Celebrating the Next Generation of Bird Watchers [Guest Post]

By Editorial Team 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 Arvind Suresh (Editor) 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!

12 Days of Christmas: Citizen Science Edition!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) December 21st, 2014 at 10:51 am | Comment

santa
Photo: John Ohab
12 Days of Christmas
We’re back with our annual list of 12 merry projects!
Cheers to you for all you do for science!
2015 is already shaping up to be the Year of the Citizen Scientist. Hold onto your (santa) hats!

1 -chestnut count
Credit:  DOI
1st Day of Christmas, the American Chestnut Foundation gave to me:
A partridge in a chestnut tree. Leaf and twig sampling helps identify and map chestnut trees throughout the eastern United States. Get started!

2-audubon2nd day of Christmas, Audubon gave to me:
Two turtle doves spotted during the Christmas Bird Count, the world’s longest running citizen science project, which takes place now through January 5. Get started!

3-crab3rd day of Christmas, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center gave to me:
Three Chinese mitten hens (female crabs) on the east coast. Mitten Crab Watch needs our help to determine the current distribution status of the mitten crab. Get started!

4-canid howls
Mark Dumont (CC BY 2.0)
4th day of Christmas, University of TN gave to me: 
Four or more calling dogs, wolves and other canids! Listen and analyze the canid howls and investigate the role of these sounds. Get started!

5-precipitation
Credit:  DHS
5th day of Christmas, Precipitation ID Near the Ground gave to me: 
Five gold PINGs! This winter, you can track snow, rain, and hail near you for the National Severe Storms Laboratory. Get started!

6-seabird6th day of Christmas, Seattle Audubon Society gave to me: 
A chance to help seabird researchers create a snapshot of geese density on more than three square miles of near-shore saltwater habitat. Get started!

7-myswan7th day of Christmas, the University of Melbourne gave to me:
The MySwan project to report sightings of tagged black swans around the world. After you submit your sighting, you’ll get an instant report about the swan, with information about its history and recent movements. Get started!

8-galaxy8th day of Christmas, Zooniverse gave to me: 
The Milky Way Project, a chance to help scientists study our galaxy, as well as the Milky Way advent calendar and even Milky Way tree ornaments! Get started!

9-mercurri9th day of Christmas, Science Cheerleaders gave to me: 

10-frog
Credit:  USGS
10th day of Christmas, the North American Amphibian Monitoring Program gave to me:
10 frogs-a-leaping as citizen scientists monitor their populations across the continent. Get started!

11-singscience
Credit: NIH
11th day of Christmas, the University of Washington gave to me:
SingAboutScience, a searchable database where you can find content-rich songs on specific scientific and mathematical topics. These singers sure have pipes! Get started!

12-grouse12th day of Christmas, NY Department of Environmental Conservation gave to me:
The Ruffed Grouse Drumming Survey to help hunters survey populations of ruffed grouse in breeding season. Get started!

Categories: Citizen Science

Citizen Science, Happening Now at a Museum or Science Center Near You!

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) December 13th, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Comment

Participants deliberating about NASA’s Asteroid Initiative at the Museum of Science on November 15, 2014. Photo by David Rabkin, Museum of Science.
Science Centers are turning to citizen science to engage onsite and virtual visitors to help advance research!

 

Our editors have featured five such projects you can take part in below.

 

A related series of guests blog posts, written by the folks running theses citizen science projects at science centers, will be featured on the SciStarter blog network: SciStarter, Public Library of Science and Discover Magazine.

 

In the first post, David Sittenfeld, from the Museum of Science, Boston, describes the range and depth of programs offered to citizen scientists ay science centers.

 

Read the rest of this entry »

Categories: Citizen Science

Project MERCCURI featured on NASA’s weekly update

By Darlene Cavalier December 13th, 2014 at 8:54 am | Comment

What do Buzz Aldrin’s shoe, the Liberty Bell & sports arenas all have in common? Watch Space to Ground, your weekly update on what’s happening aboard the International Space Station.

SciStarter’s Project MERCCURI, a research project to compare microbes on Earth and in space (presented by the Eisen Lab and UC Davis, SciStarter and Science Cheerleader, with support from the Sloan Foundation, Space Florida and NanoRacks), was featured on NASA’s “Space to Ground,” a weekly update on what’s happening aboard the International Space Station. Click here to read more about the status of this project!