For the second year in a row, we’ve decided to participate in a local Citizen Science project. Scientists at our local university are running a project called The Bees Needs. In this study, they’re examining the native bees and wasps in the greater Boulder, Colorado area.
Participating has been a fun way for us to learn more our local pollinators, as well as to teach my boys some of the basic principles of conducting a scientific experiment.
How do Citizen Science projects help Scientists?
Citizen Science projects help scientists by increasing the number of observations (in this case, both diversity of location and quantity) they can include in their study. By enlisting the help of people in the community, the number of observations increases greatly, and the scientists can focus their time on analyzing trends in the data after it’s been collected.
What do Citizen Science projects require from Citizen Participants?
This, of course, varies from project to project. In our case, it requires placing a Bee Box [provided by the project] in our yard. Our particular box needed to be south-facing and one foot off the ground.
It also necessitates gathering data from our bee box every two weeks and passing this data along to the scientists who are running the study. We do this via a simple website data entry form.
What we’ve learned through our participation:
Participation in a Citizen Science project encourages learning on a several fronts. First, we’ve learned quite a bit about the subject of the study itself: the native pollinators that live in our area. Over 550 different types of pollinators live along Colorado’s Front Range. We know now a bit about those that are the most common here.
Involvement in this type of study also helps kids to learn about committing to a long-term project (though not all Citizen Science projects have such a long duration, and others may run longer). This project began in April and will run through October. This means we committed to 7 months of tracking and documenting the activity in our bee box.
Being a part of The Bees Needs is a great way for me to introduce my kids to basic scientific research principles. This is helping them to develop scientific literacy in a fun, hands-on way. For example, my 6-year-old is learning the ins and outs of keeping a scientific journal, as well as some of the vocabulary associated with scientific research as well as the biology of our local ecosystem.
Contributing to a Citizen Science project also develops observational skills. Every other week we examine our bee box and log what has (or has not) happened within it. We carefully gather the information and keep detailed notes on the composition of nest plugs, the depth of the plugs, and whether or not the plugs are intact. These types of observations require that we look carefully at the actually pollinator nests in our box. It also means that we spend a lot of time looking at the several pages in our workbook that show pictures of the various nest plug types as we compare our actual nests with the 61 example photos in order to make sure we’re documenting the type correctly.
Finally, you participating in this type of project may lead to some unexpected observations and excitement. For example, last year toward the end of the summer, all evidence points to the fact that a bear relocated our bee box to another part of our yard. This year, we’re hoping our box survives intact through the end of the summer.
Why Citizen Science Projects are a great Learning Activity for families:
If you haven’t ever participated in a Citizen Science project, I highly recommend getting involved with one. If you run a search online, I’m sure you’ll find several to choose from. This will allow you to pick one that aligns with your interests or the interests of your child.
Citizen Science a fun way to learn. And as you learn in a hands-on way by making your observations, you also help to log data that enables all of us to learn more about our surroundings, as well as how the various ways our world may be changing. In addition, you may learn more about your immediate environment and spend some great time outdoors as you make your observations (depending, of course, on the project you choose – many can be done from the comfort of your own home, or even on your computer).
Importantly, these projects are a way that parents and children can learn together. It’s important that children see that learning is a lifelong process. This is one way parents can show their kids that they’re still excited to learn about new things. My entire family gets excited when we see something new happening with our bee box. For us, it’s a way that we can share our love the natural world as we learn more about it together.
Have you ever participated in a Citizen Science project? I’d love to hear about it.