How can pre-school aged children engage with citizen science?
This is what Martin Weiss and Michaela Labriole wondered when planning the citizen science component of the Communicating Climate Change (C3) project at the New York Hall of Science (NYSCI).
As a very hands-on science center, NYSCI attracts many families with young children. A hands-on activity like citizen science held promise for sharing the message of climate change with this audience, but would pre-schoolers be excited about making scientific observations? And if so, who would want their data?
Enter BudBurst Buddies. Presented like a children’s book, this website (a youthful portal for Project BudBurst) sets science in the context of telling a story, such as how plants tell us about the seasons. With kid-friendly journal pages and data entry forms (“I can put my arms around my plant: yes/no”), making observations can almost seem like making a friend.
Michaela wove BudBurst Buddies into training workshops that include other youth-centered activities as well as more detailed training on plant identification. Surprisingly, even adults without children seemed energized by the youthful participants in mixed-ages training workshops. Providing multiple strands of activities kept everyone engaged, so adults… even parents… could take time to set up their online BudBurst accounts while pre-schoolers did a science experiment or craft, such as a leaf rubbing.
Because NYSCI, located in Queens, draws visitors from all five New York City Boroughs and beyond, Michaela sought a way to connect BudBurst families beyond the one-day training at the science center. A Ning social networking site now offers a safe space for families to share photos, ask questions, and download seasonal activities.
Fostering a sense of community among participants may also be a good educational strategy. Research from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication shows that science center visitors, not surprisingly, put a lot of trust in science centers as sources of information about climate change. But, more than almost any other source, survey respondents trust what their friends (and family) have to say about climate change.
In addition to climate change education, Michaela says that NYSCI’s interest in technology and digital learning is well met through citizen science, and the center has plans to lead more such programming in the future. They have already branched out to add BudBurst activities to NYSCI after-school programs and summer camps for middle-school students, and are also exploring new citizen science partnerships.