Teacher course "Citizen Science in Schools"

Teacher training program on citizen science, water quality, and environment

Open Science School and the Erasmus+ program SWIS (Science Work in Schools) are launching during March-April-June 2019 a teacher training course on citizen science and environmental teaching, including:written guides, sshort video(s) in English with multilingual subtitles, and self-evaluation grid and homework (typically some reading task or assay). We will cover 3 different topics:

  1. Water quality (this will be an extended version of the 4-page guide we already did, including detailed information about each of the elements, graphic support, and more details on environmental water management. We will focus on how the importance of water quality so that you can engage the students into this important problem).

  2. How to bring the scientific method into the classroom? Teaching and management strategies

  3. Examples of successful projects you can bring to your class (Open spectrophotometer and others)

The course will require 1 or 2 hours of work per week, during 4 months. We will evaluate your participation and give your feedback on your homework. We will deliver participation certificates for all attendees.  The materials of the units will be created under an open license CC 4.0 BY SA, which means you will be able to use it permanently in the future to train your colleagues or revise the course.

This is the plan for the release of the materials:

  • Unit 1: Release on March 5th. Why is water quality an important topic? (Due date March 17th)
  • Unit 2: Release on March 24th. How to measure and evaluate water quality?  (Due date April 7th)
  • Unit 3: Release on April 8th. Manage a science project in a classroom. (Due date April 20th)
  • Unit 4: Release on April 20th. Case studies on Science Teaching.  (Due date June 5th)

Picture credits: Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (Juanma Garcia)


Picture credits: Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (Juanma Garcia)


Unit 1: Introduction. Why is water quality an important topic?

For this introduction unit, we will present to you resources that highlight the importance of water quality. Citizen science can contrbute to monitor and solve the water quality crisis we are facing worldwide.

20180912 Jamesons Firefinch

Picture credits: Sonia Aguera


Follow the instructions below, compile your answers and send them to the course instructors by email before the deadline. If you have any questions, feel free to email or fix a Skype Q&A session. The activities you need to complete are under the "Homework" section of parts 1, 2 and 3. More resources are outlined after each part if you wish to learn more about those topics. In order to obtain your attendance certificate for the current course, you will need to submit your answers by March 17th.


Unit designers

Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (website, homework, evaluation, extended resources), Sonia AGUERA (videos, illustrations, factsheets, presentations), Maria Luisa SERRANO ORTIZ (factsheets, water treatment), Forum SHAH (factsheets)


Before starting the course: complete the questionnaire below

The objective of this questionnaire is to assess your initial knowledge before the course, please do not research on the answers. Adapted from "The status on the level of environmental awareness in the concept of sustainable development amongst secondary school students" (Arba’atHassan et al.) and the Environmental Literacy report card from Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance (https://www.pca.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/p-ee5-06.pdf)

Objectives of the course

More than a yer ago, we started an exciting collaboration with the teachers belonging to the high school science program SWIS (science work in schools). Since then, we have improved and developed some materials and hardware for their students available here: http://openscienceschool.org/scienceinschools

This course aims at completing the materials we have done previously, so that the teachers have more background and are able to conduct this activities independently. More importantly, it also aims at giving teacher tips for conducting a science activity in their classroom, from a pedagogical point of view, and also practical.

Part 1: How much water do we use every day?


Water is essential for all sorts of life on Earth, from bacteria to humans. We are 70% of water, and are able to survive just 3 days without drinking. How much water do you think we use per day? The numbers may surprise you. The water footprint of an individual, is defined as the total volume of fresh water used to produce the goods and services consumed by the individual. Water use is measured in water volume consumed (evaporated) and/or polluted per unit of time. Many situations yield liters of water which are polluted, like agriculture.



1 - Watch the two videos on the right of this text on water consumption. Script of the Video 1: "How much water do we use every day?"

2 - Have a look at https://www.watercalculator.org and calculate your water footprint in liters per day (1 US gallon ~ 3.785 litres )

3 - Read the introduction sheet on water quality

4 - What initiatives could you carry on in your school or workplace to reduce our water footprint? (Make a list of at least 10) What would be the most effective ones?


