Archive for the ‘Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)’ Category
The World Water Monitoring Challenge results are out!
Earlier this year, I found myself hanging over a concrete ledge by the Charles River. But not to worry – it was nothing dire. I was actually trying to collect a water sample for the World Water Monitoring Challenge.
Talk about diving headfirst into citizen science.
On September 18 of each year, the WWMC encourages people around the world to test the quality of the water near them, share their findings, and become inspired to protect one of the most important (if not the most important) resource on our planet. The entire program runs annually from March 22 (the United Nations World Water Day) until December 31.
The primary goal of the WWMC is to educate and engage citizens in the protection of the world’s water resources. Their philosophy is this: conducting simple monitoring tests teaches participants about common indicators of water health and encourages further participation in more formal citizen monitoring efforts.
It doesn’t just end with submitting your water sampling data. The WWMC make it a point to report the results back to participants each year in an annual report. The data for this year are now available online and open for all to see.
Citizen scientists across 6 continents and 51 countries participated. Taiwan alone reported 92,023 individual efforts. Within the U.S., Florida took the lead with 10,143 reported individual efforts. In all, 10,371 water test kits were distributed.
*The data in this graph represent the mean average results for regions listed in the map, spanning from 2009 to 2013. The results reported for WWMC do not constitute a completely thorough and accurate portrayal of the health of the world’s water. Accurate water quality monitoring requires the use of standard quality assurance protocols and is conducted by trained volunteer monitoring groups and professionals around the world.
WWMC participants sampled local lakes, streams, rivers, ponds, reservoirs, and other water bodies and ran simple tests for four key water quality indicators: dissolved oxygen, pH levels, temperature, and turbidity. (Learn more about why these things are important to measure when it comes to water quality monitoring.) Some groups even tested for the presence of macroinvertebrates such as dragonflies, mayflies, and scuds. Samples were taken in a range of settings – agricultural, commercial, residential, and industrial.
This project is ideal for anyone who lives near a water source, educators who want ideas to teach students about water chemistry, or citizen scientists hoping to get their feet wet with an increasingly important field of research.
Lily Bui is the Executive Editor of SciStarter and holds dual degrees in International Studies and Spanish from the University of California Irvine. She is also the STEM Story Project Associate for Public Radio Exchange (PRX) in Cambridge, MA. This fall, she’ll be a masters candidate in MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program. Previously, she helped produce the radio show Re:sound for the Third Coast International Audio Festival, out of WBEZ Chicago. In past lives, she has worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.; served in AmeriCorps in Montgomery County, Maryland; worked for a New York Times bestselling ghostwriter; and performed across the U.S. as a touring musician. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns. Follow @dangerbui.
Using Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) is a project through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It is a year round project specifically designed to engage classrooms with local urban birds and citizen science. Cornell offers a free classroom kit for you and your students when you sign up for the project. They cite that 88% of their partner organizations work with under-served audiences and 75% or more of the participants have little to no experience with birds. The project materials they offer are also bilingual. (Spanish) To participate you need a yard or open area that is about half the size of a basketball court. They are not strict on the size of this area or what is in it as long as you can look out and make observations. CUB focuses on sixteen specific urban birds, with observations lasting 10 minutes each. There is no minimum or maximum participation. These observations are supported with an easy-to-understand data sheet and a bird ID check-sheet with clear images. You can upload your information to the website and the site will show you a bar graph of your sightings. Cornell also offers mini-grants of $100-$750 to support community events and activities around urban birds (from arts and culture to science and nature) and your school.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet access and printer.
- The CUB kit is free, but it is not required. You can also download the data sheets and posters without the kit and participate (this may be particularly helpful because the kits can take up to 6 weeks to arrive).
- Data sheet (http://celebrateurbanbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Celebrate-Urban-Birds-Activated-5.pdf)
- Printed list of birds for the study (http://celebrateurbanbirds.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/CUBs-Focal-Species-Tally-Sheet-REV.pdf)
- Binoculars (optional)
- Bird field guide (optional)
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- This project can be done in any urban environment.
- The project is free and comes with free classroom materials supplied (including bilingual materials)
- You do not have to be an expert bird watcher to help your students participate in this project.
- Cornell provides training materials for you.
- You can track your data and use it for classroom analysis.
- Cornell strongly supports the “Zero Means a Lot”concept along with the idea that observations with zero birds are still valuable, which is an important lesson for students.
- Students become aware of the wildlife in urban environments and more conscious of the life native to their surroundings.
Citizen Science in the Classroom: Using the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Pond Watch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards
While most people are aware of the migration of monarchs and birds, most are unaware that there is also a large seasonal migration of dragonflies. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership (MDP) is an organization dedicated to developing a network of citizen scientists that monitor the spring and fall movements of dragonflies (five in particular). This includes monitoring migrations in Spring and Fall, Pond Watching, and collecting adults and shed casts (exuviae) for analysis of stable isotopes. The isotopes can help researchers identify how far dragonflies are migrating. The MDP projects span all of North America and can be conducted anywhere there is fresh water and dragonflies.
