Citizen scientists: easy ideas for kids and adults to study the environment
You don’t need a background in science to become a citizen scientist. You simply need to have an interest in the topic, take note of the world around you and record your observations. Your efforts can help professional scientists in their research about the natural world around us, even in urban areas. Although observers don’t need to be adults to participate, adult supervision and confirmation of observations is required.
My friend, George Hammond, editor of the University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web and the parallel BioKids Web site, has shared with me several ongoing nationwide science initiatives that requires input from citizen scientists. In general, participation is easy. Simply provide your contact information, follow a few simple guidelines, and submit your data as frequently as you can.
Some of these projects are seasonal, and the observation window has passed for 2010. But please keep them in mind for future years.
The Lost Ladybug Project
Native ladybugs have disappeared from lots of places, perhaps displaced by waves of exotics. This project, with lots of kid-friendly resources, is trying to collect records about where different species are found. You’ll be submitting digital pictures of ladybugs you encounter.
The Great Sunflower Project
Despite the name, this is actually a project studying bee populations, which have been on the decline in recent years. In this project, you’ll grow flowers, watch for pollinators and report what you see. Lemon Queen Sunflower Seeds are available for $3. Sunflowers are easy to grow, but the project does suggest other flowers to monitor.
This is one of the newer projects, so it’s not as big. But it’s still pretty cool. No specific scientific training is required.
Project Feeder Watch
Beginning in mid-November through mid-April, identify and count the birds at your feeders. Anyone who has an interest in birds can participate. There is a $15 annual participation fee which funds the project.
By collecting observations of plant growth and development timing, you will help document impacts of climate change. Plants are blooming sooner. This is a big project, with lots of teaching support, and is very easy to participate.
A classic. Journey North has been monitoring monarch butterflies as they travel from their winter grounds in Mexico to the rest of North America for years. This project provides lots and lots of teaching support. Besides monarchs, participants can monitor other organisms, like: hummingbirds, American robins, gray whales, whooping cranes, earthworms, tulip gardens and more.
Stefan Szumko is a middle school science teacher by trade, an outdoor environmental educator by calling, and a homedaddy by choice. Stefan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.