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Using citizen science in the classroom
July 2, 2015
Learners taking photos for their citizen science projectLearners taking photos for their citizen science project

Citizen science is science that involves amateur or non-professional scientists. It may involve online tagging of photos taken by field scientists, drones or camera traps, for example Zooniverse’s PenguinWatch. Other citizen science may be game-based, for example the protein-folding game Foldit, 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!

I am very interested in using citizen science in the classroom. Science education researchers Wolff-Michael Roth and Stuart Lee (not that one!) 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. It also helps to break down the barriers between learning in the classroom and the real world. I have recently started introducing my Year 11 students to a website called  Project Noah. This is 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.

Last year I had my students go out into the school grounds to take photos of the different organisms they found. They then 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!

Based on my reflections following last year’s activity, this year I developed the project further. Instead of going out into the school grounds, I asked learners to work in small groups and to take photos of any wildlife from anywhere around Bangkok. The following week I explained the Project Noah guidelines and had them upload their wildlife photos. Then we took the work a step further – my school uses Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and we have access to Google Sites, a web site development platform. So the next step was for the students to create their own website in order to display their photos of the biodiversity to be found in and around Bangkok. This gives learners opportunities to be creative, and to produce a genuine product that will have an external audience: once complete, the website will be viewable by everyone in my school’s GAFE domain. Each group has created their own subpage within the website, and given their page a name, although I’m still unsure as to why one of the pages has been called JeffreyBio!

The work is ongoing at the moment, but the website my learners are developing is starting to take shape nicely.

Do the project first!
September 30, 2011

In June of this year I was lucky enough to attend the Cramlington Learning Festival, something I’ve already mentioned here.

One of the sessions I attended was led by the inspiring Darren Mead, who shared his Project Based Learning mantra with us: “Do the project first”. In other words, if you’re going to set a project for students to complete then we as teachers should be trying it first and showing this to the students at the outset. Darren showed us one he’d done. Whilst it was impressive that he’d gone and spent all that time making his project, one of the things that really surprised me at the time was that it wasn’t perfect – at one point his young son was doing the camera work! On reflection, I think this is fantastic. It would be potentially devasting to show the students unobtainable perfection and then ask them to try to do their own projects…

As we’re redesigning our S2 courses currently, we’ve been trying to diversify the opportunities for learning and assessment – and using these to help engage the students in the topic. For example, in our new Genetics & Reproduction topic we’re planning to ask our students to produce a documentary aimed at couples who are planning to try for a baby at the end of the topic. We’re going to share this task with them at the start of the topic, but use this to structure the actual lessons:

The six questions in the list slide provide the titles of each of the lessons in the topic. But, since Darren’s session I’d been thinking…should we be trying this first? Should we have a go at producing the documentary and ask the pupils to assess it before we start the topic…so a colleague and I went for it – remember, it’s a long way from perfection – but deliberately so…

We’ll let you know how it goes…

[Cross-posted from fkelly.co.uk]

Next year I’ll…

Thank you to all for your responses to our previous call for contributions. Fascinating stuff!

I think with the end of term rapidly approaching it would seem appropriate to follow it up with another call – next year I’ll…

What are you planning to do different next session? Why? How do you intend to do this?

Please feel free to add your contribution as a comment on this post, or on facebook, or email it to share@pedagoo.org [if you’re already an editor on this site just login and click publish!]

I’ll get started this time…I intend to change the way I teach Intermediate 1 biology. I’ve already mentioned on my own blog how I’ve begun this process in these last couple of weeks and I’m going to persevere with this next term. This will involve planning my lessons using a learning cycle approach and striving to ensure that the lessons are as active and engaging as they possibly can be. I also intend to evaluate the impact of this in conjunction with my collaborative enquiry group at school.

What are you intending to change?