Archive for the ‘guest post’ tag

Back To School With Citizen Science: A Conversation with Ben Graves

By September 14th, 2016 at 4:52 pm | Comment

In the next two posts, as part of our SciStarter in the Classroom collection, guest contributor Ben Graves will share his personal experiences and advice for using citizen science in the classroom. Graves is a fellow with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which supports a small cohort of early-career teachers across the United States with intensive professional development. He teaches AP Environmental Science and freshman environmental science at Delta High School, a rural school in western Colorado. Before moving to Colorado, Ben was deeply involved in environmental education and citizen science initiatives with youth in the national parks, including leading volunteer trail crews across Alaska and teaching inquiry-based science workshops for students and teachers at NatureBridge, an organization that provides environmental science programming in the national parks.

I spend lot of my summer outdoors—in my garden, running and biking in the mountains, learning new approaches to teaching outdoor and experiential science. As the end of the summer nears, I think about how to get my science students outside. Science doesn’t need to be contained inside a classroom, and I have found that citizen science projects are a great way to get students outdoors and keep them engaged throughout the school year.
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Celebrating the Next Generation of Bird Watchers [Guest Post]

By January 9th, 2015 at 9:37 am | Comment 1

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.


Why do some tree leaves turn red?

By September 17th, 2013 at 11:43 am | Comments (6)

SciStarter has a whole round-up of tree-related projects for you this season. Branch out into citizen science!


Walking around my neighborhood the other day, I was casually observing the local flora when I was struck by the redness of one particular set of leaves. While the tree pictured is not the exact one I spied upon, look at how vibrant these colors are! I began to wonder why this tree turned red while the others around it stayed orange and yellow. To begin, we must learn about why autumn leaves deviate from their greener shades in the first place.

As you probably already know, the color that most plants have is derived from chlorophyll, the yellow-green pigment found in chloroplasts responsible for allowing photosynthesis to take place. If you’ve forgotten how this process works, Crash Course Biology has a great video for this. While there are multiple forms of chlorophyll, it is generally true that most reflect green light, causing for plants to appear the way they do. (This raises the even better question of why aren’t plants black, but that deserves its own post.)

So, what happens to the chlorophyll as we approach the cooler months? When the temperature drops, deciduous plants slow the production of chlorophyll in preparation for the dormant period they will undergo during the winter. The plants will then be able to conserve energy by halting all photosynthetic processes during the lack of available sunlight. As this happens, orange and yellow carotenoids present in the leaves are exposed. These are pigments that are normally produced in leaves that help to absorb additional energy from the sun that is passed along to the chlorophyll and also to prevent auto-oxidation (basically the wear down of cells due to free radicals) from occurring. In addition to all of this, the plant begins to produce a cell wall between the stem and the leaf called an abscission layer. This will eventually cause for the leaf to be completely separated from the plant, allowing for it to fall to the ground.

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Absorption spectrum of chlorophyll A & B

Okay. We’ve covered green, orange, and yellow, but what produced the scarlet beauty found above and why doesn’t it occur in all trees? The answer is anthocyanins. If you’ve ever eaten a blueberry, raspberry, pomegranate, or any other fruit that can stain your hands and clothes, you’re probably already familiar with these little molecules. These pigments are similar to the carotenoids mentioned above but serve a different purpose. In cases during the late summer when plants are beginning to slow their photosynthetic processes but there is still plenty of sunlight abound, the leaves can actually be harmed by receiving too much high-intensity light in the region of Photosystem II (photoinhibition). In order to prevent this damage, the plant begins to synthesize anthocyanins to permeate through the leaves’ surfaces. Because of its red color, the pigment absorbs a large amount of the high energy visible and ultraviolet photons striking the plant, basically acting as a “plant sunscreen.” (Check out how you can even build your own anthocyanin-based solar cell!) Additionally, anthocyanins are good indicators of plant stressors including freezing temperatures and low nutrient levels.

Next time you see a particularly red tree, make sure to think about its environment! Does it receive an abundance of light? Has it been particularly cold? Feel free to comment with links to your own pictures of vibrant trees and plants!

Just like leaves, citizen science also happens to grow on trees! Don’t believe us? Check out our tree projects round-up!


Why do leaves change color and turn red?

Carotenoid-to-chlorophyll energy transfer

Understanding Vegetation and Its Reflectance Properties

Winter Adaptations of Trees

Photo: Public Domain Pictures, Wikipedia

This was a guest post by Joe Diaz, a science educator and enthusiast. Follow @RealJoeDiaz. View the original post.

Publish your citizen science data, transparently, with F1000Research

By August 8th, 2013 at 10:15 am | Comment


citizen science scistarter f1000
It’s not always easy for citizen scientists to see what happens with the data they collect. Not all projects are published, and those that are may not be open access and often only include a summary of the findings.

I work at F1000Research, and one of the key points of this open access journal is that all papers include all original data. It makes it easier for others to reproduce the work, and it makes science more transparent. In the context of citizen science projects, it lets all participants see their data in the context of the overall study.

