February 2010

Engaging Students through Citizen Science

In schoolyards, backyards, and classrooms throughout North America – and beyond – students of all ages scan the skies for monarchs, monitor milkweed, document hummingbird arrivals, snap ladybug photos, notice nests, interview gardeners, report on bursting buds, and observe the color of firefly flashes. And that’s just for starters. In most cases, their next step is to go online and send their observations and measurements to a project website.

Learning Takes Flight: A Passionate Pursuit of Monarchs

“I always look for interesting and relevant themes to hook students,” says fourth grade teacher Ruth Pinson from Armuchee Elementary School. But, she admits, she never imagined she’d cast her lot with insects, much less have their young crawling all over the classroom! Inspired by a workshop on raising monarchs, Ruth became hooked. “The idea of working with monarchs gave me such a shot of enthusiasm that I figured it would surely do the same for my students.”

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Join the Journey!

Learn more about Journey North and register to participate in one of its exciting migration studies or other seasonal adventures.

Ladybugs Lost and Found

A Tale of Schoolyard Citizen Science

Noelle Kramer hadn’t planned to delve into citizen science, but her students were rather persuasive. As her third and fourth graders in Dixon, California read aloud from Time for Kids, something sparked their interest. “An article on a citizen science program called The Lost Ladybug Project asked kids to become ladybug spotters in order to help scientists find a native species that had nearly disappeared,” says Noelle.

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The Tale of the Lost Ladybugs

Once the state insect of New York, the nine-spotted ladybug population diminished until it all but disappeared from the radar. In fact when some youngsters spotted one of them near their Virginia home in 2006, it was the first of that species seen in the Eastern United States in 14 years! John Losey and other scientists at Cornell University figured that if lots of eyes scoured the country, they might help find more of them along with some other native lady beetles that were also disappearing. And so, the Lost Ladybug Project was born. But it wasn’t just about documenting locals. Scientists – and many homeowners – noticed that populations of other ladybugs were exploding. This included the orangey Asian lady beetle, which was introduced in this country to control pests. Have these imports excluded the native species from their habitats? This is one of the questions that scientists are exploring, thanks to a growing team of citizen scientists.

How to Find a Ladybug

Right Side Box: 

The Tale of the Lost Ladybugs

Once the state insect of New York, the nine-spotted ladybug population diminished until it all but disappeared from the radar. In fact when some youngsters spotted one of them near their Virginia home in 2006, it was the first of that species seen in the Eastern United States in 14 years! John Losey and other scientists at Cornell University figured that if lots of eyes scoured the country, they might help find more of them along with some other native lady beetles that were also disappearing. And so, The Lost Ladybug Project was born. But it wasn’t just about documenting locals. Scientists – and many homeowners – noticed that populations of other ladybugs were exploding. This included the orangey Asian lady beetle, which was introduced in this country to control pests. Have these imports excluded the native species from their habitats? This is one of the questions that scientists are exploring, thanks to a growing team of citizen scientists.

When Lila Higgins, an educator from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, first takes her teenage summer camp students out in search of lost ladybugs, they look a bit lost themselves. “I start by talking about ladybugs and other insects and asking students to notice what they see,” says Lila. She instructs them to put their “nature eyes” on. After all, scientists need to hone their observation skills. In many cases, they don’t see much.

Citizen Science Projects We Like

Engaging ordinary people in science research isn’t something new. In fact, one of the first formal citizen science projects, the Christmas Bird Count, began in 1900! But in the last 20 years or so, many scientists and educators have embraced this strategy as a winning research and educational tool. Here we describe some of the projects that just might engage your young gardeners, habitat sleuths, and environmental stewards.

Light Up the House

Jump start your child’s enthusiasm for the gardening season by planting seeds indoors. Starting your own seedlings not only allows you to grow a wider variety of plants, it also extends your growing season— engaging your young gardeners long before they can put a spade in the soil. For a successful seed growing experience, we recommend setting up an indoor light system.

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Kids Gardening and the National Gardening Association actively work with schools and communities across the country to provide educational resources and build gardens to promote health, wellness, and sustainability.

 

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Last updated on 10/01/2014
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