Archive for the ‘Science Education’ Category
This is the first installment for a brand new series about citizen science in schools and classrooms.
Teachers often hear the term citizen science, but it’s never really clear what it is and how it might integrate into their classrooms. Citizen science is methodical scientific research conducted in part (or sometimes entirely) by non-professional scientists. These types of projects are called crowd sourcing because they source data from large groups of private citizens, amateur scientists, students, and those interesting to contributing to the larger picture of scientific inquiry. Schools and classrooms are an excellent source of data collection potential because of the large number of students that are present for extended periods of time from months to years.
Currently teachers are facing the new wave of Next Generation and Common Core Teaching Standards and the need to integrate their science curriculum with hands-on research, biology, and technology. Citizen science is a way to engage students with all of these subjects (inside or outside of the classroom) while providing a meaningful data set or outcome to scientists. The main question then arises; how do you, as a teacher, navigate all the options out there and integrate them into your classroom? In this series we’ll highlight some common questions about citizen science and then focus on different projects and how they meet Next Generation and Common Core standards so that you can decide what types of citizen science would be right for you and your school.
What Grades and Ages Can Participate in Citizen Science?
Almost any grade or age level can participate in citizen science. The main limitation I’ve seen has been access to computers, iPhones/apps, experience with technology, or being able to justify a project to the administration as to how it meets teaching standards. In this series we’ll discuss choosing age appropriate projects for different classes and the project’s ease of use. I’ve had five year olds show me how to find a hidden geocache using an iPhone and a 12 year old show me how to upload to Project Noah, so it can be done!
What is the Cost?
Most citizen science projects are free so the cost is not prohibitive. There are organizations that offer low cost classroom kits, posters, and teaching supplies to supplement their projects and provide teacher support. The other concern with cost is whether or not a particular project requires special tools. We’ll explore technology shortly, but I’m talking things like tweezers, bug collectors, binoculars, or genetic sequencing devices. Yes, there are some associated tools for each project and part of choosing the right one for you will be what you have at hand, ease of use for students, and availability of equipment.
What Technology is Required?
All citizen science programs have some form of online contribution system and/or an iPhone or Android app that can be downloaded. At a minimum the technology you’ll need will be either a laptop or a computer to upload data using either a Windows Operating System or Mac OS. Windows is most common and most operate on Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari.
What is the Time Commitment?
The time commitment is really up to the teacher. The nice thing about citizen science is that most activities can be done once or many times depending on the teacher’s time constraints and needs. Some projects lend themselves to one survey or event such as ant collecting or weighing state quarters to test fairness. For some projects you can contribute data seasonally, such as Journey North which tracks the migration of birds, whales, and flower blooming. Other events, such as weather monitoring might require weekly or even daily tracking.
How Is Citizen Science Data Used?
Most citizen science projects allow you to upload your data to a larger database that is made available to contributors. For instance, you can upload all sorts of data and information from Cornell Ornithology Lab’s e-bird database, such as which birds to find in a particular location to population numbers. The data your school contributes to the researchers helps provide information to build a more complete picture of a creature, pattern, event. You can use this data to help students with math skills, word processing, and computer skills.
Can I find Supporting Materials to Teach With?
Most of the citizen science websites have at least some background information and an “about” page to support those that want to participate in the project. Other websites are more comprehensive and offer curriculum, worksheets, and other supplementary materials. We’ll cover these websites in more details in this series.
SciStarter has also curated some projects with teaching materials for teachers on its Educators Page.
What About the Security of Students Online?
There are many ways to keep students safe. You as the teacher can be the focal point for entering all data or you can have the students enter data under your close supervision. Some projects also allow you to create student user accounts with anonymous numbers or names that you assign the students. I like Project Noah’s ability to create specific class centered challenges that only students, parents, and the teacher have access to. This type of project is super secure.
There are many ways to integrate citizen science into the classroom, and we’ve only touched on the tip of the iceberg. Please come back and check out the next installment of this series when we explore specific programs, their alignment with Next Gen. and Common Core standards and we’ll answer some of the questions just posted as they apply to particular projects and grades.
When not writing her blog The Infinite Spider, Karen McDonald is a guest blogger, curriculum developer, science content editor, and outdoor educator with over thirteen years in informal science education. She has an MS in Biology and a BS in Environmental Science and Philosophy. Currently she works for Smithsonian and contracts for Discovery Channel.
Citizen science has its own song! Monty Harper, the musician behind “Citizen Scientist,” needs help from you to compile a slideshow for the piece. If you have photos of you or others participating in citizen science, you can submit them to be included in a slideshow music video for his song! The deadline is November 12, 2013.
Listen to “Citizen Scientist” and learn more about how you can contribute to this citizen science project for a song about citizen science!
About the Project
Each participant will receive a complimentary copy of the “Citizen Scientist” song. Five participants will also receive a copy of Monty Harper’s Songs From the Science Frontier CD. More details here.
About the Song
“Citizen Scientist” was written by Monty Harper for his Born to Do Science café, a program that features scientists explaining their research to kids in 3rd – 8th grade. The song was inspired by Dr. Janette Steets at Oklahoma State University and her research on mixed gardens (ornamental flowers with vegetables) and pollinators. Listen to it here!
Monty Harper performing “Citizen Scientist” on Youtube:
I’ve never been that great at guessing people’s ages. But I didn’t think much about my lack of ability until I met my husband, who seems to be pretty good at it. That’s why I was intrigued to learn about AgeGuess, a citizen science project and online game that challenges players to accurately guess other players’ ages based on their photos.