The migration study and Pond Watch are the two activities best suited for student participation. This is because the dragonfly collection requires euthanizing adult dragonflies, which may be a sensitive activity for children. For those working with elementary to middle school students I would strongly suggest participating primarily in the Pond Watch project. The Pond Watch project allows continual monitoring of a pond, or body of water, for the five key species of dragonflies that MDP has identified as migrants. The migration studies occur primarily in Spring and Fall, and for those not familiar with dragonfly migration (teachers or students) identification of “migration” behavior may be too difficult to distinguish from behavior that is “hunting” or “patrolling” without proper training. For this reason I’m going to focus on the Pond Watch project for all three projects are similar (Note: for the isotope project you will need to order a kit from the MDP website).
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet access.
- Binoculars (optional, but helpful)
- Clipboards and pencils
- Data sheets downloaded from the MDP website
- Access to pond or water with dragonflies (ponds, pools, landscaping, drainage areas, etc.)
- Digital Camera(s) (optional but encouraged)
- Meter Sticks (optional)
- Insect nets (optional)
- Dip nets and buckets (optional)
- A printed guide for identification of 5 species of dragonflies (supplied on MDP site)
- Field guide to dragonflies of your region (optional, but helpful)
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- Dragonflies are ubiquitous throughout North America and they are familiar to most school children.
- You don’t have to be a dragonfly expert to participate, your class only needs to learn five key species of dragonflies and some basics of their behavior (egg laying, hunting, etc.).
- This project requires very little materials.
- Students develop natural observational skills and use quantification to measure population abundance.
- The project can be done three seasons of the year.
Using School of Ants Citizen Science to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards in the Classroom
School of Ants (SOA) is one of many urban wildlife citizen science projects hosted through the Your Wildlife project. Your Wildlife and School of Ants focuses on biodiversity and citizen-scientist driven inquiry in urban areas around schools and homes. Dr. Andrea Lucky is the director of the SOA project out of the University of Florida’s Entomology Lab and the Nematology Lab at NC State. The idea behind the project is for citizen scientists to collect samples of ants from paved and green spaces around their homes and schools. They then send in the samples to the lab in Florida for identification. This data is used to generate a North American map of ant biodiversity and distribution.
SOA used to provide kits for ant collection but now they ask project participants to provide the supplies. As you can see from the list below these are limited to zip-lock bags, cookies, and index cards with some postal shipping. You can find step by step project instructions for the kits and collection in their free online PDF. Due to limited resources schools may participate by submitting one sample from each address or school location (no more than one). However you may submit multiple samples from different addresses (from the same person or class). Sampling takes exactly one hour. NOTE: as a caution be sure to have a minimal understanding of the biting and stinging ant varieties around your school. Do not collect ants that might cause harm to students.
Materials You’ll Need:
- Computer with internet and printer
- Instruction page for collecting ants
- 8 white 3”x5” index cards
- 2 Pecan Sandies Cookies (contains nuts, but must be used for standard protocol)
- 8 small zip-lock bags (1 qt.)
- 1 large zip-lock bag (1 gal.)
- 1 envelope for mailing ants by US post, and postage
- Magnifying glasses (optional)
- Dr. Elanor’s Book of Common Ants PDF (free online through iTunes, optional)
Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:
- Ants are ubiquitous and the project can be done anywhere in the US around schools or homes.
- Ants can be observed three seasons of the year in most locations.
- There are minimal supplies required to participate in this project.
- This project is a one-time activity, lasting one hour, so the time required is minimal.
- The project can be a springboard for lessons focusing on arthropods and invertebrates around the school.
Why Classrooms Should Integrate Citizen Science
After writing quite a few entries in the series “Citizen Science in the Classroom” I thought it would be helpful to explain a bit more about the benefits of citizen science science in the classroom, and to provide a useful resource to teachers and administrators that may help in justification and support of projects. These may help in writing grants, applying to administration for support, or in convincing you, as a teacher, why participation in citizen science is so important.
Sense of Community and Place
Citizen science is a way to contribute to a community. One of the best ways to introduce citizen science to students is to incorporate a geography lesson. This may be using something like Google Earth, and showing students where they are, where the citizen science project managers are located, and zooming in to the ecosystem and communities participating. By giving students a sense of place and belonging in a community (global or local) they gain the desire to participate and to become a citizen of that community. This is what “citizen science” is all about. Stewardship is the natural upshot of participation in research projects. Students suddenly care about what they are observing, and the community for which they are observing, thus they develop the desire to care for the community.
Learn More: On the Scistarter home page you can search for specific places in your community where you can participate in citizen science. This may be in a classroom, at a computer, at night, at home, in a car, on a walk, in a park. You can choose where in your community your class can best participate.
