Archive for the ‘Citizen Science in the Classroom’ tag

Citizen Science in The Classroom: Monarch Migration

By September 8th, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Comment

Editor’s Note: This post has been republished and shared in celebration of SciStarter’s Back To School campaign where you will find 10 citizen science projects aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.


Using Journey North’s Monarch Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

Journey North 3

Journey North supports a variety of citizen science projects, including monarch migration. (Photo: Journey North)

Citizen Science and Monarch Migration as a Teaching Tool




Journey North (JN) is a citizen science project for the observation and tracking of seasonal weather changes and phenology or life cycle changes in animals and plants. This website is an amazing resource and interactive platform for teachers. There’s so much information that they provide that it’s almost jaw dropping. On their site you’ll find how your class can participate in tracking everything from seasonal changes in daylight to migrations of humming birds, whales, and even flower blooming. One of the most popular citizen science projects on their site is the monarch butterfly project. In this project students and teachers can learn about the life cycles of monarchs, their natural history, and migration. Students may look for monarchs in their local area and report observations of eggs, larvae, pupa, and adults. This project encompasses much more than just observations. The content provided on their site includes geography, historical and real-time data, ecological conservation, life cycles, reading comprehension and more.

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Journey North support real-time data and mapping of monarch sightings, which are useful geography tools for the classroom. (Photo: Journey North)

Materials You’ll Need:

  • A computer with internet access.
  • A printer that can print in color (preferably).
  • Optional: milkweed plants and flowers that may be conducive for monarch food, water, or shelter.

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • This project can be done either in or out of the classroom and in or out of urban areas.
  • It requires very little equipment or tools.
  • Usable data, graphs, maps, reading materials, and lesson plans, and identification tools are provided on the site.
  • You can meet almost every standard of Common Core and Next. Gen standards with this project and all the resources provided on the site.
  • Teachers can use the lessons provided even if they don’t participate in the project.
  • Students learn geography and science together.
  • Students obtain a “sense of place” by making local observations and contributing to a global observation effort that can be seen in “real-time” on the site’s maps.
  • Zero data can be useful, which teaches children about the importance of collecting all types of data.
  • Uploading data is safe and children remain anonymous, it’s put in as a class.
  • They have a free app that you can use in the field with a smart phone so you’re not tied to the classroom for uploading data. Students can put in their observations in real time.

Teaching Materials:

Supplied on Journey North’s Website you’ll find a while host of videos, reading materials, maps, slide shows, downloadable data, and more. There is also a teacher’s guide that can help you find introductory lessons and more information for your lessons. They also offer the ability to be monarch “ambassadors” and exchange cards with schools in South America through their “symbolic migration” butterfly card program.

Online Safety for Children

Teachers create one account for uploading data for their entire class so no specific student data is needed. They do ask that you put in your address and provide an e-mail. They also ask you what grade you teach and approximately how many students are in that grade.  After one initial registration you don’t need to do anything more except log in and begin recording observations. A log-in is not required to access all the free lesson support materials on the site.

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Journey North has a free mobile app for uploading your observations. (Photo: Journey North)

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8 Great Reasons Why You Should Use Citizen Science in Your Class

By March 24th, 2014 at 11:26 am | Comment


Collecting amphibian data (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Why Classrooms Should Integrate Citizen Science

After writing quite a few entries in the series “Citizen Science in the Classroom” I thought it would be helpful to explain a bit more about the benefits of citizen science science in the classroom, and to provide a useful resource to teachers and administrators that may help in justification and support of projects.  These may help in writing grants, applying to administration for support, or in convincing you, as a teacher, why participation in citizen science is so important.

Sense of Community and Place

Citizen science is a way to contribute to a community. One of the best ways to introduce citizen science to students is to incorporate a geography lesson. This may be using something like Google Earth, and showing students where they are, where the citizen science project managers are located, and zooming in to the ecosystem and communities participating. By giving students a sense of place and belonging in a community (global or local) they gain the desire to participate and to become a citizen of that community. This is what “citizen science” is all about. Stewardship is the natural upshot of participation in research projects. Students suddenly care about what they are observing, and the community for which they are observing, thus they develop the desire to care for the community.

Learn More: On the Scistarter home pagee you can search for specific places in your community where you can participate in citizen science. This may be in a classroom, at a computer, at night, at home, in a car, on a walk, in a park. You can choose where in your community your class can best participate.

Recognition of Self Importance

Citizen science allows students to feel a sense of self-importance; they are recognized as valuable contributors to a larger goal or scientific effort. With the advent of computers and technology scientists are no longer in a vacuum. They need the community as a whole to help them collect and analyze massive amounts of data. Even the smallest members of this community, school age students, can contribute. As a teacher you can help students develop this sense of self-importance by monitoring the real-time data on the websites where you upload your information and showing students how their data contributes to understanding trends and information. This type of inquiry based learning allows students to ask questions, collect data, and to answer their questions.  Students are given recognition as a part of the science community, which is often lacking in other fields.