The researchers behind the game hope the data it collects will shed light on the differences between perceived age (how old we look) and chronological age (our real age). Previous research has suggested that perceived age could be a biomarker—or predictor—of life expectancy.
A Different Kind of Dataset
The game got its start when Dr. Dusan Misevic attended a presentation given by his colleague, Dr. Ulrich Steiner, about the idea of using citizen science to gather data on human aging. The two shared a background in evolutionary systems biology. “I became interested in the project,” says Misevic, “and we spent much time in the following months discussing the idea and looking for a way to implement it. It still took more than a year to then build things up to the creation of a first version of ageguess.org.”
Volunteer participation is critical to the project’s success. “The users are not only providing the guesses,” says Dr. Misevic, “but they also provide the pictures that are guessed upon. Because of that, the volunteers built up both the input side of the project (photos) and the result side (guesses on the photo). This initiates a circle of growth for both sides and a diversity of pictures that we would not be able to gather in a classical scientific study.”
The researchers plan to use game data to address a variety of questions about perceived age and aging rate:
- Are people who look older than their real age more likely to die early?
- Do all people age at the same rate, or do some age more rapidly than others?
- Can a person’s rate of aging speed up or slow down due to stress or health problems?
- Are there trends in aging rate associated with gender or ethnicity?
- Do people tend to look about as old as their parents did at the same age?
- Are some groups of people—say, 20-year-old women—better age guessers than others?
“Life expectancy is increasing at a constant rate of about 6 hours per day for the last 150 years,” Dr. Steiner notes. “However, it is important to stress that the goal of AgeGuess is not to ‘cure aging’ and that the project is much closer to basic than applied science. It is most likely to first help scientists who are studying aging by providing them with a new aging dataset and potentially new age biomarkers.“
The project is young and welcomes citizen scientists from around the world. So why not help the pro scientists out? As Steiner says, “Scientists are people too, right?”
Norene Griffin is a freelance writer and science enthusiast who regularly blogs about K-12 education, reading, and the neuroscience of learning. She is a passionate self-learner who often starts her investigations in the middle of the story, with the details, and comes back later to the generalizations of beginnings. She earned a bachelor’s degree in humanities from the University of California, San Diego and later studied photography and 3D art at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her musician husband and son and a cat named Mr. Peepers.
It’s likely you never expected to aid cutting edge cancer research by playing computer games, but the makers of NanoDoc are asking citizen scientists to do just that. By designing nanoparticles – tiny clusters that are made up of only tens to thousands of atoms – and running simulations of how they interact in the body, players can help expert bioengineers overcome challenges in cancer treatment.
Nanoparticles are promising options for cancer treatment because they can be altered in many ways to target cancer tumors without harming healthy tissue. For example, nanoparticles can be designed to interact only with cancer cells or engineered to deliver medicine to affected areas of the body. The problem bioengineers face is that there are too many combinations of nanoparticle alterations to physically test how each one will behave in the body. To address this, Prof. Bhatia’s lab at MIT developed NanoDoc as a way to crowdsource simulated solutions.
The lead developer of NanoDoc, Dr. Sabine Hauert, states that the program “lets the crowd do the legwork” of testing the different nanoparticle solutions through a fun and educational simulation game. Participants start by playing through various training scenarios, working on challenges that have been previously solved by experts. At each level, the players learn a new skill, which allows them to alter the simulated nanoparticles in new ways. Hauert describes, “Its really a cool stepwise process. You get little diplomas at every step.”
Following the training, players are ready to address NanoDoc challenges, which are unsolved problems proposed by bioengineers. Hauert notes that the advantage of the going through the training first is that it prepares players to “go ahead and start working on the problem right away without an engineer,” enabling individual participants to make real contributions. The participants’ solutions are evaluated based on their scores in the game, and the highest scores are carefully evaluated for their potential to test with physical systems. More of these challenges will be available in the coming weeks with the release of the new version of NanoDoc, which will allow for any user to submit new challenges.
So start your NanoDoc training today and join in the challenge! Your high score could lead to tomorrow’s cure.
Emily Lewis is a PhD candidate in chemistry at Tufts University, where she analyzes industrially important catalysts on the nanoscale. She received her BS and MS degrees from Northeastern University, and her thesis work examined fuel cell catalysts under real operating conditions. She loves learning about energy and the environment, exploring science communication, and investigating the intersection of these topics with the policy world. When she’s not writing or in the lab, you’ll probably spot Emily at the summit of one of the White Mountains in NH. Follow her: @lewisbase, emilyannelewis.com.
Tired of watching the kids race home from school just to play video games for hours? One-up them and make a significant contribution to science while YOU play games. (Warning: The kids might like these, too!)
EyeWire is a citizen science project aimed at mapping the neural connections of the retina. All you have to do is play a relaxing and absorbing game of coloring online brain images! Get started!
Play this online game to explore how nanovehicles can cooperate with each other and their environment to kill tumors. Best strategies will be considered for validation in vitro or in robotico! Get started!
Players are challenged to compare chunks of genetic code from the common ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior, to search for genes that could encode resistance to the Chalara fungus. Players will also match genetic patterns from the Chalara fungus to learn more about how it spreads.
Classify photos of plant and insect species that scientists took live in the field by playing Happy Match or the adventure game Forgotten Island. Players will solve puzzles and explore diverse locations from icy peaks to fiery volcanoes. Get started!
AgeGuess investigates the differences between perceived age (how old you look to other people) and chronological age (how old you actually are) and their potential power as an aging biomarker.
Want to help send microbes to the International Space Station? Get involved in our research project, Project MERCCURI!