Citizens for science

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Climbers Help Scientists Vibe With Utah’s Rocks / View Guide

Directions for teachers:

Ask students to read the online Science News article “How climbers help scientists vibe with Utah’s famous red rock formations” and the Science News for Students article “Let’s learn about citizen science,” then answer the following questions with a partner. Discuss the final question as a class. A version of the Science News article, “Climbers help scientists vibe with Utah’s rocks,” appears in the April 23, 2022 issue.

Want to make it a virtual lesson? Post the online Science News and Science News for Students articles to your virtual classroom. Discuss the article and questions with your class on your virtual platform.

What is citizen science?

1. Define “citizen science” in your own words, based on your understanding of the Science News for Students article “Let’s learn about citizen science.”

Citizen science is the practice of volunteers contributing to scientific research through data collection, analysis or through other collaboration.

2. What is the purpose of citizen science? How does it contribute to scientific research?

Because citizen science allows people — potentially from all over the world — to contribute to research, scientists can get and analyze data from many more diverse sources than had the scientists been working alone.

3. Describe the citizen science highlighted in the Science News article “How climbers help scientists vibe with Utah’s famous red rock formations.” How did a person without a formal scientific background contribute to a research study?

The article highlights expert rock climbers who carry a seismometer up rock formations in Utah to gather data for scientists who study the formations’ physical properties. It was important to have people who are expert climbers install the seismometer because the rock formations are steep and difficult to reach by any other method.

4. Visit the Society for Science webpage Research from Home: Citizen Science and search for citizen science projects you could do in your local area or online. What opportunities appeal to you?

Student answers will vary but should include a list of possible citizen science projects they can engage in.

5. What kind of help do scientists need for the citizen science project you explored? Are there any common themes among projects?

Student answers will vary but may include ideas for collecting data from certain geographic areas, analyzing large sets of images, videos, audio tracks, etc., annotating or transcribing content to create digital resources, providing data to train computer algorithms, etc.

Turning hobbies into science explorations

1. Make a list of your hobbies and interests. When making your list, think about favorite class projects you’ve done and activities that you enjoy outside of school.

Student answers will vary.

2. Do any of the citizen science projects featured in Research from Home: Citizen Science incorporate a hobby or interest of yours? Are you interested in participating in one of the projects? Explain.

Student answers will vary.

3. Choose two of the hobbies or interests you listed and brainstorm something you wonder or observe while engaging in the hobby or interest.

Student answers will vary but students should make connections between their hobby/interest and an observation or general question. For example, if a student chose painting, they could wonder why their classroom is painted a certain color. If the student chose theater, they could observe how the acoustics of the space might be perfect for a performance.

4. Turn one of your answers to the question above into a measurable scientific question that could be explored in a controlled experiment. What data would you need to measure and how would you measure it?

Student answers will vary. For instance, a student who is interested in art could ask if the paint color of a room influences a person’s ability to learn. To answer this question, the student could develop a set of problems to solve, or a timed test, for participants to take while they sit in rooms painted particular colors.

5. Could calling on citizen scientists enhance your data set or allow you to explore a broader question? How would volunteers go about collecting data for your experiment? Explain.

Student answers will vary. For instance, a student investigating how classroom color affects learning may say that using data collected by citizen scientists through surveys would enrich the data set by adding data from many different schools, grade levels, class subjects and students of various backgrounds. The types and amount of data collected could allow the student to make additional comparisons of variables such as geographic location, culture, age, etc. These data could provide deeper insights into which colors might help promote learning for people of certain ages or from certain geographic areas. 

6. What ethical concerns might you need to consider when conducting your experiment?

Student answers will vary. For example, if citizen science volunteers are collecting data outdoors in a specific geographic region, the student could research the history of the land they are on and make sure that volunteers know to be respectful of any cultural or religious significance the land may have. Volunteers should not interfere with the environment or community around them by littering, picking flowers, disturbing animal nests, etc.