Citizen Science

Citizen science projects in the classroom combine useful observation or data collection with an opportunity for students to learn more about scientific principles, problems, and processes as well as helping them better understand our environment and how to protect it.

Citizen science projects involve students in data collection, presentation, and involvement on a local, state, national, and even global level. Data collection can be wildlife watching, water testing, soil testing, plant monitoring, and many others.

There are many projects out there – how do you choose? First, consider the age of the children in your class or program. Remember to match the age of the children to the skill level of the project. Follow the areas of interest of the children. Come up with several options and let them choose. Or ask them what they would like to contribute to and then find a project that matches.

For Pre-K to 2nd grade, focus on observation and questions.

What? Where? How? How can we find out? Process and not the data.

  • Establishing Core Routines – Science Notebook, Sit Spots (PDF)
  • Schoolyard Biodiversity – Introduce concept of biodiversity and ways to explore your school grounds or nearby area for diversity in habitats, plants and animals (PDF)
  • Field Investigations – Chapter 1 – for educators – Conceptual Framework
  • Project WILD activities – Learning to Look, Looking to See, Ants on a Twig, Busy Bees, Busy Blooms, Insect Inspection
  • Growing Up WILD activities – Ants on a Twig, Hiding in Plain Sight

For 3rd to 5th grade students, help them develop questions and record their data through outdoor observation.

  • Establishing Core Routines – Science Notebook, Sit Spots (PDF)
  • Schoolyard Biodiversity – Introduce concept of biodiversity and ways to explore your school grounds or nearby area for diversity in habitats, plants and animals (PDF)
  • Field Investigations – Chapter 1 – for educators – Conceptual Framework
  • Project WILD activities – Environmental Barometer, Learning to Look, Looking to See, Map That Habitat
  • Aquatic WILD activities – Blue Ribbon Niche, Marsh Munchers, MicroOdyssey, Riparian Retreat, Urban Waterway Checkup, Water Canaries

Older Students and Citizen Science

If you have students who are ready to participate in organized citizen science projects, here are few things to consider:

  • Is the project long or short term?
  • Is the project local or national?
  • Is there training required?
  • What data is collected & how?
  • How is the data collected presented to others?
  • Are student materials and instructional resources available/provided?
  • What types of tools and/or support are available?
  • Check out this video from ICEC’s 2021 Virtual Winter Learning Series – Learning through Citizen Science!

National Environmental Education Foundation

Other citizen science projects – National Options

Citizen Science Project Opportunities through the Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Community scientists across Iowa make enormous contributions to wildlife conservation each year as part of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Volunteer Wildlife Monitoring Program (VWMP). This program trains wildlife enthusiasts to observe and collect data on bald eagle, peregrine falcon, and osprey nests, frogs and toads and bats among other things.

  • Trained volunteers monitor around 250 bald eagle nest sites from around the state, collecting data on their assigned nest’s activity; how many young are produced, and how many of those young successfully fledge from the nest.
  • Volunteers also collect data on two species of raptor which have only been restored to Iowa in the recent past; osprey and peregrine falcons. These species are not as widespread as eagles but volunteers are still able to gather information on 35-45 nest sites.
  • Frog and Toad monitors survey routes with multiple wetland stops along them. This survey is unique because it is done at night and is completely auditory, done by listening and identifying calls of different frog and toad species. Upwards of 400 wetland sites are monitored every year.

While the actual data collection may not be an in-school activity, though families could certainly participate, the bald eagle data collected by Iowa DNR biologists and citizen scientists and frog and toad survey data are included in ICEC’s Iowa Authentic Data for middle (frog and toad) and high school students (bald eagle)!

Other Iowa Opportunities

These opportunities may work with your students / classes or they may inspire your students to create their own citizen science or field investigation project!

Looking for activities that include citizen science and field investigations?

Project WILD

  • Beautiful Basics – identify what animals need to survive and the importance of water (clean water) to all living things
  • Learning to Look, Looking to See – practicing observation skills which are important to have when participating in a scientific study
  • Time Lapse – Learn the changes that take place to an ecosystem over time. They learn how to observe and track the changes to aquatic habitats during the monitoring period.
  • Wild Words – students record their outdoor experiences, and experiences participating in IOWATER in a nature journal

Aquatic WILD

  • Dragonfly Pond – relates land use and zoning/planning to water quality
  • The Glass Menagerie – shows the effects of nutrient overload on aquatic habitats
  • Living Research: Aquatic Heroes & Heroines – research past and present people who have made contributions to the conservation and preservation of aquatic resources
  • Something’s Fishy Here – explore possible avenues of action after reading the provided story
  • To Dam or Not to Dam – students explore the different views and concerns of individuals related to the complex issue of dams on waterways
  • Water Canaries – shows how aquatic life is affected by water quality parameters
  • Watered Down History – students investigate the history of a local waterway or watershed
  • Watershed – students study their local watershed and learn the connection between land and water quality
  • What’s in the Water? – pollution sources and impacts
  • Where Does Water Run? – helps students understand rainfall amounts, runoff, and the effects on water quality

Cross-reference to these WILD Resources units:

Project WILDIowa’s Wildlife, Iowa’s Wildlife Habitats, Iowa Wildlife Management, and Human Impacts on Wildlife

Aquatic WILDIowa’s Aquatic Habitats, Iowa’s Aquatic Life, Iowa’s Aquatic Ecosystems, and Human Impacts