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Empowering the Next Generation of Citizen Scientists

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Today’s youth are passionate about making an impact and positively changing their world and technological tools can allow students of any age to do just that. As an educator, my job is to find resources, develop learning experiences and provide opportunities that allow my students to identify a problem and become part of the solution. Encouraging students to explore their interests and passions can lead to incredibly meaningful learning. My students ask themselves questions that direct their inquiry, and I use resources that help them investigate the world, share their voice and make a difference.

What problems inspire me?

#DoNow and Quest present relevant, timely topics — from a variety of content areas — that spark discussion and help make connections between what’s being learned in the classroom and students’ real-world experiences.

In my class, we begin each year by investigating the global water crisis. Students who have grown up in California are accustomed to living in drought conditions. But while they may know that water is precious, they can still turn on the tap in their house and drink freely. We explore the issue from multiple perspectives, including the environment, climate change, health, the economy and social justice. The Quest Collection on Water is a fabulous resource. While much of the research highlights the global crisis regarding lack of access to clean water, there are positive solutions being designed. You’re bound to get a visceral response when students watch Cleaning Poop From Drinking Water. Encourage them to dream up solutions of their own!

How can I make a difference?

Young learners are often told that they can make a difference. I say, go one step further and show students how they can make a difference. Connect with local organizations where students can volunteer or, better yet, take your class on a field trip. If cost is an issue, apply for local grants that provide funds to get students out of the classroom. Target Grants offer up to $700 for a trip!

Each year I take students to work with Save the Bay. We collect data in restored and unrestored sites along the San Francisco Bay Trail and students get their hands dirty planting native plants. We also work with LiMPETS, collecting data at a Pacific Ocean marine reserve and studying populations and the impacts of climate change.


Take advantage of students’ mobile devices by using apps like iNaturalist to encourage exploration of the physical world. Last spring, my students participated in a BioBlitz competition between Northern and Southern California to see which area could identify the most species. Using their phones, they explored their local area and posted their findings to iNaturalist. The app allows you to create class groups, helps you find a BioBlitz near you, and allows you to create your own competition!

Go online with HHMI’s Biointeractive Resources on Gorongosa Park. Students learn about ecology and conservation biology, plus they can virtually join in the effort by identifying and cataloging animals caught on camera in the park. My students were excited to compare their list of animals caught in action, which sparked a vibrant conversation about animal behavior.

Check out CitizenScience.org and follow #CitizenScience to find more resources. The new organization is looking for members to help direct its future, and you can become an inaugural member of the Citizen Science Association.

How can I share with others?

Providing my students with an authentic audience has been empowering for them. Connecting classroom content to the “real world” makes a lasting impact and deepens their learning experience. My students engage with other youth through #DoNow via its online platform or through Twitter. Teens love using social media, and I enjoy showing them how these tools can be used to inspire conversations that educate and encourage the development of empathy.

Encourage students to post ideas on a class website or help students create digital portfolio sites. Letting students know that their ideas will be shared outside the classroom often encourages them to raise the quality of their work to a different level. Creating for one teacher is not as motivating as creating for a larger community. Depending on the subject, students can write blog posts, design presentations and create videos to be showcased on a site.

Inspire students to compete.

OpenIDEO is always presenting new challenges and students can be involved in researching, sharing ideas, providing and receiving feedback, and iterating their design ideas. Winning solutions receive $25,000 to make their idea a reality!

The annual Breakthrough Junior Challenge hosted by Khan Academy asks students to create a five-minute movie explaining a scientific concept. The winner receives $250,000 in a college scholarship! My favorite part of this project is that all submissions are peer reviewed by the applicants. Students are required to review five other videos and receive feedback from youth around the world.

Next Vista Learning is a great resource for video competitions. There are always new contests and topics to inspire student creation. The site also offers media-making tips and tutorials.

Take advantage of the many tools available to create learning experiences that will empower your students and provide inspiration for them to impact their world now and in the future!

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