Archive for the ‘Middle School’ tag

Citizen Paleontologists Are Making History

By July 28th, 2011 at 12:54 pm | Comment 1

This year's Snowmastodon Project got citizen scientists and researchers working together to uncover a wealth of fossils near Aspen, CO.

This year’s Snowmastodon Project got citizen scientists and researchers working together to uncover a wealth of fossils near Aspen, CO.

During the last Ice Age, mammoths and mastodons roamed Florida. Today, fossil hunters like James Kennedy of Vero Beach, Florida find their bones.

“I’m not a scientist,” said James in a recent interview for National Public Radio. “I just go out and dig up bones good. I’m good at finding them.”

But I’d contend that James is a scientist – a citizen scientist.

Many people collect fossils. I like to think of these fossil hunters as “citizen paleontologists” and they can play important roles in scientific discovery.

For example, one of the bones James collected is more than just a fossil. It’s also prehistoric art. An image of a mammoth is engraved on the bone. Scientists estimate that the engraving was made at least 13,000 years ago. It’s an important clue to how humans lived at the time.

Several research projects are combining the skills and interests of citizen paleontologists with those of scientists in order to help us understand more about earth’s history and evolution.  Here are a few examples of projects that are getting citizens and researchers working together and leading to scientific discoveries.

The Snowmastodon Project:

This summer, high in the Rocky Mountains, not far from the town of Aspen, Colorado, local teachers and college students worked side-by-side dozens of scientists and museum staff to uncover a multitude of fossils of Ice Age animals like mastodons out of the rock. The project scientists got much needed help with the dig. The volunteers got real‐world experience with the science happening right in their own backyard.

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Beyond Gloom and Doom: Young Citizen Scientists Address Climate Change

By June 30th, 2011 at 1:43 pm | Comment

How are museums getting young people involved with citizen science? Guest blogger Katie Levedahl tells the story of how her museum, the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY, is helping kids become citizen scientists while they learn about climate change.

It is becoming more apparent that people of all ages want to learn more than just the facts about climate change—they want to know what they can DO to address this problem.

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

Students at Ithaca's Sciencenter built nestboxes and installed them around their school and homes. (Courtesy of Katie Levedahl)

The Sciencenter in Ithaca, New York, has been working on projects that go beyond learning the facts about climate change, empowering children to use science to shape a better future. Sure, we still encourage kids to save energy by turning the lights off and riding their bikes whenever possible, but a recent collaboration with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) has allowed us to start exploring citizen science as an avenue of climate change education.

Three years ago we embarked on a project to engage middle school students in CLO’s NestWatch program, which contributes to our understanding of how climate change affects nesting birds. Studies have already shown that some bird species are nesting earlier in the year, which impacts important timing considerations such as food availability. With funding from the National Science Foundation, great support from scientists at CLO, and a group of middle school volunteers, we began using citizen science to explore the link between climate change and nesting birds.

After building and installing our nestboxes around school grounds and in our backyards, we waited for the birds to arrive. Within days, the middle school volunteers were observing and recording bird behavior, including adhering to NestWatch data collection protocols such as discretely sneaking up on the nestboxes. We recorded our observations on the NestWatch data sheet and entered them online into the growing continent-wide database. We also completed activities and research that helped us understand our own local ecosystem and its vulnerability to climate change.

In general, citizen science, or “regular, normal, average people helping with science” as our middle school participants would say, involves people of all ages learning how to collect data, make observations, and contribute to research projects. There are many citizen science projects with implications for understanding climate change — from monitoring frogs through FrogWatch to observing the timing of plant behavior with Project Budburst.

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