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Learning through Citizen Science: Opportunities and Challenges in K-12 and Family Learning

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Students doing citizen science

A Blog Series for Citizen Science Educators and Coordinators

by: the Education Working Group

Through involvement in citizen science, people of all ages and backgrounds can contribute to science while building passion for and understanding of scientific ways to investigate the natural world.

The issues facing humanity in the 21st century are diverse, complex, and demanding. Decisions are increasingly data-driven, from choosing your transportation vehicle to what to put in your mouth to which political candidate or referenda to support. Arguably, scientific literacy – the critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration skills necessary to science and many other pursuits – should help us navigate these decisions. Not everyone needs to be a scientist, but scientific knowledge and skill (and an understanding of the processes by which scientific practices build our knowledge) are increasingly required to thrive in the 21st century.

How can participation in citizen science support this learning?

What do we mean by learning? And what learning outcomes would we like to achieve? The possibilities are endless, but here are a few:

  • The manual skills of a given scientific pursuit, such as how to operate scientific equipment, sample at specified times and places, and document observations in words and images
  • Appreciation or knowledge of a particular issue or theme
  • Skill with the practices or habits of mind of scientists, such as asking great questions, using models to test understanding, and arguing from evidence[1]
  • The skills needed to continue learning, including strategies and the self-discipline required to stay focused on a challenging task
  • The skills needed to interact effectively with other people
  • An understanding of the nature of science, including how theories, data, hypotheses, observations, analyses, peer review, and reflection operate in concert to forward our collective knowledge of how the world works
  • Last but not least, scientific facts and theories themselves, such as knowing how to identify a certain species or how to classify hailstones or rocks

Does your program address learning objectives? Which ones, and how? Are you explicit about your learning objectives? If so, is there value to being explicit? And how do you think citizen science programs should be designed or structured to enhance the potential for learning?

We invite you to share links to your work, or to work that you admire, and a sentence or two on why you think it’s important. Thanks for your time and contribution to furthering our collective knowledge about effective practices around learning with citizen science.


[1] See Framework for K-12 Science Education

Posted on: October 15, 2015  |  Category: Blog, CSA Working Groups, Education, News
Tags: citizen science, education, engagement, Framework for K-12 Science Education, learning objectives, scientific literacy