September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Technology Partners with Citizen Science

Posted: Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

by Lori Walsh

On a beach walk in Carlsbad, I noticed a child playing a game on a phone while sitting in the sand. The child ignored the beauty of the waves, birds, and water to play in the virtual world. During my childhood, my days were filled exploring on bikes and swimming at the pool. My early experiences with my ‘bug box’, playing with a sand pendulum and kayaking, combined with trips to nature centers, parks, and other informal science centers inspired and created my love of everything in the natural world. These early “wow” moments eventually led to my career that is dedicated to educating families about wildlife and conservation in an aquarium. While technology has presented many advantages, it gives parents and educators a new set of challenges, and we are still deciphering how to navigate the waters. How can we harness the power and attention that technology has to immerse children in nature and inspire future conservation heroes? Our lives are irreversibly intertwined with technology and this provides us with new tools and opportunities to expose kids to the beauty they may be missing in the natural world.

Many of us are still struggling to adapt to ever changing technology, and it may be difficult to see how we can make it work in tandem with natural experiences. People are no longer content to just watch animals at an aquarium; they record and photograph them on their phones, and often they go further by sharing these experiences with the world through social media. We can use these exact same behaviors to engage with kids through citizen science. There have been many successful citizen science programs that make brilliant use of technology to allow everyone to experience nature in new ways and actually contribute to the scientific community.

Bioblitzes are events where scientists and the public conduct short but intensive surveys to document species abundance and distribution in particular areas. The statewide Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) Bioblitz occurs in early summer. Participants submit photos and observations through an app, helping scientists and policy makers create a detailed picture of the health of the network of MPAs across our coast. These events are usually very short, lasting only a couple of hours. One year, over 300 observations of tide pool species were made in the Swami’s State Beach MPA in Encinitas. In 2016, over 7,000 people made 146,870 observations about 13,290 species nationwide in the iNaturalist BioBlitz app. Increased information about the creatures in MPAs and national parks will determine the impact of protecting shared resources. These informal learning opportunities make families slow down and observe an area for science. A day at the beach could be turned into a contest to see which person could log the most number of observations. Schools and youth groups organized bioblitz events, but you can join an event nearby with your kids as well. If you do not live near the coast, bioblitz events have occurred in parks and rivers. A united group of citizen scientists can influence research and support of ocean conservation.

Another event that enhances skills in observation while working with technology is the annual King Tides photo project. This citizen science event helps to see the effect of sea level rise on our local coastlines. It’s a quick way to help scientists predict the impact of climate change. During winter king tides, volunteers photograph the highest tides of the season. Citizens take photos at high tide at the coast, and scientists use this data from ‘boots on the ground’ all along our coast. The high tide level is used to document our changing shores. Once again, this science concept encourages technology use to make natural observations with a definite purpose.

With the pressures on increasing integrated science instruction in the classroom, you can turn visits to informal natural experiences into learning opportunities. When at the beach, your child can use their phone to take observational photos with a determined goal. Can they mark the tide line in the sand and document how it changes throughout the day? If you are in an aquarium, make a list of goals for your child’s photos. Can they document how many sharks are resting on the bottom versus swimming constantly? Are you ready to take the leap into an organized citizen science volunteer opportunity? Your outdoor adventures can inspire your budding scientists to enter a career in science.

Lori Walsh is the Education/Operations Supervisor at SEA LIFE® Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort and the Informal Science Director for CSTA.
Lori.walsh@sealifeus.com

Brandon Lewis is the Education Technical Specialist at SEA LIFE® Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort
Brandon.lewis@sealifeus.com

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

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Written by Peter AHearn

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