Zero means a lot!”

On that warm spring morning, we headed out with a gaggle of children to the school playground where we faced a row of planted conifers and deciduous trees, the school fence just behind the trees, a street and residential houses just behind the fence. The mostly eight-year-olds divided into three groups of eight, each with a supervising adult, each with their own area to watch. This didn’t last long, of course, with a few small boys first running back and forth under the trees, and then entire groups dissolving and mixing.

Wonderfully iconic– a kind of miracle–an American robin posed on a branch and puffed out its red breast. That was one of the birds on our list of sixteen species! A rock pigeon swooped through the bare yard behind us. Rock pigeons were on our list, too! We could hear mourning doves call from a nearby telephone pole. A third bird on our list! Next, a child spotted a house sparrow lying dead on the other side of the fence, and this attracted far more attention than the live house sparrows in the nearby tree. Our fourth species.

The American Robin, a beautiful sight commonly found in urban areas and one of the birds that the group spotted during the project (Image Credit: NASA)

The American Robin, a beautiful sight commonly found in urban areas and one of the birds that the group spotted during the project (Image Credit: NASA)

For ten minutes, we exclaimed and watched and checked our list, looking for American crows, American robins, Baltimore orioles, barn swallows, black-crowned night herons, brown-headed cowbirds, Bullock’s orioles, cedar waxwings, European starlings, house finches, house sparrows, killdeer, mallards, mourning doves, peregrine falcons, and rock pigeons. One child believed emphatically that he saw a peregrine falcon swoop through the blue sky and another a Baltimore oriole colored red and yellow. Their teacher Maria said, “No, probably not,” but when the children insisted, she only smiled—“Okay, then, check the box that says ‘unsure.’” Some children remembered birds they had seen before, the mallard at the El Paso zoo with a broken leg and the mean parrot kept by their grandmother. Birds and memories of birds seemed to fill the air.

For ten minutes, we watched and then came inside and concentrated on filling out a form that included a description of the site and our observations, carefully copying what Maria wrote on the chalkboard. I realized that this last activity—learning how to record data–was as useful to these children as anything else we had done today.

My daughter and I were immeasurably pleased and planned how to do the next Celebrate Urban Birds even better. Perhaps we would do one of the associated art projects that the program suggests. We would have graphs and word problems. We would hand out more information about other common species in town–grackles and Western kingbirds. Eventually these children would say, “I learned how to bird-watch in the third grade.” Or, “I became passionate about birds in the third grade.” Or, “My teacher’s mother came into my third-grade class and revealed the world to be a web of miracles and connection, and I have never been the same since.”

At this point, I knew I was getting ahead of myself a little.

In today’s schools of scripted curriculums and constant test-taking, teachers like my daughter often have very little time in which to teach science. My daughter only had a half hour a week. A half hour. Celebrate Urban Birds was a creative, fun, educational use of that time. Moreover, like citizen scientists everywhere, these third graders had just become part of something larger than themselves. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that they work with some two hundred thousand volunteers, tracking and monitoring birds, with over a million observations reported each month on the Lab’s online checklist. These observations help produce real science, contributing to over sixty scientific papers as well as policy decisions designed to protect birds and their habitat.

The next year, my daughter and I did a repeat of Celebrate Urban Birds, and this time we had to use the stickers “Zero Means a Lot!” But that was a good learning experience, too. Surprisingly, the children did not seem particularly discouraged. They only asked if they could look for birds again tomorrow.

 


 

Sharman Russel SciStarterSharman Apt Russell lives in rural southwestern New Mexico and teaches writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and at the low-residency MFA program in Antioch University in Los Angeles. She’s engaged in a number of citizen science projects, including monitoring archeology sites and inventorying possible new wilderness areas in the Gila National Forest. Her new book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) was selected by The Guardian (UK) as one of the top ten nature books in 2014.

 

SciStarter’s Top Fourteen Citizen Science Projects of 2014!

By January 5th, 2015 at 7:00 am | Comment

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As we ring in the New Year, we’re celebrating the 14 Top Projects of 2014! These are the projects that received the most visits on the SciStarter website. Resolve to do more citizen science in 2015!
We’ll help you with that goal. Happy New Year!

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Photo: Mike Hankey
1.  American Meteor Society – Meteor Observing
Report meteors and meteor showers online or with an easy smartphone app and help scientists determine their astronomical origins. Get started!

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Photo: NASA
2.  Perfect Pitch Test
If you have perfect pitch, this project needs you! Just take a brief survey and a quick pitch-naming test to help determine if perfect pitch differs for different timbres. Get started!

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Photo: NOAA
3.  Digital Fishers
Only have a minute to spare? Use it to analyze short video clips of amazing deep sea life. Get started!

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Photo: EyeWire
4.  EyeWire
With EyeWire, you can play a captivating image-mapping game that helps maps the retina’s neural connections. Get started!

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Photo: LLNL
5.  American Gut
Our guts contain trillions of microbes. Sample and identify the organisms in your gut with this cool project. Get started!

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Photo: Dennis Ward, Project BudBurst
6.  Project BudBurst
Do you enjoy following the trees and plants in your yard as they leaf out, flower, and produce fruit? Record your observations and submit them to BudBurst. Get started!