No fee for ecology papers until 2014
At the moment, F1000Research is waiving the article processing charge on ecology papers, as long as that’s the first paper you’ve ever submitted to the journal, and you submit it before the end of the year, using code ECOL17. This would be a perfect opportunity for citizen science projects in ecology to try out the journal.

Observation articles
We’re also launching a new type of paper, which might also be useful for citizen science projects. Observation articles are papers that describe serendipitous observations that researchers have not been able to study systematically, but that offer a starting point for further exploration. With many people taking part in data collection for citizen science projects, you’re bound to come across something interesting! A famous example from astronomy is Hanny’s Voorwerp, but we suspect that a lot of ecology projects also bring up some interesting observations.

Ecology-themed observation articles are also free until the end of the year. Normally, publishing an observation article in publication in F1000Research costs $500, compared to $1000 for a full-length article).

Rapid publication and transparent peer review

Besides including all data, F1000Resesarch also includes all referee names and referee reports, and anyone who has an account can leave a comment on the article itself, or in response to a referee report. Like the articles themselves, the referee reports are all open access.

Articles on F1000Research are published online before peer review, after a quick in-house editorial check. That means that we can publish papers within a matter of days. F1000Research publishes all valid science.

This is a guest post from Eva Amsen of F1000 Research.

For any questions about our peer review model or the journal in general, please see our FAQ page.

For more info about this opportunity, see this blog post.

To submit a free ecology paper before the end of the year, use code ECOL17.

For any other questions, find us on Twitter at @F1000Research

Photo: F1000 Resaerch

Citizen Science Academy: Bunny Slippers Optional

By February 18th, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Comment


Project Budburst Citizen ScienceWhen I first became involved in online professional development (PD) courses about 10 years ago, the casual approach to participation in terms of time and attire were often noted as desirable features. An often-touted advantage to online PD was that individuals could participate at 3 a.m. wearing pajamas and bunny slippers. Over the years, as the boon in online PD has expanded, I sometimes wonder if the sale of bunny slippers has kept pace with the expansion of online PD opportunities for educators.

Online education has gone mainstream, as evidenced by the large number of colleges and universities providing accredited online courses as part of their degree programs. Powerhouse universities like Stanford and Yale helped lead the way a few years back by offering their courses online and attracting hundreds of thousands of students. The widespread acceptance of top-notch universities provided an endorsement of sorts for the effectiveness of online education. The demand for online education continues to grow and this includes PD opportunities for educators.

Traditionally, PD for educators was synonymous with face-to-face classes, workshops, and seminars. Face-to-face PD, while valuable, is generally location- and time-limited which can exclude many educators who have other obligations or do not have flexible schedules outside of teaching due to family, extracurricular obligations, or other time constraints. Online PD courses that are self-paced are very appealing because individuals can chose when to participate based on their unique situation. One of the most appealing aspects of online PD is that it can be a great equalizer, providing PD for educators at all stages of their lives and careers.

As online PD has gained popularity, citizen science (CS) has also enjoyed a time of rapid growth. In recent years, CS programs and activities have proliferated, and many are Internet-based. Examples include Project BudBurst, Project Feederwatch , and The Great Sunflower Project It is widely known that effective PD results in better implementation of programs and activities. In the case of CS, effective PD may also help with data quality.

CS programs that are entirely online — such as the NEON’ s Project BudBurst – may not have the opportunity to offer face-to-face PD or employ the old tried and true “Train the Trainer” model. We decided to test online PD using Project BudBurst and created our first course Introduction to Plants and Climate Change for Educators. In January, 2012, we informally put out the word that we had a pilot online PD course for educators hoping to register about 15 people. Within a week, we had over 200 registrants and had to close registration as we could not meet demand. That is when it became clear that online PD was needed and that NEON could fill this important niche through the development of an online academy devoted to citizen science professional development – the NEON Citizen Science Academy (CSA).

NEON’s Citizen Science Academy Mission Statement: Provide online professional development resources for educators to support effective implementation of Citizen Science projects and activities that focus on ecology and environmental sciences.

The NEON CSA is intended to be a complete online PD resource for educators and will include online courses, modules, tutorials, and a virtual community of practice. Initially, I had been concerned that sharing and communication, a hallmark of face-to-face PD, would be sacrificed for the convenience of online courses. I have been pleasantly surprised to observe the exchange of ideas and thoughts in our virtual classrooms via discussion forums. Perhaps wearing bunny slippers encourages these informal exchanges.

As CSA develops, we intend to partner with other online CS programs and partner to offer a full suite of online courses and resources that support all aspects of CS for educators. Further, through a partnership with the National Geographic FieldScope program, CSA will also include innovative, free online mapping, analysis and data visualization tools that facilitate data analysis.

In the case of Project BudBurst, we now offer several courses for a wide variety of educators. One of our educators used her online PD participation to write a successful grant to engage her students in making observations of trees in their schoolyard. Another educator shared her efforts to have students in her art class take photos of plants as the seasons change. Several informal educators have designed exhibits and displays that feature Project BudBurst.

We hope you will join the growing CSA community by signing up for one of our online courses ( Bunny slippers optional.

This is a guest post from Sandra Henderson, Director for Citizen Science at the National Ecological Observatory Network.