Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Citizen science in the classroom

Citizen science is science that involves amateur or non-professional scientists. It can take various forms, e.g. it may involve online tagging of photos taken by field scientists,  drones or camera traps, for example Zooniverse's PenguinWatch: http://www.penguinwatch.org. Other citizen science may be game-based, for example the protein-folding game Foldit (http://fold.it/portal/), which led gamers to solve the structure of a retrovirus enzyme in a matter of weeks - professional scientists had been trying to solve the puzzle of its structure for over a decade! (http://bit.ly/1tqDCLL).

I'm interested in using citizen science in the classroom. Roth and Lee (http://bit.ly/1O1q1Ig) have long advocated incorporating citizen science into the school curriculum as a way to increase science literacy, leverage lifelong learning, and foster participation in community issues. I recently had some of my Grade 10 students participate in Project Noah (http://www.projectnoah.org/), an online tool for documenting biodiversity around the world. It is specifically aimed at citizen scientists, with an active community of enthusiasts and experts ready to offer suggestions and advice for identifying species.

I had the students go out into the school grounds to take photos of the different organisms they found, then they returned to the classroom and uploaded their spottings to the Project Noah website. 

Student feedback was positive following the activity, with one student remarking that it was their favourite biology activity all year. If I were to plan it differently next year, I think I would introduce the project earlier in the school year, and encourage students to download the Project Noah app to their phones. They would then be able to hopefully spot a larger variety of organisms than we might expect to see around our campus in the centre of Bangkok!