Updated: Dec 2, 2020
Scientists are faced with a myriad of limitations when trying to effectively collected large amounts of data for research projects. Finite budgets, small staffs, and inability to travel on a moment’s notice often results in the shelving of projects shortly after conception. With the advent of the internet however, scientists have been able to connect with minimally trained and amateur enthusiasts in their field who can help collect data. These connections have developed into what is now called citizen science. With few requirements to participate, citizen science presents an opportunity for homeschoolers to contribute to research projects and learn a variety of skills.
Citizen science is essentially people volunteering to collect data for research projects or general databases that can be used for future research. Although citizen science was pioneered in the late-1800s, most notably in ornithology with the North American Bird Phenology Project and the Audubon Christmas Bird Count, it did not explode in popularity until the early 2000s when high-speed internet became more available. Today, there are hundreds of active citizen science project covering nearly every discipline of science. A simple internet search shows active projects in astronomy, biology, meteorology, health, environmental science, and natural resource management. For homeschoolers, the opportunity to participate is endless.
Opportunity is endless, but time is finite. Given this reality, it is best for individual homeschool students to participate in a small subset of projects rather than attempt participation in a large number of projects. Since participation in citizen science is not a replacement for a traditional science curriculum, try using citizen science as a way to allow students to explore subjects that interest them. As a parent and teacher, look for subjects that interest your children and introduce them to a citizen science project in that field of study. Depending on your specific homeschooling style, citizen science project data collection time can be incorporated into the school day or encouraged during unstructured times. Older students could even be required to collect data outside of normal school hours and report their data at a specific time or in a specific format. There is no set way to incorporate citizen science into a homeschooling program, so experiment and figure out what methods work best for your students.
The easiest part of adding citizen science into your curriculum is finding projects in which your students can participate. Google searching for citizen science projects will provide more than enough information to get started. Federal agencies also frequently run citizen science projects, all of which are cataloged on the citizenscience.gov website, https://www.citizenscience.gov/#. Most projects require the creation of a free account before submitting data and some projects will require participants to watch short training videos. Once the account is activated, have your students learn the data collection protocols and how to enter data for the project. Supervision of the data collection and entry process should be adjusted with your student’s abilities.
Adding citizen science participation to your homeschooling program is a simple way to enhance your science curriculum. It teaches students real-life skills such as how to manage data, follow protocols, and record observations in a systematic manner. Time management and computer skills can also be learned through participation in citizen science projects. Although citizen science is not a full curriculum, it is a valuable way to enhance your student’s understanding of science and impart valuable life skills while contributing to worthy research projects.
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