Citizen Science in our Schools?

“Citizen Science is a partnership between individuals and scientists for investigating pressing questions about the world. The purpose of this conference is bring together the Australian Citizen Science community to share skills and ideas and encourage collaboration.”

The first day of the Maximising the Capacity of Citizen Science for Science and Society conference is almost concluded and it is clear that this movement will continue to grow in importance and relevance. It seems obvious that science teachers have an emerging opportunity to connect their students with the wider scientific community but, perhaps more importantly, engage them with authentic and potentially very exciting learning as citizen scientists. This is the inaugural conference of the Australian Citizen Science Association and it would be wonderful if our students could present on the citizen science projects at the next conference.

Context

Professor Ian Chubb, Australia’s Chief Scientist, opened the conference and demonstrated how central citizen science is in a policy framework sense. He emphasised the need for the community to be connected to the scientific community and his paper, Building Australia Through Citizen Science, is an important document.  Professor Chubb’s message that the scientific community needs to connect with citizens is absolutely essential if our country is to improve scientific literacy and deal with our many environmental challenges.

This leads to an obvious question for an educator to ask:

What place does citizen science have in our schools?

Often allowing students to take on an identity or role is an effective way of genuinely engaging them in learning. For many students they have no idea what a scientist really does and cannot really imagine how to be a scientist. Citizen science has the potential to help students make the link. However, schools, students and science teachers need guidance and tools. It would be wonderful if the Australian Citizen Science Association and the growing community could place young people and schools on the agenda. This makes sense if we are to grow the community’s understanding of science and ability to understand and work on solutions.


flickr photo shared by Darcy Moore under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

Can anyone help our school with ideas for citizen science projects and tools who is at the conference or following the hashtag?

Our school is already encouraging citizen scientists, by engaging with Genographic Project, in the context of studying Big History, but are in need of ideas and support to grow this in the next few years. I like the definition Rick Bonney, of Cornell University, provided as a model to help our students understand what it is they can do:

“Members of the public engaging in authentic scientific investigations: asking questions, collecting or processing data, and/or interpreting results.” 

For those not at the conference you can follow the conference hashtag for day two of the conference tomorrow.

Featured image: flickr photo by Darcy Moore http://flickr.com/photos/darcymoore/19958256131 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

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6 Comments

  1. Katie McCloskey:

    I’ ve had year 9 students involved in 2 citizen science projects in past years. One was a CSIRO Marine Debris project which involved coastline fieldwork and the other was computer based – http://exploretheseafloor.net.au/the-science/. Both experiences for students and teachers were very positive. If there are more available, it would be good to get the word out I came across the first through a friend at CSIRO and the second via a FAcebook feed for either ASTA or Natuonal Science Week.

  2. Paul:

    Sadly, Darcy, there has already been a mechanism for such work for several decades but it has shrivelled in the new curricular push! Environmental Science (as I taught for almost 25 years in the UK) was an amazing course that demanded so much work with external agencies. I doubt this exists today and the NSW equivalent seems more niche.

    However, do not despair! There are numerous ways to involve students and the wider community. Just get out there and see what local problems can be addressed with student labour. I ran an archaeology course that took “commissions” from local people and we went out an explored sites, photographed buildings, explored for Roman remains etc. (ditto for Horticulture, local history and wildlife conservation).

    So, write to a few organisations e.g. Coastcare, Landcare etc. What are your local universities doing? I think that many teachers might overthink this but students are a massive source of labour and enthusiasm that can be harnessed and produce real results. Let me give you two examples. The Irish Forestry Service got primary-age students to walk around their areas and record the distribution of lichens by type. There are only three types and the differences are easy to spot. Net result – one of the most accurate maps of air pollution. Next case – UK land use survey. Take masses of students, citizens etc. Give them a base map, a colour code and a load of coloured pencils. Go walking, record what each field/block is used for. End result – a 1:25,000 map of England with detail still not equalled (and not all published, it was too expensive to print!).

    An added bonus worth noting – research shows that students in real physical contact with their environment are far more likely to react positively with it and support its conservation.

    • Andrew FitzSimons:

      Onya! This is exactly what needs to be done. A chair of our local landcare group for the past 20 years we have stumbled onto a number of such opportunities. Being open to researchers has energised the members as well

  3. At my school, especially given our location, we have a strong connection with Siding Springs Observatory and the wider Astronomy community. Just this week we had a Maths festival where a former student who works for the CSIRO now spoke to students, as well as Professor Fred Watson who was a long term resident in the area (both his sons went to the school) and is of course a noted astronomer and scientific communicator.

    We regularly hold events such as this and I imagine it is what you would describe as “citizen science”. Students are encouraged to engage with science and the wider community and we have this a lot especially with astronomy and also with wider natural sciences (especially relating to the national park and farm sciences). A number of private observatories in the area also augment this.

  4. Andrew FitzSimons:

    Marvellous. An opportunity to engage young people (all of us really) in real learning. Easy to connect this approach to an effort to strengthen democracy and enhance a participatory approach to good citizenship. Well done team.

  5. Darcy Moore:

    Thanks for your comments, folks!

    @Katie – this looks like a great initiative for us to check out.

    @Paul – I too believe “students in real physical contact with their environment” are likely to be engaged citizens doing positive things in their community.

    @Steve – that sounds fantastic and what a great supporter to have!

    @Andrew – Professor John Williams keynoted Day 2 and made a great point that we need for our political system to take a holistic approach – considering economics, environment and politics – when making decisions. Our democracy needs informed citizens who want evidence based decisions and citizen science is a great tool/platform for all of us to think about our community.

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