Online citizen science benefits primary education

Issue: Volume 98, Number 7

Posted: 3 May 2019
Reference #: 1H9tgX

A new study has revealed the benefits for both students and teachers of using the web for primary school science projects.

A recently released study is the first-ever investigation of the potential of online citizen science projects to support primary science education in New Zealand.

Online citizen science (OCS) is an extension of citizen science. While citizen science involves the collection and analysis of scientific data by members of the public, OCS includes the added element of technology where tasks are aided or mediated on the internet.

Case studies involving four primary school teachers showed how OCS projects could be embedded into primary science units, including how teachers scaffolded students’ development and particular science capabilities.

‘Real’ science

Boulcott School teacher Melissa Coton took part in the study with her Year 5 and 6 students.

She chose an OCS project that would help students understand light pollution as part of the class’s physics unit.

“I did the ‘Globe at night’, which was one that needed kids to make observations of constellations in the night sky.”

Taking part in an OCS project provided students with a context in which they could apply their knowledge about the physics of light in a real-world situation.

“The benefit is they’re doing ‘real’ science, which is beyond the limited resources of most schools,” says Melissa.

“We got a scientist in to talk to us so that was hugely engaging, having somebody who was able to build on the knowledge that they’d just begun to make using a bit of the science project.

“It really gave them an idea of how global science is, about how it’s a lot of cooperation between scientists around the world,” she says.

Global reach

The class shared the data they collected on a global dataset, from which they were also able to access data collected in different parts of the world. The ‘Globe at night’ unit provided a good context to develop the science capabilities of ‘Gather and interpret data’ and ‘Critique evidence’.

“A really important part of our learning was helping students to realise that the data we gathered was based on our personal judgements about light pollution and was not calibrated, so we also learned a lot about why scientists use proper measuring equipment and why using your judgement alone isn’t really good enough from a scientific point of view,” says Melissa.

Working with researchers, she says, helped her understand how education research unfolds and allowed her to share knowledge and ideas with other science teachers.

“It was a really heavily reflective process and through each step there was a lot of reflection on what went well and what didn’t, so that’s always helpful from a teaching point of view to be in that reflective space.

“I’ve used online citizen science projects in my classroom since and it’s definitely something that I’m keen to keep doing and get even more kids to experience.”

Using the projects in the classroom

As part of the study of the benefits of OCS projects, researchers have created practitioner outputs so teachers can access and use the information obtained.

“We actually have laid the foundation of a new section in the Science Learning Hub that’s called ‘Citizen Science’,” says Victoria University of Wellington researcher Markus Luczak-Roesch.

“There will be a citizen science inventory where you can find citizen science projects and filter them along the science capabilities and the Nature of Science strand,” says Markus.

“There will be reviews from our teachers where they report their success stories or what worked and what didn’t.”

Markus is interested in human-computer interaction – including sustained participation, what motivates people to interact with OCS, and how people can produce high-quality contributions – and has published papers about behaviour in OCS platforms.

He worked alongside Dayle Anderson from the university’s School of Education to produce this research, which was funded by the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative. Dayle is a primary science education expert and is involved in the Science Teacher Leadership Programme administered by the Royal Society Te Apārangi.

This project was funded by the Teaching and Learning Research Initiative(external link) (TLRI). 

Learn more about:

Using OCS projects in your classroom(external link).

Using the Web for Science in the Classroom: Online Citizen Science Participation in Teaching and Learning’ Research(external link).

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 11:55 am, 3 May 2019

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