Learn More: Many projects, like Project Noah or NASA’s “Be a Martian“, have recognition for achieving specific levels of participation. This might be a virtual merit badge or patch or some other online reward.

Project Noah Patchs

Project Noah provides virtual “patches” as reward for participation in their projects. (Photo: Project Noah)

Understanding that Research isn’t Just for Scientists

Citizen science in the classroom allows students to understand that they can engage in science without having advanced degrees, without special tools, and outside of a laboratory and white lab coat. By integrating citizen science into your lessons you can help students develop the confidence to try making observations, collecting data, and exploring the natural world. The skills of natural observation are being lost to hard sciences, specialization, and teaching to the test. Students are not encouraged to engage in research on a local level, at home, or in their communities. Citizen science reverses this. Science becomes attainable, and something that anyone can participate in, regardless of being in an urban or rural environment.

Learn More: On the Scistarter Project Finder page you can search for projects that meet your needs, such as urban or rural, low cost or free, indoors or outdoors, and more.

Reaching Different Types of Learners

There are many different learning styles in the classroom. Some students learn best by reading, some by listening, some by drawing, and some by talking with others. The benefit of citizen science is that many different learning styles can be incorporated into each project. Citizen science lends itself to kinesthetic learning (hands-on) by collecting data and measurements, reading and analysis of data or background research, co-operative group sharing, and opportunities for verbal instruction, graphs and drawing, sharing, and analysis. Because of the hands-on nature of citizen science it may also be a candidate for students with autism or special needs or those that learn best through kinesthetic activities.

Learn More: To learn more about student learning styles check out this great National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) article on learning styles and multiple intelligences in students by Barbra M. Manner.


Butterfly surveys and citizen science (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Development of Critical Thinking Skills

Critical thinking is one of the skills that is never directly stated in teaching standards but it is implied. It is the ability to make observations from experiences, to reflect on those experiences, apply reason and conceptualization and then to synthesize the information into a meaningful belief or action. Citizen science provides the platform for student experience in research, participation in a science community, and opportunities to apply reason and conceptualization to methods of data collection, data analysis, and synthesis of meaning as applied to data sets from the “whole” project. These critical thinking skills are valuable as a tool that can spill over into other fields and disciplines.

Learn More: If you would like to learn more about developing critical thinking in children then check out his PDF article from the Surry College Director of Early Childhood Education on “The Importance of Applying Critical Thinking to Children’s Learning.”

Use of Multiple Skill Sets

As mentioned earlier critical thinking is just one skill that students may learn to use and apply during citizen science projects. Depending on the project they may be asked to use a wide variety of other skills from physical observations in the natural world, mathematical modeling, and application of reasoning and judgment to observations. Students may be asked to research the topic, use computer skills for entering data, learn new measurement tools or apps, model, and to work in a group setting by sharing their data and findings. Citizen science asks students to engage on social, environmental, mathematical, and analytical levels. These skills are a part of the testing in the Common Core Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College Careers (PARCC). Real-life citizen science projects mimic the kinds of skills students will need, for the test, and once they graduate.

Learn More: Never heard of the PARCC testing? Visit their website to learn more. There are tests for 3rd through 12th grade.


Salamander and amphibian surveys (Photo: Karen McDonald)

Application of the Scientific Method

Although the “application of the scientific method” could technically fall under the “skill sets” mentioned above, it’s important enough to warrant its own short discussion. By participating in citizen science projects teachers can help students critically analyze the way that scientists collect data, develop their study projects, enter data, and make sense of what they find. This helps them understand how the scientific method is applied in the real world. Teachers may also encourage “spin-offs” of the citizen science projects by having students develop their own studies using the scientific method, and modeling their projects after the projects of other researchers.  In citizen science students learn critical thinking skills and the steps of the scientific method which can be applied to almost any field.

Meeting Next Generation and Common Core Teaching Standards

For teachers, the ability to meet the standards that they have to satisfy for state and regional teaching requirements is critical. Fortunately most, if not all, citizen science meets many of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core (CC) teaching standards as well as Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests. I’ve worked to help connect specific citizen science projects in SciStarter with these standards. You can find examples, with grade by grade break-downs, on the SciStarter “Citizen Science in the Classroom” page.

I know there are many ways that teachers and students benefit from citizen science and these standards are just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even go into how scientists and researchers benefit, and they do! How do you, and your classes, benefit from citizen science in the classroom?

Integrating Citizen Science Into Your Classroom or Organization

By December 2nd, 2013 at 12:27 pm | Comment 1

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.


Citizen Science Butterfly Survey. (Photo: Karen McDonald)

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.


Southern Leopard Frog from Reptile and Amphibian Survey. (Photo: Karen McDonald)

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.