Archive for the ‘Science Education’ Category
Pilot Joe Kittinger once said, “You can’t get any real fun things unless you volunteer.” At the time, he was referring to things like voluntarily jumping out of planes at extremely high (and low-oxygen level) altitudes to help NASA conduct research on zero-gravity environments. Maybe it was his unbridled enthusiasm for precarious work. Or maybe it was just the 1960s. Either way, Kittinger’s volunteerism was instrumental to NASA during its pre-Apollo days. Whether or not he knew it, Kittinger was a citizen scientist.
The Changing Face of Science
A citizen scientist is an individual who, more often than not, voluntarily contributes his or her time, effort, and/or resources to formal or informal scientific research without necessarily having a formal science background.
It used to be that a citizen scientist referred to a bird watcher or an amateur astronomer, but today, citizen scientists come from all walks of life. This includes current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders who are tuning non-traditional audiences into citizen science; online gamers who lend their skills to specially designed programs to analyze folding protein structures; and students who want a more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Retirees, community organizations, and even prison inmates are getting in on the action.
Formalizing the field
“Amateur science,” “crowdsourced science,” and “public participation in scientific research” are some common aliases for citizen science. Though the monikers suggest an element of novice, the fields that citizen science advances are diverse: ecology, astronomy, medicine, computer science, statistics, engineering and many more.
“There’s a need to get beyond unique terminology and jargon,” says Meg Domroese, coordinator of the Public Participation in Scientific Research conference. “We want to talk about how to formalize as a field so that people can share it, can enter it.”
The Public Participation in Scientific Research Conference was the first of its kind. Science researchers, project leaders, educators, technology specialists, evaluators, and more sat down together to engage in dialogue and exchange ideas. The cross-disciplinary event unveiled the publication of the first journal issue exclusively devoted to citizen science.
With today’s increasingly connected world, we can share collected data for research as instantaneously as we tell our Twitter followers what we had for lunch. Many citizen science projects enable mobile technology to connect with volunteers, collect data, and share results. The opportunities to participate in citizen science are no longer limited by access to tools. Mobile technology makes it possible to help the USGS measure and record earthquake tremors, join NASA’s effort in counting passing meteors, or even help monitor noise and light pollution in our communities. Citizen scientists can help solve the mystery of ZomBees (bees that have possibly been infected by the larvae of parasitic flies), help astronomers classify galaxies, and discover moon craters. Projects like SciSpy and iNaturalist provide a mobile app with which participants can share photos and observations of wildlife in their backyards, cities, and towns.
The idea behind these diverse projects is that anyone, anywhere can participate in meaningful scientific research. For some projects, volunteers literally don’t have to go farther than their own backyards to contribute!
It’s time to bridge more gaps by harnessing the power of people who are motivated by a desire to advance research, a connection with nature, and a goal to improve human health and communities. It’s not difficult to imagine how an informed public can, in turn inform policymakers. In fact, there are national and international groups pushing for this right now.
Citizen science also brings together a range of disciplines. From chemistry to biology to data science to astronomy to archiving sheet music, the spectrum of projects is diverse and manifold.
We may not all be as stoked as pilot Joe Kittinger was to jump out of a plane for the sake of science, but there are thousands of opportunities for us to nurture our curious, scientific minds with our feet firmly on terra firma.
To learn more about citizen science, check out the following sites, articles, and blogs.
Citizen science definition on Wikipedia
Searchable list of 500+ citizen science projects
Cornell Citizen Science Toolkit
Citizen Science | Scientific American
Citizen Scientists League
Lily Bui is a senior contributor at SciStarter.com, a website that connect regular people to real science they can do. Although she holds dual nonscience bachelors’ degrees, served in AmeriCorps, worked on Capitol Hill, and is a touring musician, she has long harbored a proclivity for the sciences. She now works in public radio. In her spare time, she thinks of cheesy science puns.
ARLINGTON, VA. (September 20, 2012) –SciStarter, LLC, a Delaware-based corporation that connects people to opportunities to collaborate with scientists on cutting-edge research projects and informal science activities, is teaming up the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
to present a dynamic citizen science project showcase appropriate for elementary, middle, high school, and college level participants.
Beginning in October, a select number of SciStarter projects will be featured on the NSTA website each day and shared with teachers through newsletters, blogs and social media. These curated citizen science opportunities–ranging from analyzing distant galaxies to monitoring frog, firefly or whale populations, to detecting home and body microbiomes—will allow teachers and students to connect with researchers and learn about, participate in, and contribute to science in fun and engaging way.
