What is Citizen Science? Shallow Dive (1 of 2)

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Students will be able to: 1) brainstorm common qualities of citizenship and the nature of science; 2) explain how citizen science projects are attempts to solve real-world problems; and 3) explore ideas about citizen science in a self-directed manner

Big Idea

Science is not just for professional scientists. How might we connect basic principles of democratic citizenship to scientific research?

UNIT FRAME: Why Citizen Science?


The primary purpose of this unit is to use citizen science as the frame for all of the big conceptual ideas and key practices of this environmental science course: engineering design thinking, scientific research, community-based stewardship, and community mapping.  One of my primary purposes in creating this curriculum is to provide my students with an understanding of the needs of their local communities as well as the STEM practices and conceptual understandings required to effective solve the real-world problems that emerge from identified needs.


To this end, all students participate in the Billion Oyster Project, an initiative out of the Harbor School that embodies the essential objectives of this course. My conjecture is that sustained participation with an existing citizen science project in New York City, combined with learning experiences that develop skills and understandings, will push my students to develop a lifelong passion for STEM. 


As for my teacher through framework, throughout this unit I will use the following six citizen science and engineering design thinking principles to develop activities, provide feedback, and scaffold my students' thinking about environmental science:


Scientific investigations are essential ways of thinking about the world; they do not require the investigator to be a professional scientist.


Place-based data collection enables us to develop "environmental empathy"


Data collection is a cornerstone skill of scientific research


Mapping collected data pinpoints potential real-world problems to be solved


Data analyses refines our understanding of problems to be solved and may point to potential solution ideas


Understanding principles of environmental justice help us understand invisible biases in scientific research and serve as powerful design constraints


These are principles that I developed to help me message the purpose of this unit to my students and to identify opportunities for alignment with Next Generation Science Standards.  They are a work in progress and any similarity to existing citizen science pedagogical thought frameworks is entirely coincidentally.


Finally, for a basic framework of citizen science for educators that are completely new to the concept, here is an example from Muki Hakley's blog:


What I would add to this framework is a "level 5--Collaborative Engineering Design Thinking" that prescribes the application of results of collaborative science to a community-based environmental problem.  At least this is my intent for this course.  After we have defined a problem, collected data, and analyzed our results, we will begin to ideate solutions and create prototypes that will positively impact our communities.  This is the "student design" part of the unit title.

ENGAGE: What is a citizen? What is science?

25 minutes

This is a longer opening activity that introduces students to the idea that citizenship and science have important common elements.  One reason for a longer group learning experience is that I want my students to use a process derived from the definitions of the terms that they are exploring.  In other words, I want this group learning experience to mirror the exchange of ideas and public debate that are key aspects of both a participatory democracy and collaborative research science teams.

Part 1: Students conduct an independent writing activity (~6 minutes)

Prompt: What is citizenship?  What is science?  First develop a definition for each term in your STEM journal.  Then create a venn diagram that compares and contrasts these two concepts.

Part 2: Talk-Think-Open Exchange (~10)

We use collaborative idea exchange protocols often.  This protocol was first used in the course when students developed a shared understanding of social emotional learning competencies for their classroom culture contract design projects.  There is a more robust description of this process attached as a resource.  

In triads, students will complete three rounds of discussion questions, an open exchange, and a classroom share.  Each student has 45 seconds to speak during the first three rounds.  Groups have two minutes for the open exchange.   

  1. What is citizenship?
  2. What is science?
  3. What do citizenship and science have in common?  
  4. Open exchange of ideas 

Part 3: Group understanding (~6)

Selected reporters will present findings of the open exchange to the whole group in two rounds.  The format runs as follows:
  1. Classroom share 1: What ideas did all members of your group have in common?
  2. Classroom share 2: What ideas were unique to only some members of your group? 

Part 4: Individual iteration (~3)

Students revise original independent writing ideas with learnings from the group discussion experience

EXPLORE: Shallow dive

20 minutes

What will students do?

This activity is a "shallow dive" because students will explore the concept of citizen science with breadth, but not depth.  I open this activity by telling students to image they are SCUBA divers going on their first dive in a part of the ocean that no human has ever seen.  Though they will be only look at a small part of the ocean and the information will be overwhelming, they can still develop some idea of the terrain.  This will be a time for "cognitive play."  Look around! Have fun! Explore!

I have three guidelines for this activity:

  • Exploring one or both resources
  • Discuss what you have found with your peers
  • Write down everything your learn

For this activity I will have two digital "hubs" set up around the room for students to explore.  

One hub is a TED Talk about biohacking:

The other is an audio only Science Friday program from NPR:

Citizen Science Friday

What will the teacher do during this time?

While students are interacting with content I will have mini debriefs with individual students and small student teams.  My goal is to assess students' understanding of content, monitor students' developing understanding of citizen science, and to develop a picture of what aspects of citizen science students like and don't like.

EXPLAIN: Process debrief

7 minutes

This debrief is a teacher-facilitated discussion about the shallow dive process.  The purpose is to allow students to voice their ideas about what they learned, to identify necessary supports, and to build community by identifying common feelings encountered during the process.

  1. What got in the way of exploring?
  2. How did it feel to explore without rules?
  3. What could I have done to make exploration feel safer?
  4. What did we learn about ourselves and each other?

EXIT: Citizen science final word

3 minutes

Finally, students complete the following two sentence starters:

  1. "Citizen science is..."
  2. "Something I want to know about citizen science is..."

I will use these exit tickets to gather baseline data for my classes.  What do students understand?  Where do students have misconceptions?  What do students want to know that I might include in future lessons?

Why do students not debrief the shallow dive?

The shallow dive is cognitively demanding for most students, and the debrief for the shallow dive is essentially the next lesson in this sequence.  I had tried to debrief the shallow dive with two of my classes and realized that students had learned so much new information that asking them to process and reflect was too much.