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Photo: NASA
7.  Loss of the Night
Stargazers take note- Identify and report all the stars you see at night in order to measure light pollution. Get started!

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Photo: NASA
8.  SatCam
Use your smartphone to record sky and ground conditions near you, and SatCam will send you satellite images for the same area. Get started!

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Photo: NPS

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Photo: Victor Loewen
10.  Celebrate Urban Birds
Observe the birds outside your window and report the presence of 16 common species. How many will yousee? Get started!

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Photo: DDQ
11.  Dark Sky Meter 
Use your phone to measure the brightness of the night sky and contribute to a live map of global light pollution. Get started!

1312.  World Water Monitoring Challenge
Curious about your local water quality?  This project provides a simple kit for you to test water temperature, pH, and more. Get started!

1413.  Ignore That!
Help scientists study the human mind by playing a 5-minute game that determines how distractable you really are. Get started!

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Photo: NASA
14.  GLOBE at Night
This is a great project for children and adults who enjoy looking up at the night sky and want to track light pollution. Get started!

Citizen participation in science at the Museum of Science in Boston

By December 11th, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Comment

This is a guest post from David Sittenfeld, Manager, Forums at the Museum of Science, Boston.

FIREFLIES, HEALTHIER CITIES, AND POLICY INPUT: CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN SCIENCE AT THE MUSEUM OF SCIENCE IN BOSTON

Rica, a Museum summer youth intern, facilitates a discussion about urban air quality issues. Photo by David Rabkin, Museum of Science.

Rica, a Museum summer youth intern, facilitates a discussion about urban air quality issues. Photo by David Rabkin, Museum of Science.

At the Museum of Science in Boston, we’ve been exploring three flavors of citizen science over the last half-decade or so. We started with fireflies and have added participatory efforts around urban environmental health assessment and participatory policy formulation.  We’re excited about the way that citizen science has transformed the landscape for science and are looking forward to what’s next! Read the rest of this entry »

Citizen Science in the Rocky Mountains – Celebrate Halloween with the Colorado Spider Survey

By October 29th, 2014 at 12:25 pm | Comment

Love Creepy Crawlies? Check out our Halloween Picks!

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona - An orb weaving spider from Colorado

What are you looking at? Family: Araneidae Genus: Neoscona – An orb weaving spider from Colorado

Editors Note: This post was written by Aditi Joshi, a freelance science writer and a new contributor at SciStarter

As a kid, I avoided houses that had spider decorations during Halloween. Even today, I find spiders scary. Spiders add an extra ounce of spookiness to Halloween.  Spiders might be scary for some, but they’ve always fascinated Dr. Paula Cushing, an arachnologist (spider biologist) at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science in Colorado.

Cushing hoped to get a better sense of what kinds of spiders existed around her and what role they play in the ecosystems of the Rocky Mountains. To do that, she needed a map of where the spiders were and what kinds of spiders exist in the area. But an area spanning 104,000 square miles has a daunting array of spider species estimated to be over 650 in number. It wasn’t something that she or a small staff or professional scientists were going to be able to do on their own. They needed help.

Read the rest of this entry »

Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers – Making Waves for Action [GUEST POST]

By September 22nd, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Comment

Monitor the quality and quantity of Wisconsin’s streams with Water Action Volunteers.

Interested in water monitoring projects? We’ve got you covered!

 

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

A Water Action Volunteer checking a local stream.

Human uses of the land impact the quality and quantity of waters in local streams, which in turn, can affect our recreational activities such as fishing, boating and swimming, and our drinking water quality. If we understand where, how and to what extent our streams are impacted, we can take steps to protect and improve them.

Citizen scientists in Wisconsin’s Water Action Volunteers (WAV) program assess the quality and quantity of water in their local streams. Their monitoring helps natural resource professionals understand the extent of non-point pollution in the state. Non-point pollution comes from sources across the landscape and is the primary source of pollution in Wisconsin’s (and our nation’s) waters. It includes sediment and nutrients, such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which enter streams from agricultural and urban lands. Volunteer monitors also help track streamflow over time, since urban and agricultural land uses can significantly increase or decrease flows. For example, in urban areas, increased impervious surfaces result in less infiltration of rainwater into the ground and change baseflows and stormwater runoff. Also, where there is groundwater pumping, streamflow can be drastically reduced, which can endanger fish and other aquatic life.

WAV, sponsored by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the University of Wisconsin-Extension, has three levels of participation: Introductory; Status and Trends; and Special Projects Monitoring. Anyone interested in learning more about his or her local stream is encouraged to participate. Although methods are targeted towards adults and middle and high school students, younger children can participate in many of the activities with assistance. Everyone must begin with introductory monitoring unless they have previous experience. Each spring, trainings are held in various locations in Wisconsin for new volunteers to learn monitoring methods. The time commitment is one hour per month from May through October for Introductory and Status and Trends monitoring, while the time commitment varies for adults who participate in Special Project Monitoring. Some Special Project volunteers monitor for just a few minutes per month to assess phosphorus. Others monitor year around, sometimes several times per month, to assess impacts of road salting on streams. Those interested in joining WAV can visit the program website to find contacts and a calendar of upcoming events.

Read the rest of this entry »