“With this partnership, NSTA equips teachers and their students to contribute to real science research,” says Gerry Wheeler, Interim Executive Director. “Our members are looking for authentic science to help study and explore the world, but it can be difficult for them to know where to begin. Now we’ll be offering projects vetted, sorted and aggregated by SciStarter to NSTA’s vast network of K-12 educators and science supervisors, as well as to the thousands of online visitors to the NSTA website.”
“The NSTA has tremendous credibility in the science education community and every week reaches over 400,000 educators. The projects available through SciStarter offer opportunities to engage students in real formal and informal research projects to learn by doing. In turn, their participation will be invaluable to researchers,” adds Darlene Cavalier, Founder of SciStarter.
Researchers and team leaders interested in featuring science projects on the NSTA website are encouraged to submit them the SciStarter.com Project Finder for consideration by the SciStarter editors.
Darlene Cavalier founded both SciStarter and ScienceCheerleader.com, an organization that works through NFL and NBA cheerleaders-turned-scientists and engineers to advance science literacy and to involve people from all walks of life in science and science-related policy.
SciStarter aims to enable people to contribute to science through informal recreational activities and formal research efforts. The web site creates a shared space where scientists can work with people interested in learning about or joining their research projects.
The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), founded in 1944 and headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all. NSTA’s current membership of 60,000 includes science teachers, science supervisors, administrators, scientists, business and industry representatives, and others involved in and committed to science education.
When you wake up in the morning and start your daily routine—take a shower, brush your teeth, cook breakfast—do you ever stop to wonder where all that water you’re using comes from? It’s availability (or lack thereof) is certainly not a common worry in the United States, where as of 2005 (the latest assessment of national water use conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey) about 86 percent of the population relies on public water supplies for household use. Turn a faucet handle, and water, the world’s most precious, life-giving resource, is simply there, ready to cool us or clean us or quench us of our thirst, wherever we need it, whenever we want it.
But for how much longer? Climate change, pollution and unprecedented global demand are already threatening the world’s water supply according to a United Nations World Water Development Report released earlier this year. (SciStarter partnered with Discover Magazine, the National Science Foundation and NBC Learn to explore the Future of Water as part of our Changing Planet series.)
In response to these challenges, two international nonprofit organizations, the Water Environment Federation (WEF) and the International Water Association (IWA), partnered up to launch a challenge of their own.
Today, September 18, is World Water Monitoring Day, a key component of the broader World Water Monitoring Challenge that runs from March 22 to December 31. Thousands of people from around the world will use low cost monitoring kits to test their local water bodies for the basic indicators of watershed health–temperature, acidity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen—and enter their results into a shared online database. It’s not too late to get involved. The program’s administrators hope that participants will not only learn which rivers, lakes, streams and reservoirs supply their communities but also become aware of the unique combination of environmental challenges each one faces.
“These are issues the next generation will have to cope with,” said Lorien Walsh of the Water Environment Federation. “The water we drink today is the same water people have been drinking for thousands of years. It is a finite resource, and we can’t use it if it’s not clean.”
In 2011, over 300,000 people from nearly 80 countries participated in the World Water Monitoring Challenge. Taking clean water for granted might be common in the United States, but it is a luxury people can ill afford in the developing world, where three million people, most of them women and children, die from water-borne illnesses like cholera every year.
“Kids in Kansas can see the data they collected and compare it to the data collected by kids in the Congo,” said Walsh. “There’s a stark difference.”
It happens every year, and you’re right: it’s just not fair. After nearly three months of uninterrupted fun, gone are the barbeques, ball games and pool parties that dominated the summer schedule just as Labor Day signals the sudden arrival of the shorter, colder, and more structured days of the school year. But before you cast yourself into the depths of the autumn blues, rest assured that we are working hard to make this year’s science lessons a little different and—especially if you like nature and the outdoors—a little more fun!
Below is our third annual “Back-to-School” list of projects recommended to get teachers and students thinking about how to incorporate citizen science in the classroom. Check out our previous installments (2011, 2010) for additional ideas.
Participate in Project BudBurst: The National Ecological Observatory Network invites student citizen scientists to submit their observations of the phenophases (leafing, flowering, fruit ripening) of local grasses, shrubs and trees. This data will be compiled and compared to historical figures to help scientists learn more about the responsiveness of specific plant species to climate change. Their teachers, meanwhile, might consider enrolling in the BudBurst Academy, an online course for K-12 educators providing all the necessary information for implementing Project Budburst and engaging in citizen science in your classroom.
Plan your own BioBlitz: Even (or perhaps especially) if you missed the 2012 BioBlitz co-hosted by the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society, consider planning your own in your own neighborhood or schoolyard. These biodiversity snapshots provide valuable data for analysis of local species and their habitats.
