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.