It’s not unusual to see Roxanne Green hopping out of her car to run into weed-filled ditches and cornfields near her town of Galesburg, Illinois. Green is on the lookout for monarch caterpillars to bring back to her fourth-grade students at Gale Elementary. Students raise and release the butterflies and track their migration.
Her students’ work is more than a class experiment. All the information about the number, sex, and size of insects they raise is sent to Monarch Watch, an organization that has tracked migration for more than 20 years. There’s no way a single researcher could track the migration, but thanks to Monarch Watch, scientists can benefit from the work of classrooms around the country, and students can participate in real-world scientific research.
Monarch Watch is part of a growing movement of citizen science projects, which allow scientists to crowd-source data collection, while providing ample opportunities for classroom learning.
Green’s students learn about the vital role milkweed serves in keeping monarch populations healthy; this spring, they will establish their school as a Monarch Watch way station by planting milkweed in the school garden. They also learn statistical analysis through measuring and recording, and geography as they follow the monarch migration.
“I can connect so many things back to the butterfly,” says Green.
Interested in taking on a citizen science project in your classroom? Here are 20 great possibilities.
A Bug’s Life
1 | Camel Cricket Census
If you have a basement, chances are you’ll find camel crickets lurking inside. Interesting factoid: Some of these crickets, which are also known as spider or cave crickets, migrated all the way from Asia! Work with your students to locate camel crickets and submit photos to the census—all while learning about native versus nonnative species and the ecosystems under your basement stairs.
2 | Where Is My Spider?
Next time you and your students spot a spider, submit a photo to the Explorit Science Center database, which tracks the distribution ofdifferent spider species on an interactive map to learn how environmental changes impact our eight-legged friends.
3 | Ant Picnic
Kristin Bedell’s students explored ant species and their food preferences by setting bait to collect ants for researchers and recording what they ate. “Suddenly, biodiversity and adaptations were not just abstract concepts, but real-life issues they could watch in our schoolyard,” says Bedell, a former gifted specialist at Efland-Cheeks Elementary School in North Carolina.
4 | Lost LadyBug
Photograph ladybugs and upload the images to explore anatomy and conservation. Through this project, “learning about native and nonnative species became more apparent,” says Robert Funk, a science teacher at Cresthill Middle School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.
5 | Bugs Count
The goal of the OPAL (Open Air Laboratories) Bugs Count is to learn how urban environments affect insect populations. “Students develop recording skills, organize results in a table, and then use the data to draw a bar graph,” says Sam Bean, a Year Six teacher at St. Bernadette’s Catholic Primary School in Cardiff, Wales.
Young gamers can use their skills to map cropland around the world. Kids view a series of satellite images and note whether they’re observing cropland or natural land formations. Scientists will use the findings to track the world’s food supply.
7 | Pollination Station
Explore the effects of diminishing bee populations by recording the number and type of pollinators that visit a single flower. “Students tally each bee they observe and send results to the Great Sunflower Project,” says Anne Larsen, a second-grade teacher at Peralta Elementary in Oakland. “They love being ‘experts.’ ”
8 | Leaf Pack Network
Monitor the health of stream ecosystems by placing artificial leaf packs into local streams and recording the variety and type of insects that set up shop. “I love that this gives my students a sense that they are part of the bigger picture and that they can be part of the bigger solution, too,” says Karen Barker, a middle school science teacher at the Tatnall School in Wilmington, Delaware.
Track the changing seasons by monitoring the leafing, coloring, and fruiting of plants with this national program. “By being careful observers, my students can ‘read’ the story the plant is telling and decipher its meaning,” says Rebecca Whitson, a second-grade teacher at Blue Ball Elementary School in East Earl, Pennsylvania.
10 | Mushroom Observer
Go mushroom hunting with your class (but be sure to warn them not to touch or ingest anything potentially poisonous!). If you discover a fungi you can’t find a match for in your field guides, upload images and see if another observer can identify it.
11 | Starry Night
Study light pollution by monitoring the visibility of stars in your neighborhood. Teaching modules aligned with NGSS help students analyze the impact of light pollution and evaluate designs for streetlamp shields.
12 | InVESTAgate
Help astronauts map the surface of the asteroid Vesta using images from NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. Students learn to identify and measure craters and other planetary features. “It’s a process real scientists use, which makes it more meaningful for students,” says Jeri Dempsey, a science and social studies teacher at AFC Middle School in Franklin Grove, Illinois.
13 | Sound Around You
Imagine clicking on a map and hearing the sounds of life across the globe—and investigating how the sounds in our environment make us feel. Do your part by recording the sounds in your school as you learn about the auditory system. Plus, visit the map to hear the local hubbub everywhere from Cape Town to Kyoto.
14 | Disk Detective
Debris disks orbiting a star can be a sign that it may be in the early stages of planetary formation. Play Disk Detective to help scientists soar through a flip-book of images and identify star candidates.
15 | CERES S’Cool
Help NASA scientists confirm the accuracy of the Clouds and the Earth’s Radiant Energy System (CERES). S’Cool groups are invited to observe cloud visibility at the same time of day that the CERES satellite passes through their area and then compare their findings.
16 | Penguin Science
Journey to Cape Royds on Ross Island, Antarctica, to participate in a virtual field study of penguin families. Kids learn about the life of the AdÃ©lie penguin by “adopting” a penguin pair and keeping a field journal on the couple’s nest using photos posted daily during breeding season (November to January).
17 | Journey North
The Journey North project lets kids track bird, whale, or butterfly migrations along with changes to sunlight and weather patterns, while migration maps help fit observations into a global context. California kids can even report their own gray whale sightings.
18 | Bird Sleuths
“Birders can enter data through eBird to find trends of bird populations, which are affected by pollution, habitat loss, climate change, or disease,” says Kathy Jonokuchi, a practicing veterinarian and educator at One Spark Academy for homeschooled and independent-study students in Thousand Oaks, California. “The kids were amazed by how many bird species there are.”
19 | The Great Eggcase Hunt Project
Scientists at the Shark Trust are hard at work mapping potential shark, skate, and ray nursery grounds to conserve shark populations. Lend a hand by hitting the beach to hunt for egg cases and identifying and reporting your findings to the database. Hint: The best time to look is after stormy weather!
20 | Counting Weddell Seals in the Antarctic
It can be tough to count a slippery seal population—but it’s one of the first steps in field study. Help the team in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, by using satellite -images to count the growing Weddell seal population. Just download the slides, read the informational text, and start counting.
Photo: Kiyoko Fukuda/Amana Images/Corbis