More resources

Wikipedia article on water footprint



How much water does a person need every day?


Part 2: How do we pollute water?


There are many causes for water pollution but two general categories exist: direct and indirect contaminant sources.

Direct sources include effluent outfalls from factories, refineries, waste treatment plants etc... that emit fluids directly into urban water supplies. 

Indirect sources include contaminants that enter the water supply from soils/groundwater systems and from the atmosphere via rain water. Soils and groundwater contain the residue of human agricultural practices (fertilizers, pesticides, etc..) and improperly disposed of industrial wastes. Atmospheric contaminants are also derived from human practices (such as gaseous emissions from automobiles, factories and even bakeries).



1 - Read the introduction sheet on water pollution, consumption and water treatment

2 - Read on this website the most common sources of water pollution.

3 - Have a look at these slides about examples of water pollution. We have outlined here different problems associated with a geographical area, put a screenshot on the geographical area, and included some news

4 - Now that you know the different sources of water pollution and some examples, make the examples of your area. This will be very useful to show your students and colleagues how important is water quality.  First, look in the news on your area or ask around what ecological problems are important where you live and work. Pick up 3 to 6 problems and make slides following the example (introduction slide with pictures of the area, second slide with map with tags, third slide with news coverage and links).


More resources

WWF: Environmental journalism and its challenges

Article on Groundwater Pollution

Article on Air Pollution

Article on chemical weapons

Article on Environmental disasters


20180913 African Jacana-9967
20180913 Otter-9977

Picture credits of this part: Sonia Aguera

Part 3: What is eutrophication?


We will now have a look at a more specific problem which is very common. Eutrophication is mainly caused by two nutrients, phosphorus and nitrogen. These are normally brought to aquatic ecosystems as runoff from fertilized agricultural areas, erosion from river banks, river beds, clearing of land (deforestation), or sewage that ends up in aquatic environments. The major consequence of eutrophication are algal blooms usually resulting in the depletion of dissolved oxygen (Wikipedia).



1 - Read the unit "Nitrogen cycle" from Khan Academy

2 - Read the unit "Phosphorus cycle" from Khan Academy

3 - Watch the video on the right (Eutrophication and dead zones) from Khan academy.

4 - Make a summary (max. one page) of the different ideas you have learned related to eutrophication.

5 - Make a field trip around your area. Can you spot in a local river, lake, or pond any signs of eutrophication? Make a picture and explain in a paragraph what could be the source of a problem specifically in your area. Include a map or other pictures as an example. About 60 percent of lakes and 20 percent of coasts worldwide have signs of eutrophication.


More resources

What is the percentage of waters (lakes, rivers, etc.) affected by eutrophication all over the world?

Sustainable Development Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

Battling the Bloom: Lake Erie story

Example of eutrophication in a small pond



Picture of the Caspian sea from the space. Turbidity is clearly seen on the top part. From Wikipedia. Original source: NASA. Earth from the space.

Eutrophication in an urban lake. Picture by Sonia Aguera.
Gum swamp sanctuary near Forbes NSW infested with blue green algae growth

Unit 2: How to measure and evaluate water quality?

There are many different ways of mesuring water quality (colorimetry, electrochemistry...) of different price and accuracy. In this outline we will explain to you a selection of the different methods



Follow the instructions below, compile your answers and send them to the course instructors by email before the deadline. If you have any questions, feel free to email or fix a Skype Q&A session. The activities you need to complete are under the "Homework" section of parts 1, 2 and 3. More resources are outlined after each part if you wish to learn more about those topics. In order to obtain your attendance certificate for the current course, you will need to submit your answers by April 8th.


Unit designers

Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (website, homework, factsheets, extended resources), Sonia AGUERA (videos, illustrations, photography, factsheets), Maria Luisa SERRANO ORTIZ (factsheets)


Part 1: What parameters can we measure in water?


The parameters to monitor in the water depend on the origin of the water. For environmental waters, we will mainly be looking at markers of eutrophication (turbidity and phosphates), and for drinking water for effects of the water treatment (chlorine, metals).

