Propose or join a project or activity for the SciStarter Hackfest at the Citizen Science Association Conference!
What: A hands-on and discussion-driven meet-up where everyone participates in dreaming up AND building creative tools to improve the field of citizen science!
Where: Citizen Science 2015 Conference, San Jose, CA
Who: The SciStarter team and YOU!
Why: To capitalize on the collective wisdom (and desire to act!) at the Citizen Science Association Conference
The inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association will take place February 11-12 in San Jose, California and the SciStarter team is looking forward to soaking up new information during the scheduled sessions and talks!
We’ll also contribute to these conversations through a few presentations and an interactive, “roll-up-your-sleeves!” hackfest designed for everyone.
Will you join us? Learn more about SciStarter’s past Hackfests here.
First, make sure you have registered for the Citizen Science 2015 Conference if you want to participate in person. You can join us remotely, too. Just let us know how you plan to participate when you sign up.
Then, fill out this form to let us know you’re coming so we know how many people to expect. Remember, ALL contributions are valuable, and some projects may be discussion-based (no programming skills required). All projects should spark the start of something great! Just bring your creativity, enthusiasm and talents and we’ll make sure you’ll have fun!
Do you have a Hackfest idea or project you’d like people to know about or join at the event? Great!
Here’s the running list of proposed projects! Just click on the image to learn more about the proposed project.
1. Agile Citizen Science
Join this group to participate in a brainstorm session to generate ideas and examples of possible agile citizen science projects and of the design features for a digital platform that would support those projects. Click to learn more.
2. Locating Citizen Science Activity
Having a simple, accurate representation of a project’s geographic area of interest is important not only for validating the contributed data, but also for finding and recruiting potential participants who live or visit the area of interest and may be able to contribute. Click to learn more.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Ariel Simons and originally appeared on the author’s blog. Project SCARAB is one of more than 800 great citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that you can participate in!
The great thing about living in a major port city such as Los Angeles is having access to ideas and goods from the around the world. However, the port of LA, and by extension every trade conduit branching off from there, takes the chance on cargo containers carrying an invasive species. In 2003 one such species, the polyphagus shothole borer (PSHB), was spotted in Whittier, a suburb of Los Angeles. In the intervening decade it has quickly spread to many of the trees in southern California. Read More
This guest post by Sharman Apt Russel describes a citizen science experience with the children in her daughter’s third-grade classroom. the project, Celebrate Urban Birds was one of our Top 14 Projects of 2014. Check out the rest of the projects on that list here. Celebrate Urban Birds is also one of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Use our project finder to find one that fits your interests!
Public school teachers have always been my heroes. When I first began to research and write about citizen science, I was particularly interested in easy-to-do, inexpensive, age-appropriate, classroom-friendly projects that I could take to teachers like my own daughter Maria—then in her second year in a third-grade classroom in the small border town of Deming, New Mexico. Unsurprisingly, one of the best programs I found—Celebrate Urban Birds–was also recently named by SciStarter as one of the best citizen science projects of 2014.
Designed and managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Celebrate Urban Birds asks children and adults to choose an urban, suburban, or even rural area half the size of a basketball court and watch bird activity for ten minutes. Any observations of sixteen designated species are recorded on a data form. For Maria’s class of twenty-four, Cornell Lab promptly sent twenty-four kits written in English and Spanish–instructions, forms, colored posters to help us identify the birds, packets of flower seeds to plant, and stickers that said “Zero Means a Lot!” The “Zero Means a Lot!” theme was repeated a number of times. “Send us your observations,” the Lab enthused, “EVEN IF YOU SEE NO BIRDS in your bird-watching area. Zero means a lot!”
On that warm spring morning, we headed out with a gaggle of children to the school playground where we faced a row of planted conifers and deciduous trees, the school fence just behind the trees, a street and residential houses just behind the fence. The mostly eight-year-olds divided into three groups of eight, each with a supervising adult, each with their own area to watch. This didn’t last long, of course, with a few small boys first running back and forth under the trees, and then entire groups dissolving and mixing.
Wonderfully iconic– a kind of miracle–an American robin posed on a branch and puffed out its red breast. That was one of the birds on our list of sixteen species! A rock pigeon swooped through the bare yard behind us. Rock pigeons were on our list, too! We could hear mourning doves call from a nearby telephone pole. A third bird on our list! Next, a child spotted a house sparrow lying dead on the other side of the fence, and this attracted far more attention than the live house sparrows in the nearby tree. Our fourth species.
