Friday, September 1, 2017
Citizen Science: Children Help Crowdsource Vital Data
By Sheon Wilson
Undaunted by drizzle, 13 teens and preteens scurried outside, umbrellas, clipboards and data sheets in hand.
In their T-shirts, shorts, sneakers and sandals, the teens and preteens looked like students enjoying a summer break. But their mission was bigger. They were citizen scientists, collecting data on dragonflies.
Citizen science, which involves members of the public in gathering and analyzing data to aid professional researchers, helps to advance global scientific knowledge. People of all ages and identities can participate in scientific research from anywhere in the world, sometimes providing crucial local data unavailable in laboratories.
On the first day of “Dragonfly Detectives,” participants learned the five dragonfly species they would observe during the week. In the next few days, students also learned about dragonfly behavior, life cycle, and how to differentiate dragonfly nymphs from other aquatic insects.
Sheya, a rising sixth-grader, recorded tips for spotting common whitetail dragonflies in her field journal. They’re shorter than other dragonflies, she wrote. The females have brown abdomens, and all have blackish-brown bands on their wings. “This makes me feel needed because this stuff is going into real research,” she wrote about being a citizen scientist.
Like professional scientists, the children made hypotheses about dragonflies before they ventured out the next day. “I believe the worst weather for a dragonfly will be rain, even though they have muscles on each wing,” Jeremiah wrote in his “Dragonfly Detectives” journal.
The rain seemed to discourage dragonflies from gathering en masse around the pond. But the children’s newly trained eyes caught a few.
“That one looks like a green darner,” sixth-grader Jeremiah said, “but I think it’s a look-alike.”
Campers identified a wandering glider early in the day. But they did not see any dragonflies during their official three-minute count, one of two data collection exercises they did that day.
Students were initially dismayed with their official counts of “0,” but Anderson brought them back to the scientific process and their hypotheses about dragonfly behavior in the rain. Even seeing nothing is data to report. What did their data teach them?
That resonated with the students. “I feel good because people are actually listening to children and collecting information from them,” said Freya, a sixth-grader. “I feel honored!”
Students continued questioning, exploring, and discovering over the rest of their week as citizen scientists. They formally presented their findings, and left with even more questions.
Inquiry based outdoor exploration plays a role in all classes and workshops on Duke Gardens’ fall/winter roster, from Nature for Sprouts (for children ages 3 to 5) to the Artists in the Gardens series (ages 9-12) and the Naturalist series (ages 5-6 or 7-9). Please see Duke Gardens’ website for a full schedule of children and family offerings and programs for school groups, and to register online.