Citizen Science Is a Win-Win
Are you interested in science? Do you want to give back? Then citizen science may be just the thing for you.
Citizen science is a method by which everyday citizens collaborate, often with researchers, to collect specific data, which is used for research and decision making. Citizen science projects are a win-win for everyone involved. They allow researchers to collect much more data and over a wider area than they traditionally could, and citizen collaborators learn about a topic they’re interested in while giving back.
Citizen science is a great way to get kids involved in hands-on learning and critical thinking. It allows children to contribute to the greater good and lets them see how they and their environment fit into their greater surroundings. These projects usually fit well into school curriculum.
You don’t need fancy tools to participate in a project. You just need a computer. In some cases, a camera or smartphone comes in handy, especially when seeking help in identifying an insect or plant.
Citizen science is a field that has seen a lot of growth in the past few years as technology becomes more wide-spread and researchers become more creative as budgets are cut. Nearly all projects involve citizens monitoring, measuring, or collecting on a local level and reporting to a collective web site. Some projects also include apps, interactive maps, blogs, and educational materials. Below is a sampling of some of the many citizen science projects going on now.
Monarch Larva Monitoring Project: The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project collects long-term data on changes in monarch butterfly populations and habitat (milkweed) distribution. The ultimate goal is to conserve monarch populations and advance the understanding of butterfly ecology. Visit mlmp.org to learn more.
Migratory Dragonfly Partnership: Schools or homes near wetlands or ponds are suitable for dragonfly monitoring. The Migratory Dragonfly Partnership is hoping to understand dragonfly migrations in the US, Canada, and Mexico and conserve dragonfly populations. So you don’t know how to distinguish between different dragonfly species? No problem. There are identification guides, and you can also send photos to experts. The Xerces Society, an organization that supports insect conservation, coordinates this program. Visit migratorydragonflypartnership.org for more information.
School of Ants: School of Ants (schoolofants.org) is a project that maps the diversity and distribution of ants, one of the most under-appreciated insects, in the US. Although most everyone can recognize an ant from other insects, little is known about ants and how they live in urban environments. Moreover, several of the ant species that live in the US are invasive species, some of which have detrimental effects on our ecosystems. School of Ants is run by researchers at North Carolina State University and University of Florida.
For the weather nerds out there, there are many projects to choose from.
CoCoRaHS: The most popular one is CoCoRaHS (cocorahs.org), composed of backyard weather observers who measure and report precipitation in their backyards and local communities. They use an interactive web site to gather data that assists in education and research. This group also provides teaching materials about the water cycle and climate and assists teachers in setting up rain gauges to collect data.
Journey North: Journey North has a couple of different projects that monitor changes in seasons and climate worldwide. Their Tulip Test Gardens (learner.org/jnorth/tulip) program tracks the arrival of spring by observing tulips. The schedule of this program corresponds well with the school year, and so is a popular project among classes. Journey North also has a monarch butterfly program that racks migrating butterflies (learner.org/jnorth/monarch).
Scientific American has a relatively comprehensive list of citizen science projects, which can be found at scientificamerican.com/citizen-science.