Count some bugs: Don’t let those math skills go to waste! SciStarter features several opportunities to count stuff, particularly insects and other creepy crawlies. Just pick your favorite: dragonflies, butterflies, bumble bees, spiders, ants, and worms.
Heads up: So bugs aren’t you’re thing. No problem. How about some astronomy? You can grow tomatoes to assess the feasibility of long-term space travel; search for the compound that stores solar power and thus solves the world’s energy crisis; craft a story about your favorite astronomical bodies; or help astronomers search for and identify new planets and stars!
Be a mapmaker: The U.S. Geological Survey is considering the restoration of The National Map Corps, its volunteer mapping initiative, launching a pilot program in the state of Colorado. Anyone with an Internet connection can update the national map, adding the important man-made structures throughout the community such as hospitals, fire stations, and schools. The USGS could expand the program into other areas in the future if its initial efforts are successful. Come on Colorado!
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hall and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) collects precipitation data from volunteers across the country for inclusion in an interactive map used by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (among others) to monitor local weather trends. SKYWARN is a national network of volunteer weather spotters trained by local National Weather Service Forecast Office to recognize and report the signs of severe storms; these first-hand accounts of the storm’s impact are as valuable to forecasters as hard data as they send out public statements, warnings, and advisories to concerned citizens. And for kids, the National Science Foundation funded Tracking Climate in Your Backyard, to engage youth in the collection of meaningful data.
Also, here are some important resources that help you stay safe by answering some important questions about how Hurricane Isaac is impacting your community. How fast is the nearest stream rising? How can I monitor the storm surge? How fast is the wind blowing? What’s the situation offshore? What does Hurricane Isaac look like? Show it to me from space!
Attention all backyard explorers and rosebush whackers: this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Your days of leading patient parents on perilous neighborhood expeditions are over. Put down that “machete.” Stop mushing the dog. Grab your merit badges. Adventure is calling!
This Friday, August 24, the National Park Service and the National Geographic Society will host their annual BioBlitz species count at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Hundreds of students and thousands of local citizens will join about 200 scientists, naturalists, and explorers from around the country to collect and analyze wildlife data, transforming the forest into a massive outdoor classroom alive with curiosity and discovery.
“I am always moved by the commitment of the National Parks Service to protecting our country’s ecological diversity and sharing it with the general public,” said Daniel Edelson, Vice President for Education at National Geographic. “The BioBlitzes are…explicit strategies for preparing young people to care for their world.”
National Geographic has been “inspiring people to care about the planet” through its magazine since 1888, but it is relatively new to the business of “preparing” them to do so. With the rapid proliferation of digital media, the society saw an opportunity to provide teachers and students with the resources to learn (curricula, films, games) and the tools to take action through a more robust educational initiative, thus engaging with their audience in ways never thought possible. Can’t make it to Colorado to catch bugs, spot birds, and count elk on Friday? You can take part in the action via their Google Hangout starting at 3 PM (EST), or even plan your own BioBlitz by following their instructions.
“It’s exciting to see that other people are embracing the concept and using the resources we developed to conduct their own biodiversity research in their own parks in their own communities,” said Sean O’Connor, a BioBlitz project manager.
This year’s BioBlitz, the sixth in a series of ten leading up to the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016, comes amidst the strain of another round of federal budget cuts and continued lack of funding for the program. As the National Park Service prepares to face the challenges ahead—political, economic, environmental, or otherwise—National Geographic aims to show its next generation of stewards why its 397 parks encompassing ver 84 million acres of land are worth preserving.
“We believe [the most important lesson] we can teach young people is how interconnected our world is,” said Edelson. “Even in our most pristine National Parks, you can’t escape the impact of human activities on the natural environment. A BioBlitz is a chance for young people to see those impacts and learn about the connections between their own actions and the health of ecosystems.”
If you see a landslide, a swirling mass of unmoored dirt and rock and debris tumbling downhill at speeds of several tens of meters per second, run away as fast as you can. If it doesn’t bring you down, grab your computer and report it to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Landslide Hazards Program through their recently launched Did You See It? website.
The USGS will use your information to build a crowd sourced, national landslide database, a valuable resource for both scientists and citizens. The data will not only help researchers identify the areas of the country where landslides are most prevalent and better understand the conditions that most often lead to their occurrence, but also serve as a way for people to learn about risks to their persons or property.
“In the United States, more people have a chance of experiencing a landslide than any other natural disaster,” said Peter Lyttle, coordinator of the Landslide Hazards Program and a 36-year veteran of the USGS. “It’s kind of a stealth hazard.”