This can be complemented with more general measurements such as water temperature or pH. These parameters inform us of the chemical characteristics of the water, and we can have an idea of how good it is for human consumption or the growth of aquatic plants and animals.

We can also perform microbial analysis of the water to target pathogenic species or natural species. The diversity of natural species can also be a good readout of the level of pollution of the river, because some types of algae, protozoa or small arthropods only survive in clean waters.

In unit one of this course, you have searched for local problems related to water and environment. You should focus your research on the problems more likely to happen in your area or in problems that have already been reported and are unsolved. As a teacher or mentor, if you contextualize your problems, you will be able to make your teaching more meaningful. Students will be engaged with problems and places they can relate to, instead of talking of some far-away environmental disaster. Our planet is in such a critical state that it will not be hard for you to find a local environmental emergency. Focusing on local problems also give you the opportunity to contribute to current research in a useful way.

Once you identify a local problem, you will need to translate the problem to specific parameters you can measure and specific experiments you can carry as an environmental researcher.

It is very important to keep in mind that isolated and sparse data in time or space will not build a scientific conclusion. Depending on your objective, you might want to study the parameters over a long period of time to see seasonal changes, or to be able to identify baseline values so that you will be able to detect a pollution crisis in the future.  



1. Watch this video from the course “Ecology” from Khan Academy. It will give you a good introduction and complement the case study on London you will find afterward. Then, watch the video we prepared about water qualily available here.

2. Read the “Copper (Cu) factsheet” , “Iron (Fe) factsheet”, and “Turbidity factsheet” documents.

3. For a more detailed and general summary, check the “World monitoring day” challenge guide on water quality indicators available on this link

4. Find the website of your local environmental protection agency or water distributor. Look for information about water quality and water treatment related to environment (not human use). What kind of information did you find? Was it easy to find? Do you think there is some missing relevant information? Write down the answer to these questions, the website address, and your experience.

5. Search on the internet for government-sponsored environmental water quality parameters. Do you find any public information on the typical values (the values that are most commonly found) and the minimum standards for environmental water? Write down the answer to these questions, the website address, and your experience.

6. You saw in the last unit this example presentation on different real-world water problems. You also made a few problems related to your area. Now that you know more about the specific parameters that you can measure, go ahead and outline 2-6 parameters (for example arsenic concentration, nitrate concentration, conductivity, temperature...) for the example presentation problems and your examples.


More resources

  1. Guidelines for drinking water quality SECOND EDITION Volume 3: Surveillance and control of community supplies. World Health Organization.
  2. Nitrate SEPA (Scottish Environmental Protection agency) pollutant repository
  3. Phosphorus SEPA  (Scottish Environmental Protection agency) pollutant repository
  4. Water Quality Measures from the Environmental Department of Idaho
keywords water



Case study: environmental pollution in London, UK

Britain’s industrial revolution was sustained in a intense exploitation of natural resources from Britain and from all corners of the British Empire. The impact of human activity was enormous in many ways: pollution of rivers, air, disparition of local species, and much more. A very clear example was the peppered moth evolution in northern England. Moths used to be white, but as the tree barks became darker due to coal smoke, they evolved to change the color in order to be protected from predators. Back moths were never seen at the beginning of the 1800s and became common during the XIX century. Still nowadays, Britain has very few old forests, and many ancient contaminated mines and sediments dating from 1850-1950.

London became famous for its smog (smoke fog), produced by the coal burned in factories and homes. Smog has been present in big cities since the industrial revolution, cause by a combination of lack of wind and smoke production. Nowadays, cities like Beijing have smog crises very often. The last important smog crises in London happened in 1952 and 1962 and killed thousands of people.

The river Thames, which goes through London, was reputed to be one of the world’s stinkiest rivers. The Thames used to be a good river for salmon fishing, but after 1830s no more salmons were found. Over the next century, several cholera and diseases outbreaks happened in the water distribution systems. In summer 1858, the smell and aspect of the river Thames was so bad people would fall sick and flee the city. Summer of 1858 is known in history as “The Great Stink”.The degradation of the river was the product of the lack of treatment of wastewater from homes and industries, a key component for water management. This degradation continued over the next century: in 1952, the river Thames was declared biologically dead. In technical terms, the pollution from the river Thames was very complex: in involved the presence from toxic bacteria coming from large amounts of untreated waste, the deposition of heavy metals by coal burning, and the release of toxic dyes and oils from the manufacturing industry in London’s surroundings.