Recognition of Self Importance
Citizen science allows students to feel a sense of self-importance; they are recognized as valuable contributors to a larger goal or scientific effort. With the advent of computers and technology scientists are no longer in a vacuum. They need the community as a whole to help them collect and analyze massive amounts of data. Even the smallest members of this community, school age students, can contribute. As a teacher you can help students develop this sense of self-importance by monitoring the real-time data on the websites where you upload your information and showing students how their data contributes to understanding trends and information. This type of inquiry based learning allows students to ask questions, collect data, and to answer their questions. Students are given recognition as a part of the science community, which is often lacking in other fields.
Learn More: Many projects, like Project Noah or NASA’s “Be a Martian“, have recognition for achieving specific levels of participation. This might be a virtual merit badge or patch or some other online reward.
Understanding that Research isn’t Just for Scientists
Citizen science in the classroom allows students to understand that they can engage in science without having advanced degrees, without special tools, and outside of a laboratory and white lab coat. By integrating citizen science into your lessons you can help students develop the confidence to try making observations, collecting data, and exploring the natural world. The skills of natural observation are being lost to hard sciences, specialization, and teaching to the test. Students are not encouraged to engage in research on a local level, at home, or in their communities. Citizen science reverses this. Science becomes attainable, and something that anyone can participate in, regardless of being in an urban or rural environment.
Learn More: On the Scistarter Project Finder page you can search for projects that meet your needs, such as urban or rural, low cost or free, indoors or outdoors, and more.
Reaching Different Types of Learners
There are many different learning styles in the classroom. Some students learn best by reading, some by listening, some by drawing, and some by talking with others. The benefit of citizen science is that many different learning styles can be incorporated into each project. Citizen science lends itself to kinesthetic learning (hands-on) by collecting data and measurements, reading and analysis of data or background research, co-operative group sharing, and opportunities for verbal instruction, graphs and drawing, sharing, and analysis. Because of the hands-on nature of citizen science it may also be a candidate for students with autism or special needs or those that learn best through kinesthetic activities.
Learn More: To learn more about student learning styles check out this great National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) article on learning styles and multiple intelligences in students by Barbra M. Manner.
Development of Critical Thinking Skills
Critical thinking is one of the skills that is never directly stated in teaching standards but it is implied. It is the ability to make observations from experiences, to reflect on those experiences, apply reason and conceptualization and then to synthesize the information into a meaningful belief or action. Citizen science provides the platform for student experience in research, participation in a science community, and opportunities to apply reason and conceptualization to methods of data collection, data analysis, and synthesis of meaning as applied to data sets from the “whole” project. These critical thinking skills are valuable as a tool that can spill over into other fields and disciplines.
Learn More: If you would like to learn more about developing critical thinking in children then check out his PDF article from the Surry College Director of Early Childhood Education on “The Importance of Applying Critical Thinking to Children’s Learning.”
Use of Multiple Skill Sets
As mentioned earlier critical thinking is just one skill that students may learn to use and apply during citizen science projects. Depending on the project they may be asked to use a wide variety of other skills from physical observations in the natural world, mathematical modeling, and application of reasoning and judgment to observations. Students may be asked to research the topic, use computer skills for entering data, learn new measurement tools or apps, model, and to work in a group setting by sharing their data and findings. Citizen science asks students to engage on social, environmental, mathematical, and analytical levels. These skills are a part of the testing in the Common Core Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College Careers (PARCC). Real-life citizen science projects mimic the kinds of skills students will need, for the test, and once they graduate.
Learn More: Never heard of the PARCC testing? Visit their website to learn more. There are tests for 3rd through 12th grade.
Application of the Scientific Method
Although the “application of the scientific method” could technically fall under the “skill sets” mentioned above, it’s important enough to warrant its own short discussion. By participating in citizen science projects teachers can help students critically analyze the way that scientists collect data, develop their study projects, enter data, and make sense of what they find. This helps them understand how the scientific method is applied in the real world. Teachers may also encourage “spin-offs” of the citizen science projects by having students develop their own studies using the scientific method, and modeling their projects after the projects of other researchers. In citizen science students learn critical thinking skills and the steps of the scientific method which can be applied to almost any field.
Meeting Next Generation and Common Core Teaching Standards
For teachers, the ability to meet the standards that they have to satisfy for state and regional teaching requirements is critical. Fortunately most, if not all, citizen science meets many of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core (CC) teaching standards as well as Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. I’ve worked to help connect specific citizen science projects in SciStarter with these standards. You can find examples, with grade by grade break-downs, on the SciStarter “Citizen Science in the Classroom” page.
I know there are many ways that teachers and students benefit from citizen science and these standards are just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even go into how scientists and researchers benefit, and they do! How do you, and your classes, benefit from citizen science in the classroom?