Citizen Science: 11 questions (and answers) on how to implement science projects at schools
Dr. Natália Pirani Ghilardi-Lopes, founder of the Brazilian Network of Citizen Science, answers questions from teachers who participated in the STEM Education Hub webinar on scientific thinking in basic education
Remote teaching, lack of research experience, restricted access to technologies. In principle these may seem insurmountable challenges to implement scientific thinking in education. But in this publication the researcher Dr. Natalia Pirani Ghilardi-Lopes shows that, in fact, these can become important elements in the creation of citizen science projects in schools.
Coordinator of the research group on Citizen Science and Environmental Conservation at UFABC and founder of the Brazilian Network for Citizen Science, Ghilardi-Lopes answered questions from educators who participated in the webinar “Citizen Science and Basic Education: How to Create a Project for School Participation in Research scientific?”, promoted by the STEM Education Hub. Check out the tips and ask your questions.
1- How to work on citizen science projects in the pandemic context, given emergency remote education and the difficulties related to connectivity, which hinder practical activities and group discussions?
In fact, the pandemic poses a series of challenges for us. In the same way, we can learn new ways to interact with available knowledge, and we can also use knowledge-sharing strategies that we didn’t use before. In the case of citizen science, the use of open access data from online projects can be a good way to encourage science teaching at home. There are projects available on platforms such as Zooniverse, iNaturalist, SciStarter, among others that teachers can access and work with their students. It is also important that we understand these connectivity issues that are so common in different regions of Brazil and seek to prioritize asynchronous activities and interactions whenever possible.
2 – How to involve teachers without research experience in citizen science projects? I think this is particularly difficult because they need to be active facilitators of the process, but they don’t have the right skills. Do you have any advice or strategy that you apply in these cases?
More than having research experience, it is important that teachers are prepared to mediate learning about the process of generating scientific knowledge. It is important to seek training, such as introductory courses on citizen science or courses on teaching by inquiry. Citizen science projects themselves, in general, provide support materials for the participants, which can be used by teachers in their planning.
3 – Very interesting citizen science applied to teaching in the food waste issue. A really very relevant work! But I understood that citizen science would have the contribution of citizens to science. How is this contribution made in a project like this?
In the case of the school food waste project, the data generated by the students, when produced by several schools, can support decisions by the public authorities in relation to meal in schools on a municipal or even state scale. Citizen science in this case, from the generation of data by the students themselves in a local context, can help in the elaboration of public policies. Citizen science encompasses different types of partnerships between researchers and those interested in science to:
1) public engagement at different stages of the scientific process;
2) scientific and technological education;
3) co-elaboration and implementation of public policies on issues of social and environmental relevance.
Finally, in the case of the reported project, the participants were learning how the process of generating and systematizing scientific data works, based on an established method of data collection and the organization of data in tables.
4 – Are there works carried out in public schools as well? I would like to know about the possibilities of working in dialogues with the Languages area. I’m a Physical Education and Portuguese Language/Literature teacher and I love astronomy!
Citizen science can be inserted in any school, whether public or private. Implementation will depend on the interest of teachers and the school’s pedagogical team, in line with the curriculum planning. There are examples of projects involving the area of languages (see https://doi.org/10.1515/lingvan-2019-0017 or https://www.zooniverse.org/projects?discipline=language&page=1&status=live) that maybe can inspire you to produce Portuguese versions.
5 – What experiences exist of citizen science in interdisciplinarity with the Human Sciences?
In fact, citizen science is fully related to the Human Sciences, as there is no way to have citizen science without the interaction processes between scientists and citizen scientists. The evaluation of learning and the evaluation of citizen science projects depend, a lot, on the research methodologies of the human sciences. In addition, there are citizen science projects with themes from the Human Sciences as well (see eg https://www.zooniverse.org/projects?discipline=history&page=1&status=live).
6 – I am interested in citizen science in the early years of elementary school. What would be the forums and/or sites dedicated to this segment?
This is a field of discussion that still needs to be greatly expanded here in Brazil. I suggest that you join the working groups of the Brazilian Citizen Science Network (RBCC), especially the group focused on Education. The RBCC membership form is available at: https://sites.usp.br/rbcienciacidada/adesao-a-rbcc/
7 – How to encourage and guide our students to observe, identify problems and propose possible solutions? How to help them in the search and protagonism of a critical and creative formation?
These skills must be worked on from the early school years. Teaching processes that involve real socio-environmental issues that are relevant to students can help in this process. It is also important that these skills are worked within a plan that considers adequate time (usually more than just a few classes) and, in this sense, the project-based learning approach can be interesting. Citizen science fits perfectly into both problem-based and project-based learning proposals.
8 – What are the main challenges for implementing Citizen Science projects in schools?
There are several, but I see that the main ones are related to access to technologies and communication between schools and research institutions. There is often the idea that universities are far from society, so it is very important that schools demand these interaction actions and seek partnerships. There are many universities wanting this approach, but often not knowing the ways to get to the schools.
9 – Some studies indicate that the degree of student achievement and engagement in activities called “project pedagogy” is profoundly influenced by family income. How to develop truly citizen projects, in the sense of being inclusive for students with lower family income?
Once projects are designed to address an issue that is contextualized and relevant to students, they become interesting for them. Citizen science projects do not necessarily need to involve large infrastructure and costs, and can be carried out with low-cost materials (even produced by the students themselves) and even with little or no use of information and communication technologies, in what we call ExTreme Citizen Science. Therefore, the most important thing is that the coordinator of the citizen science action at the school is able to think of projects that are adequate for the reality of those students, making the process of generating scientific knowledge truly inclusive.
10 – How to dialogue and involve the school community (especially those responsible for students) for the development of a “scientific culture” in schools?
To encourage the school community in the development of this scientific culture, it is super important to involve the community in the processes of scientific knowledge production. For example, through the promotion of scientific fairs and exhibitions open to the community, in which students present their projects, or even, involving the students’ families so that they help in some way in collecting data for the projects, for example.
11 – What “golden tip” to carry out a Citizen Science project that can successfully integrate the various areas of knowledge?
There is no magic recipe. The key is to think of a scientific question that is relevant, contextualized and complex. When I say complex, I don’t mean difficult, but encompassing different dimensions that can only be worked on if they involve different disciplines. For example, social and environmental issues such as water and energy use, biodiversity, climate change, sustainable food, solid waste generation and management, among others, are examples of issues that are complex and that appeal to students because they are directly related to their well-being and health. I hope I’ve helped. Good luck with your projects!