This issue raised public concern and political action, like in this debate from 1956 in the House of Lords. Britain’s detachment from heavy industry and environmental protection was effective in improving the quality of rivers. In the 2000s, the river Thames hosted more than 100 species, and received international awards for water quality.

However, the signature of its troubled past is still present: the sediments in the bottom of the Thames estuary hold high amounts of mercury and other heavy metals. The periodic works of river refurbishing and delimitation need to survey the release of toxic sediments back into nature from 1850-1950.

London river thames

Picture of the river Thames and a seagull from Embankment. Credits: Sonia Aguera

"Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water" (1828), by the artist William Heath

"Monster Soup commonly called Thames Water" (1828), by the artist William Heath.

"The Silent Highwayman" (1858). Death rows on the Thames, claiming the lives of victims who have not paid to have the river cleaned up.

Punch Magazine - Original: Cartoon from Punch Magazine, Volume 35 Page 137; 10 July 1858 This copy: City and Water Blog

"The Silent Highwayman" (1858). Death rows on the Thames, claiming the lives of victims who have not paid to have the river cleaned up.Punch Magazine - Original: Cartoon from Punch Magazine, Volume 35 Page 137; 10 July 1858 This copy: City and Water Blog

London river thames

View of the London Eye and the Thames nowadays. Credits: Sonia Aguera



Part 2: How to measure water quality?

You have learned up to know the social issues around water pollution and what parameters are important to follow and evaluate in order to address a water quality problem. Now, the question arises: how do I measure those parameters? How much money do I need to do that?

First, you need to know that many qualitative measurements do not require fancy equipment (that means we do not give a precise number, but rather a general evaluation). Observation of the species present in a river, watching the presence of fish, looking at the turbidity of the water, or measuring its temperature does not require any special equipment other than household items.

For other parameters, we would either need instruments or reagents. For example, to quantify precisely the turbidity of a sample we need a spectrophotometer or nephelometer. To quantify the nitrates in a water sample we will need to use reagents tailored for that. In both cases, the budget for a commercial test or instrument should be around 10-30 euros.


When to measure water quality?

Imagine you go tomorrow to a river and you find that pH is very low and there are extremely high iron concentrations. You talk to locals and read newspapers, but nobody seems worried about it and nobody reports a recent environmental issue. You found out that you measured a stream of river Tinto, which naturally has such an extreme environment for thousands of years. Indeed, to be able to assess if the river has a good quality, you will need to compare the results that your measure with typical data of the area. A good way to start is by collecting long-term data along with other water quality indicators, such as transparency and fluorescence. This information can be used to determine what is happening in a water body. For example, if the water in a coastal area has been transparent for a long period of time, a change towards a more brownish color can indicate something is altering this environment.


The choice of instrumentation for citizen science

When looking for science content and protocols, you will most like find content that has been created by professional scientists in an academic or professional context. Most of the times, you will find yourself unable to reproduce: you will lack the purity of reagents, the instruments will be too expensive, or you will simply not understand what they meant to write. This is because, when science protocols are written, they are not generally meant to be performed outside of a lab, but that does not always mean you cannot do them outside of a lab! Many times, you can replace instruments and reagents by others you can easily access or buy online without compromising the accuracy and validity of your measurements. In the context of education, the price of reagents and equipment is actively preventing science teachers from doing experimental work with their students. In this lesson, we will explain to you cheaper ways to do useful and meaningful science inside the classroom.


