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Citizen science at schools – a model of success

Schools are excellent partners for research projects and there are many reasons for researchers and teachers to use citizen science at school. In Austria, schools have successfully cooperated with research institutions since 2007, especially as part of the Sparkling Science research program, but citizen science at schools has also had a long tradition in the US. No wonder that the collaboration between science and school was one of the major topics at the CitSci2019 conference, which took place from 13-17 March 2019 in Raleigh, USA.

At the conference, Rachael Polmanteer shared in the inspirational keynote "Citizen Science: Creating Authentic Learning Opportunities for Students" her experiences with citizen science in class. As a biology teacher at Wake County Public School, she first learnt about citizen science in 2016 through the eMammal project. Since then, she has regularly organized citizen science workshops for teachers and so-called BioBlitzes, has established an outdoor classroom and regularly develops new curricula based on citizen science projects.

Stephanie Schuttler, project leader of the eMammal project, attended the conference as a researcher and summarised 13 reasons to use citizen science in classrooms, based on Rachael Polmanteer's keynote and her own experiences working with schools. It shows that both students and teachers benefit from participating in citizen science projects:

  • Citizen science transforms individual students: By participating in citizen science projects, the further education path of students can change. For example, children who did not show any interest in research prior to participating in a project are often afterwards interested in pursuing a scientific career.
  • The results of citizen science are unknown: Compared to traditional laboratory experiments at school, the results of citizen science projects are not known to students. Therefore, experiments in citizen science projects appear more interesting. 
  • Students make discoveries that are important to research
  • Students can learn from their own experiences and teach each other: Students share their knowledge with others and thus motivate them to participate.
  • Students who find it difficult to learn can often learn with citizen science: Children who hardly understand the language spoken at school or hardly can read can learn in a different way with the use of citizen science.
  • Citizen science is not an extra effort, it replaces other activities: Teachers, such as Rachael Polmanteer, set up their school curriculum around a citizen science project. As a result, projects are often perceived as support rather than extra work.
  • Students and teachers get in contact with real, current researchers: In a citizen science project, both students and teachers get in touch with living scientists.
  • Citizen science connects students to their environment: Data collected and analysed in citizen science projects are real, allowing students to learn about their environment.
  • Citizen science also inspires teachers
  • Students take responsibility for their project: Students take data collection and analysis very seriously and also take responsibility when they know that their data is used for scientific research.

Why researchers should work with schools?

Also researchers and projects benefit from working with schools. First of all, teachers can specifically be trained in workshops for each project who will then take and transfer their knowledge to the classes at school. Thus, many students can be reached. Special training also allows teachers to carry out a first quality check on the collected data which also increases the quality of the collected data in general.  

The involvement of school classes in research projects also increases the opportunity to expand projects and to involve more citizen scientists. The research opportunities are first tested in some schools and then repeated in other regions. Furthermore, students can be seen as multipliers spreading information on citizen science projects. 

You are interested in a cooperation?

The Young Science Centre is a focal point in the Center for Citizen Science and offers Austrian schools and research institutions a wide range of opportunities to get in touch with each other and work together. It informs regularly on the website, via newsletter, Facebook and Twitter about events, networking opportunities, projects, invitations to tender and much more. On the Young Science website you can find contacts at schools who are responsible for citizen science projects as well as cooperation with research institutions.  

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