How to Use Citizen Science in Your Educational Program

by Carolina Teaching Partner
science action club

Science is everywhere! Here are 4 tips to help you incorporate outdoor learning in your summer or afterschool program.

Looking for ways to get your curious middle schoolers outdoors? The Science Action Club (SAC) is a series of three classroom kits–Bird Scouts, Bug Safari, and Cloud Quest–that inspire wonder about the natural world and foster environmental literacy.

Full of scientific tools and fun activities, the SAC empowers youth to explore nature, contribute to authentic science research, and design strategies to protect the planet. Each SAC kit includes 12 activity plans, supplies for 20 youth, and an online training course for program staff. SAC activities are aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards* science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts.

Connecting with Citizen Science

SAC uses citizen science to leverage students’ natural curiosity and inspire them to become lifelong learners. Citizen science is a way for everyone to take an active role in scientific discovery. Harnessing a collective curiosity and employing easy-to-use technology, citizen scientists work alongside professional researchers to observe nature and document the natural world.

How can you start using citizen science in your summer or afterschool programs? Follow our tips below!

1. Elevate youth voice.

Collaboration is key.

Collaboration is key in citizen science, so collaborate with the youth in your program early and often! First, ask what STEM topics they’d like to learn about–are they curious about robots, the outdoors, the stars? There is a citizen science project that will get them excited about STEM and promote participation in science class or enrichment activities.

From there, encourage continued collaboration among students. Nearly every activity in the SAC requires youth to work together. For example, youth share scientific tools to observe and document the birds, bugs, or clouds around them and then discuss their data. When disagreements arise, students must use evidence and reasoning to explain their thinking. Through this scientific argumentation, they achieve a consensus to submit one citizen science report as a team. Encouraging scientific inquiry and discourse among and with your students will ensure fun learning for all.

This downloadable toolkit can guide you in communicating the value of citizen science to students and cultivating their sense of empowerment and impact when performing science investigations.

2. Start small.

Starting small builds a foundation for understanding the process.

One of the most important strategies to successfully add citizen science to your educational program is to teach the discrete skills needed to complete a citizen science protocol. Starting small will help build a foundation for understanding the process step by step.

For example, in the Bug Safari Kit, youth search for bugs, collect specimens, and post photographs to iNaturalist, a citizen science project and online social network for nature enthusiasts. The SAC is designed to incrementally build the skills needed to post observations to iNaturalist so that youth can confidently document the environment and contribute to global environmental research.

Starting small also helps program staff lead STEM clubs like the SAC with confidence and ease. Preparing staff with online training or additional professional development aids in their ability to learn alongside youth and model the curiosity that is central to citizen science.

3. Work with experts.

Science Action Club kits are high quality and ready to use.

Don’t waste valuable staff time developing curricula when you can purchase high-quality, ready-to-use STEM kits. Designed by a world-class science museum and research institution, Science Action Club kits guide youth as they contribute to authentic science research and are easy for staff to implement–in person or virtually.

Science Action Club allows kids to actively take on the scientific research process and apply it to their local environment, where they live. It’s about giving kids–no matter where they are–access to science.

Director of Alaska Afterschool Network

Because it was summer, students had the opportunity to spend more time exploring their environment and digging into the curriculum. What started out as moans as groans quickly turned into wows and wonders. It was wonderful to watch the students engage in thought provoking conversations. I would highly recommend Science Action Club to any summer program looking for a fun and educational experience to offer their students.

Anaheim Family YMCA Program Director

4. Stay connected.

Educators across the country are using Science Action Club and citizen science.

Educators in out-of-school time across the country are using the Science Action Club and citizen science as a way to engage youth in STEM and get them outdoors safely. Learn from educators through peer-to-peer groups like SAC’s Facebook group , or contact local experts who can help. Using citizen science apps like iNaturalist means you’re already part of a digital community of fellow naturalists with whom you can discuss observations and ask for advice. Since citizen science is based on the power of the people, you can easily stay connected to peers who are curious like you.

Start a Club Today

Order a kit from Science Action Club to bring citizen science activities to your upcoming program, or purchase all three kits to plan for year-round STEM engagement. The benefits of outdoor learning activities are substantial and well-documented. Give your students, campers, or club members the opportunity to be real scientists, hone their observation skills, and connect with others having similar interests. The SAC makes it easy for scientists of every age to contribute to the understanding of our phenomenal natural world.

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of WestEd. Neither WestEd nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of this product, and do not endorse it.

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