Open Science Hardware for citizen science

For citizen scientists, instrumentation is a big deal. Our activity is often compromised by governments and universities because of the lack of scientific accuracy. Developing reproducible, robust protocols is an important step in making our research valuable for others. Scientific hardware (microscopes, spectrophotometers, sensors, etc.) or wetware (chemical reagents, test strips, microbiology culture media, etc.) are often too expensive so that a large number of citizen or teachers can afford to buy them. Fortunately, DIY science and open science are living nowadays a golden era. Many teachers and citizen scientist are designing, replicating, and selling scientific instruments. Science can be done in many places other than a lab. Public programs such as “Doing it Together Science”, associations such as ECSA, or community initiatives such as Public Lab or GOSH (Gathering for Open Science Hardware) are bringing these issues to the public and public for the open science and open hardware agenda worldwide. In the GOSH forum, you will find a thriving community where you can ask questions and learn about the events worldwide. There are many hackerspaces, community labs and public labs which are developing in many cities, and there might be one in your town, too.



1. Water sampling protocols and practices should be set in order for your experiments to be reproducible. Read this water sampling guide for students.

2. Read the teacher’s guide we made about “Instrumentation for water quality citizen science”. Afterward, read over the water quality colorimetry guide for students. What other tests or measurements related to water quality could you include? Pick one test or measurement and write 300-600 words explaining to high schools students how to do it. Below, in “more resources” you can find more hints.

3. In Part 1 of this unit, you proposed a few parameters to measure in the cases of the examples presentation and in the examples of environmental problems you found. Now, please propose the technique and the tools you would use to measure these parameters. Select at least 5 of these tools and find a way to buy them in your country, find the purchase link and calculate the minimal budget necessary in euros.

More resources

We recommend this course on ecology from Khan Academy, it is very complete and well done.

Public lab: 7 ways to measure water quality. The public lab is a community-based in the US dedicated to environmental monitoring. They sell open hardware and campaign for open science and open hardware.

Low cost, low tech options to test water quality. A blog post from the World Bank

Chemical test for water quality at low budgets. A blog post from the World Bank

Microbial testing for low budgets. A blog post from the World Bank

Article section on Wikipedia “Water quality sampling and measuring”

open hardware
water instrumentation

Some basic equipment for water quality testing in school, for low budgets. Credits: Sonia Aguera

2016.03.02 GOSH #GOSH2016 Juanma Presentation

Examples of water quality science tools

Part 3: What to do with water quality data?

By now you should have a basic idea of a) why water quality is important and how you can identify environmental problems in your area, b) the science behind water quality parameters, and c) the instrumentation and budget necessary to do it.

In general, you can either choose to contribute to a large scale data collection program or to make your own small study. To collect data for a large program, you will need to plan ahead the format and quality of your data. Large programs (you will find a few in the section more resources below) will give precise instructions, materials, and forms (like this one) to standardize the data they get from participants. If you plan to conduct your own research, you will need to define well your research question and make the necessary controls and measurements. Most likely this will answer to a very specific question in you are and if you are a teacher not expert in environmental science you would need to involve someone more specialist to help you find a relevant research question.



Later on, you will learn how to think better about your research question if you decide to conduct your research independently. We will introduce in the next units other citizen science projects related to water quality to give you an overview of what people can do in a class. For now, we propose you find three academic researchers on water quality that work in your region or country, and that you find the three ongoing water monitoring programs that are closest to you. Write them down and send along the rest of the homework.


More resources and examples



Article from Nature on 23 October 2018. No PhDs needed: how citizen science is transforming research.

Why Citizen Science for Water Quality? Article from the Terra program from NASA.

Utah waterwatch citizen science program

World water monitoring day citizen science program

Aqua ibercivis project (this one is not environmental, but tap water)

Water School by Dar Si Hmad (educational resources for water quality monitoring)


Floating green algae in a eutrophic river in Cambridge (UK). Credits: Sonia Aguera


Beach in South Africa. Credits: Sonia Aguera

By Sonia Agüera @immunosoni

Unt 3: Manage a science project in a classroom.

In this unit we will outline different tips useful to carry on a science project in the classroom. How to adapt research for the contraints teachers face in a classroom?

Release on April 8th


Unit 4: Case studies on science teaching.

In this unit we will explain a few examples of successful science projects in the classroom

Release on April 20th

Do plants feel pain interview 1