Thousands of landslides occur every year, claiming upwards of 25 lives and resulting in billions of dollars in damages and lost productivity, but unlike, say, earthquakes, there are relatively few scientists (perhaps 50, according to Lyttle) tracking and studying them in the United States. Lyttle hopes that Did You See It?, an homage to the enormously successful Did You Feel It? earthquake survey, will provide researchers with the vast amount of data his small staff could never collect on their own.
“The science is still in its very early days,” said Lyttle. “We’re still using a very broad brush.”
Knowing the exact location and time of a landslide will help the USGS pinpoint the areas at risk when other hazards–heavy rainfall in the East, sweeping wildfires in the West–threaten to undermine the underground. The need for awareness grows with us, as our population swells and communities demand development into vulnerable hillside areas.
“We’re putting ourselves at risk by expanding into these areas,” said Lyttle. “It takes a lot of manpower to make predictions and give early warning. We’re not capable of doing that for the whole country, so we want people to educate themselves if they’re in danger and learn what they can do to protect their homes.”
Enter on the side of the building. Look carefully, or else you’ll miss the sign. Walk down the stairs and turn right. Never mind the lack of windows, dim lighting, and pungent smell of coffee grinds. You have now entered FreeGeek, an underground lair of a nonprofit that harnesses the power of local volunteers to recycle, rebuild, and re-sell used computers. Welcome.
I recently volunteered at the Chicago chapter of FreeGeek, a national movement that began in Portland, Oregon, as a simple idea. The organization aims to recycle computer technology and provide low-and no-cost computing to the economically disadvantaged as well as not-for-profit social change organizations.
Not only that – FreeGeek’s most unique asset is that they are entirely run by volunteers (even some staff members are volunteers)! Each week, they provide comprehensive training to educate anyone and everyone about computers: how to strip them down, build them, recycle them, etc. You can show up with zero knowledge of computers and end the day knowing exactly what PCI, RAM, and BIOS stand for (and walk away with a slew of other tech acronyms under your belt to boot!).
What may come as a comfort to those of you with no formal background in science is the fact that some of the most devoted volunteers of FreeGeek Chicago come from professional paths such as museum curation, social sciences, and business administration. These are individuals who just happen to be knowledgeable and passionate about educating the public about computer technology.
There’s something in FreeGeek for everyone interested in contributing to the citizen science movement. Volunteers run the show, so anyone can join in. FreeGeek provides all the necessary training. The end product benefits the economically disadvantaged. If you ask me, it’s a win-win-win situation.
Whether you are passionate about technology, curious about computers, need to log community service hours, or all of the above, FreeGeek’s lair doors are open to anyone and everyone. Check to see if there is a chapter near you!
SciStarter also has plenty of other computer- and technology-related projects you can browse!
While you may know her as the founder of our beloved SciStarter, Darlene Cavalier also spearheads a unique organization called Science Cheerleader, a sister site that promotes science literacy, citizen science, and science policy with the help of scientists and engineers who just happen to be current and former NFL and NBA cheerleaders!
Darlene was recently featured on StoryCollider, a podcast (which you should also subscribe to!) that promotes science through storytelling. Below, you can listen to Darlene’s personal account about the inspiration for Science Cheerleader and how it launched SciStarter as well as the growth of the citizen scientist community as a whole.
As citizen scientists, we’re all cheerleaders for science to some degree, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to stay on the sidelines.
This is a guest blog post from Jennifer Fee, K-12 Programs Manager, at Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Calling all educators: if you’ve participated in citizen science projects, we need your ideas for a book we are writing! Citizen science is different from the traditional ‘cookbook’ approach to science education, and we’d like to know how you and your students take part so that we can inspire other teachers to give citizen science a try!
Citizen science projects can bring science to life, motivating students with their relevance. As they make observations, collect data, and view their findings, students connect to the natural world and experience science as dynamic and engaging. Plus, participating in citizen science is a great “question generator,” inspiring curiosity and potentially leading to student investigations. Whether a project on birds, butterflies, bullfrogs, or beyond—based on one organism or whole ecological communities—we’d like to know how you teach science content and process skills through citizen science projects…
• Science topics such as habitats, life cycles, adaptation, migration, and interrelationships between living organisms and their physical environment
• Process skills such as turning questions into hypotheses, thinking about variables, interpreting and representing data, and sharing work with other students and professional scientists
Please share you lesson for consideration in our Birds, Butterflies, Bullfrogs, and Beyond book, which will be published in 2013 by NSTA Press! If your lesson is selected, you’ll become a published author and get a free copy of the book. Deadline to submit lessons is May 15, 2012. You can find out how to submit at this link.