This month’s theme is something that is near and dear to my heart – Community Science (also known as Citizen Science). I’ve participated in the Great Backyard Bird Count (among others) for years. The books I read that inspired this month’s activity suggestions are:
Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night
by Rob Laidlaw
This book is devoted just one type of animal – bats. It highlights many different young scientists and what they are doing to help these amazing creatures.
Citizen Scientists: Be A Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard
by Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz
This book covers a citizen/community science project for each season – Fall butterflying, Winter birding, Spring frogging, and Summer ladybugging.
The Outdoor Scientist: The Wonder of Observing the Natural World
by Temple Grandin
The Outdoor Scientist is part memoir, part field guide, and contains lots of different activities and mini-bios of inspiring scientists. Opportunities to take part in citizen science projects are sprinkled throughout. They include several projects I hadn’t heard of before.
12 Epic Animal Adventures
by Janet Slingerland
I wrote this book, which means I read it MANY times. Each chapter highlights a different location around the world where people can have an interesting animal experience. The 5th chapter shows visitors participating in a leatherback sea turtle nest count.
Find a Project and Join In!
Of course, the first thing I’m inspired to do after reading these books is to participate in a community science project. There are a multitude to choose from.
Most of the better-known community science projects are related to the natural world. But there are lots of other projects out there. Here are a few web sites where you can see or search for a variety of efforts you can participate in.
SciStarter (https://scistarter.org) lets you search for projects that are online or in person near you. You can also search by topic, age range, or goal. This site most likely has links to all the projects listed in the books.
NASA has a page dedicated to citizen science projects. Some of these are literally out of this world (sorry, couldn’t resist). Here’s the link: https://science.nasa.gov/citizenscience
National Geographic has a page where you can look through a list of projects geared for grades 3-12+. The web site is: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/citizen-science-projects.
Keep an eye open for new opportunities. I recently saw a notice put out by NJ Fish & Wildlife about a turkey brood survey. Each year, they ask for help estimating the number of turkey families throughout NJ. (The link to the survey is on the NJ Fish & Wildlife home page: https://www.nj.gov/dep/fgw – look for the orange “Wild Turkey Alert”.)
I also saw a notice about a firefly survey. We see fireflies in our backyard, so I was really interested to see what that was all about. It’s run by Mass Audubon, but anyone in North America can participate. https://www.massaudubon.org/get-involved/community-science/firefly-watch
Report on a Project
Each of the books presents community science projects in different ways. After participating in a project, report on it.
You could choose to imitate one of these methods or explore different ways of communicating what you did and what you learned. You could practice interview and journalism techniques by reporting on a community scientist’s experiences. You could present your project participating as a photo-essay. You could put together a podcast episode or video segment.
The opportunities for this are endless.
Citizen vs. Community
You might notice that some people refer to community-supported science efforts as citizen science while others call it community science. A few organizations have explained why they’re making the switch, like here: https://debspark.audubon.org/news/why-were-changing-citizen-science-community-science and here: https://www.re-sources.org/2020/10/community-science-citizen-science.
This is a great opportunity to talk about citizenship, community, and the power of words. I recently had a very interesting conversation with my son on these topics. What I find especially interesting is that we each have different ideas about what it means to be a citizen.
Some things to ponder:
What do you think of when you hear citizenship? Community? What are your feelings around these words?
Look the words up in the dictionary. Do they mean what you think they mean?
Does citizen science imply something different than community science?
As citizens of Earth, do we (or should we) have some responsibility to engage in community science?
Janet Slingerland is the author of over 20 books for young readers, including 12 Epic Animal Adventures. For more activities related to this book, check out this page on Janet’s web site: http://janetsbooks.com/my-books/animals.