Research shows media can enhance girls’ citizen science learning

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Guest post by Rita Karl, SciGirls/TPT
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Girls who take part in well-designed and thoughtfully shared media – TV and video games – can have a more impactful citizen science experience.
This insight, published in Citizen Science: Theory and Practice (Flagg, November 2016), stems from testing the use of multi-media material developed by the Emmy-Award winning PBS program, SciGirls.
SciGirls is a national program that combines a TV series, multiple websites, gender equitable hands-on activities, and professional development workshops to encourage girls, their families, and educators around STEM studies and career paths. SciGirls’ third season, Citizen SciGirls, leveraged its television, online, and community-based platforms to inspire girls in middle school to participate in citizen science. Real-life SciGirls—not actors—helped highlight six unique national citizen science initiatives for the television series. Viewers joined the girls and their female scientist mentors as they recorded the arrival of spring with USA National Phenology Network’s Nature’s Notebook; counted birds for Celebrate Urban Birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; observed caterpillars transform into butterflies with the University of Minnesota’s Monarch Larva Monitoring Project; listened for calls of frogs and toads through FrogWatch USA; worked with NASA Langley Research Center to identify clouds with the S’COOL program; and explored ocean habitats with Zooniverse’s Seafloor Explorer.
The SciGirls television episodes were only the beginning. With National Science Foundation funding, the SciGirls team built a model of engagement and education that integrated multi-media into citizen science experiences for their audience. The SciGirls educational outreach team created an Educator’s Activity Guide to accompany all episodes, and a Nature Journal for youth. In addition, SciGirls produced two online games to build skills for observation and data collection. The team also brought hands-on, standards-based, and fun citizen science programming to girl-serving STEM organizations nationwide. All videos, activities and resources are available for free in English and Spanish at
To examine the contribution of SciGirls multimedia to fifth grade girls’ experience of citizen science, the team brought in Dr. Barbara Flagg (an independent third-party evaluator at Multimedia Research) who conducted an experimental study. A treatment group of girls experienced 2 hours of videos and games at home followed by a 2.5 hour FrogWatch USA citizen science session. The control group experienced the citizen science session without prior exposure to SciGirls media. Dr. Flagg found that exposure to SciGirls multimedia helped girls understand:

  • the features of the practice of citizen science;
  • that anyone can participate;
  • that participants use the same protocol so data can be combined and be high quality;
  • that the data collected helps real scientists come to real conclusions; and
  • that citizen science brings together a community of scientists and volunteers to work together and share data which the public as well as scientists.

Additionally, exposure to SciGirls produced a significantly stronger impact on minority girls than non‐minority girls. You can read more about Dr. Flagg’s findings in Citizen Science: Theory and Practice.
“Collaboration is the key to successful citizen science,” said SciGirls executive producer Richard Hudson. “Since SciGirls’ beginning, working together—making discoveries, mistakes and friends—is one of the important research-based methods we use to engage girls around STEM. This citizen science-themed season underscores the importance of collaboration within the scientific research community and workforce. SciGirls is fortunate to have powerful partners advising us about citizen science, including the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, NASA, the National Girls Collaborative and SciStarter.”
For more about SciGirls programs and resources, visit
To access the full journal article, “Contribution of Multimedia to Girls’ Experience of Citizen Science,” go to

Posted on: December 6, 2016  |  Category: Blog, Journal