For ten minutes, we exclaimed and watched and checked our list, looking for American crows, American robins, Baltimore orioles, barn swallows, black-crowned night herons, brown-headed cowbirds, Bullock’s orioles, cedar waxwings, European starlings, house finches, house sparrows, killdeer, mallards, mourning doves, peregrine falcons, and rock pigeons. One child believed emphatically that he saw a peregrine falcon swoop through the blue sky and another a Baltimore oriole colored red and yellow. Their teacher Maria said, “No, probably not,” but when the children insisted, she only smiled—“Okay, then, check the box that says ‘unsure.’” Some children remembered birds they had seen before, the mallard at the El Paso zoo with a broken leg and the mean parrot kept by their grandmother. Birds and memories of birds seemed to fill the air.
For ten minutes, we watched and then came inside and concentrated on filling out a form that included a description of the site and our observations, carefully copying what Maria wrote on the chalkboard. I realized that this last activity—learning how to record data–was as useful to these children as anything else we had done today.
My daughter and I were immeasurably pleased and planned how to do the next Celebrate Urban Birds even better. Perhaps we would do one of the associated art projects that the program suggests. We would have graphs and word problems. We would hand out more information about other common species in town–grackles and Western kingbirds. Eventually these children would say, “I learned how to bird-watch in the third grade.” Or, “I became passionate about birds in the third grade.” Or, “My teacher’s mother came into my third-grade class and revealed the world to be a web of miracles and connection, and I have never been the same since.”
At this point, I knew I was getting ahead of myself a little.
In today’s schools of scripted curriculums and constant test-taking, teachers like my daughter often have very little time in which to teach science. My daughter only had a half hour a week. A half hour. Celebrate Urban Birds was a creative, fun, educational use of that time. Moreover, like citizen scientists everywhere, these third graders had just become part of something larger than themselves. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimates that they work with some two hundred thousand volunteers, tracking and monitoring birds, with over a million observations reported each month on the Lab’s online checklist. These observations help produce real science, contributing to over sixty scientific papers as well as policy decisions designed to protect birds and their habitat.
The next year, my daughter and I did a repeat of Celebrate Urban Birds, and this time we had to use the stickers “Zero Means a Lot!” But that was a good learning experience, too. Surprisingly, the children did not seem particularly discouraged. They only asked if they could look for birds again tomorrow.
Sharman Apt Russell lives in rural southwestern New Mexico and teaches writing at Western New Mexico University in Silver City and at the low-residency MFA program in Antioch University in Los Angeles. She’s engaged in a number of citizen science projects, including monitoring archeology sites and inventorying possible new wilderness areas in the Gila National Forest. Her new book Diary of a Citizen Scientist: Chasing Tiger Beetles and Other New Ways of Engaging the World (Oregon State University Press, 2014) was selected by The Guardian (UK) as one of the top ten nature books in 2014.
Beloved by tattoo parlors and fantasy princess landscapes, the king of butterflies is in decline. During their annual migration, monarch butterflies are famous for gathering in innumerable flutters as they fly from summer breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada to warmer sites in Mexico and California. At one time, there were over a billion monarchs making this journey. Now, less than 4% are left.
Over the years, human behaviors, particularly agricultural practices have contributed to the monarch’s decline. In a petition to protect monarchs scientists point to habitat loss as grassland is converted to farmland and overwintering sites are deforested as a major factor. On top of that, the cultivation of certain genetically engineered crops enable farmers to apply broad-spectrum herbicides killing weeds such as milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s sole food source.
Unlike honeybees whose population decline directly affects agricultural production, the decline of monarch butterflies may have gone unnoticed if not for the efforts of scientists and conservation groups. Every winter, The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation counts overwintering western monarchs, a subset of monarch butterflies west of the Rockies. The butterflies arrive at the California coast as early as October and remain until spring.
Counting butterflies might sound fanciful, but scientists need a complete survey to understand how the current butterfly population is faring. “There are over 400 identified overwintering sites, half of which are registered and active monitoring sites. It is a large geographical range for a small organization like ours to cover,” says Candace Fallon, a conservation biologist with The Xerces Society. To handle the work load, the group enlists citizen scientists to visit designated sites and count the number of monarchs present, or as the case may be not present. “We depend on volunteer assistance to gather data. We couldn’t do this important work without them.”
