Archive for the ‘Planning and carrying out investigations’ Category

Enlisting youth citizen scientists to combat Zika

By September 1st, 2016 at 10:49 am | Comment

Going out of your way to attract mosquitoes seems like the last thing anyone would want to do, but that is exactly what the national Invasive Mosquito Project is hoping volunteers will do in the name of public health.

Managed through the United States Department of Agriculture, the Invasive Mosquito Project aims to track the spread of invasive container-breeding mosquitoes – those whose females lay eggs in the standing water that collects in containers such as vases, rain barrels, and even pool or boat covers. The introduction of many non-native species often coincides with the introduction of new pathogens, and mosquitoes are notorious for playing host to a number of these, including the viruses responsible for West Nile, dengue and most recently in the news, Zika.

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Citizen Science in the Classroom: Monitoring Dragonflies

By September 8th, 2014 at 12:30 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.

Citizen Science in the Classroom:  Using the Migratory Dragonfly Partnership Pond Watch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards


Dragonfly captured during citizen science survey (Photo: Karen McDonald)




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).


(Photo: Karen McDonald)

 Materials You’ll Need:

  • Computer with internet access.
  • Printer
  • 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.

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Just Add Water: World Water Monitoring Challenge 2013 Results

By July 25th, 2014 at 2:55 pm | Comment


My WWMC kit.

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.

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*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. 


Full World Water Monitoring Challenge 2013 report



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.

Citizen Science in The Classroom: Urban Birds

By May 12th, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Comments (5)

Using Celebrate Urban Birds (CUB) to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

CUB poto Judy Howle

The brown-headed cowbird is one of sixteen birds observed in the Celebrate Urban Birds project. (Photo: CUB website, by Judy Howle)





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.

urban birds project

Materials You’ll Need:

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.

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Citizen Science in the Classroom: School of Ants

By April 2nd, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Comment

Using School of Ants Citizen Science to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards in the Classroom

School of ants alex wild photos

Discovering Ants




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
  • Freezer
  • Book
  • Magnifying glasses (optional)
  • Dr. Elanor’s Book of Common Ants PDF (free online through iTunes, optional)

ant capture alex wild

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.

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