Since the counts started in 1997, western monarchs have fallen from 1.2 million to a little over 200,000 reported last year, almost a 90% decrease from their peak and a 50% decrease from their running 17-year average. Volunteers also gather information about habitat conditions and changes. “All this information tells us about the status of and factors affecting the western monarchs,” says Fallon.
The biggest volunteer effort is the yearly Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count which takes place during the three weeks around Thanksgiving. The event wrapped up last week. You can hear the latest on this year’s count by visiting their website.
Having the hard data is essential for informing local, national and even international policies. “Locally, we work with land owners and land managers to shape development plans and create strategies to promote monarch survival,” explains Fallon. Some of these strategies include encouraging farmers to plant milkweed in their hedgerows and allocate pollination meadows for butterflies and other pollinators.
Collectively, the data gathered by various citizen science and research programs have helped bring about national conservation and protection efforts. Over the summer, President Obama issued a memorandum addressing steps to protect bees and other critical pollinators. In August, The Xerces Society in collaboration with the Center for Food Safety, the Center for Biological Diversity, and renowned monarch scientist Lincoln Brower submitted a petition to classify monarch butterflies as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
In fact, monarch conservation drew attention at this year’s North American Leaders summit. Canada, Mexico, and U.S. leaders pledged to create an advisory group to update the North American Monarch Conservation Plan. The issue will be revisited at the next summit scheduled for early next year.
Though the Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count has end, volunteers are still needed to count butterflies throughout the overwintering season particularly during the first week of January. Visit their site for information on how to get involved. Find other butterfly projects at SciStarter.com.
The Xerces Society http://www.westernmonarchcount.org/data/
Editors Note: This is a guest post by Alison Young, Citizen Science Engagement Coordinator and Rebecca Johnson, Citizen Science Research Coordinator at the California Academy of Sciences. It is part of a SciStarter series highlighting Citizen Science at Science Centers. The authors talk about how the Academy connects communities to their local biodiversity through citizen science with the help of iNaturalist, their technology partner. iNaturalist is also part of more than 800 citizen science projects on SciStarter. Check them out and become a naturalist yourself!
The mission of the California Academy of Sciences is to explore, explain, and sustain the natural world. Our museum floor teaches the public about the science of the natural world around them, while our researchers work to understand the evolutionary history of life on earth, document biodiversity, and discover new species the in hotspots around the world. The aim of our citizen science program is to engage communities in Academy biodiversity research and, through this participation, increase science learning and connect people to biodiversity all around them. All of our projects focus on biodiversity discovery and documentation, and all of our projects are undertaken in conjunction with a conservation partner. We are building a community of naturalists of all ages and at the same time providing our scientists and partners with valuable data required to better understand and conserve biodiversity. Read More
Project MERCCURI is a citizen science project to examine the diversity of microbes on Earth and on the International Space Station, led by the Eisen Lab and UC Davis, SciStarter, and the Science Cheerleaders, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Space Florida and Nanoracks.
There are three components:
1) Swabbing shoes and cell phones and built environments to examine how bacteria differ across different types of surfaces in a building.
2) The Microbial Playoffs In Space (taking place right now and described below!) to explore how microbes from YOUR favorite team perform in the space playoffs.
3) Swabbing the inside of the International Space Station to see what kinds of bacteria lurk on the surfaces inside the International Space Station (ISS).
“Citizen Science at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences,” is part of a SciStarter series highlighting Citizen Science at Science Centers.
People visit science museums when they are feeling curious. And when it rains. And when nieces and nephews visit, when there is a new dinosaur exhibit, and because it’s a compromise the whole family agrees upon. Life provides a zillion reasons to visit a science museum. Once there, museums stir the inner scientist that dwells in every individual. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences has a mission that is eloquent and profound: to illuminate the interdependency of nature and humanity. That’s a mission I’ve chosen to accept, being a newly hired investigator in their Biodiversity Research Lab. I’m helping the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with one method they’ve been using to achieve their mission: citizen science. The Museum opens doors to welcome the public into the world of scientific research in the following ways:
On-exhibit research Read More