Teacher course "Citizen science in schools"

This is a free training program on citizen science, open science, water quality, and environment. It is designed for teachers and science communicators that want to know more about citizen science and water quality and how we can bring these topics into a classroom. It provides some general information about water quality, strategies to manage a project, and examples of real citizen science projects you can join now.

Course teachers (unit designers credited for each unit below)

Juanma Garcia
General support

Juanma Garcia


Science content

Homework design and course structure

Sonia Aguera


Graphic design

Videos and illustrations

Institutional partners

rosa swis

Rosa Belmonte

IES Antonio Dominguez Ortiz (Sevilla, Spain)

swis logo

SWIS Erasmus+ program



Grant no. 2017-1-ES01-



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)


Picture credits: Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (Juanma Garcia)


Picture credits: Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (Juanma Garcia)

The course requires 3 hours of work per week, during 2 months. Each unit is intended to be taken in two weeks. If you enroll in one of the course sessions with us, we will evaluate your participation and give your feedback on your homework, and deliver participation certificates.  The materials of the units will are created under an open license CC 4.0 BY SA, which means you can reuse them to train your colleagues or revise the course, if you cite the source.


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 (click on each title to have the link)

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 (click on each title to have the link)

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

Unit 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?


Picture credits: Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (Juanma Garcia)


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, and 2. 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 19th.


Unit designer

Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (website, content, homework, evaluation, extended resources)


Introduction: Three models for citizen science in schools

Millions of students from primary to university do science experiments every semester, collecting data and spending time and reagents. Imagine if a fraction of this data collection and time would be invested in actual science projects. STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education links with citizen science seem evident, yet citizen science is not integrated officially in any government program or a national curriculum. The situation changes dramatically between countries: in the United States it is not rare for students to engage on small research projects in science fairs, and for teachers to experiment with new topics and partner with researchers or other teachers to carry on larger scale projects. In Europe, there is a budding community of citizen science practitioners from the public, but the engagement of teachers in the citizen science community is still testimonial.

The differences between countries can stem in the role of teachers in curriculum development. From our point of view and personal experience, most science teachers are interested in engaging with actual research, hands-on activity. It is a way to do something exciting, engage the students, and learn about new topics. Most science teachers do not have the opportunity to be involved in science research since the time they left university and they find refreshing to do something similar again in their current job. We will outline later strategies to involve teachers better and manage expectations of the different stakeholders that are typically involved in citizen science projects in schools.

We already outlined in the previous unit the different ways to bring citizen science into the school. Some authors (see here) describe three different models for embedding citizen science in schools:

Type 1: Adaption and adaptation of an existing programme. You can take advantage here of the many projects already running, some of them with plenty of educational resources available for teachers. Below we list some of them, and many more are available in public websites such as sciStarter (link here) or CitSci.org (link here). The risk in this type of large projects is the lack of support of the teachers, that often find themselves lost and with no support from any researcher. In some cases, the documentation is so large that teacher does not find the time to understand the larger scope of the project in order to contribute to it in a meaningful way.

Type 2: Autonomous local development. This is the most challenging for teachers since it requires some training and a significant amount of energy to launch the project. The advantage is that the project is integrated more naturally into the teacher’s needs and the program of the school.

Type 3: Local partnerships between scientists and teachers. It involves careful planning between researchers and teachers, and the presence of interdisciplinary collaboration so that both stakeholders understand each other’s needs. This type of projects are often done promoted by large scale funding or science outreach initiatives, and risk not engaging teachers and meaningful if teachers do not help co-construct the program.

The guiding principles behind citizen science were summarized by the European Citizen Science Association, available in many languages here (link). These principles should be present in the core of any project regardless of the scope or model. You should read them and think about them even when you join an already existing citizen science project.


Picture credits: Imane Baïz and Juanma Garcia. Open Science School workshops (togetherscience.eu)


Picture credits: Larisa Venkova. Open Science School workshops (togetherscience.eu)

Table: Examples of citizen science projects for schools


Education Level Title Description
Elementary School Journey North
Students investigate global wildlife migration and seasonal changes.
Students set up bird feeders and observe when the birds are feeding. Data collection on the types and number of birds.
Bee Hunt
Students inventory pollinators at a selected site using photographs to identify insects and plants.
Middle School Encyclopedia of Life
Students take wildlife photos, comment, research, and write about the species on Earth.
Galaxy Zoo
Students examine images of space and classify them according to their shape, allowing scientists to understand galaxy formation while students gain exposure to astronomy research.
Students observe clouds at particular times focusing on types, height, percentage cover, and thickness.
World Water Monitoring Day
Students use test kits to monitor the health of local water bodies by measuring pH, dissolved oxygen, temperature, and turbidity.
High School FoldIt
Students become familiar with synthesis and breakdown of proteins including how structure affects function.
Nature’s Notebook, USA Phenology Network
Students observe and identify specific plants and animals in a region to determine the effects of global climate change on vegetation and wildlife.

Table: selection of mature and well-documented citizen science projects for schools, classified by education level. Table adapted from Shah HR, Martinez LR. Current Approaches in Implementing Citizen Science in the Classroom. J Microbiol Biol Educ. 2016 Mar; 17(1): 17–22 (PDF available here).

Part 1: Understanding the stakeholders

The very first steps you will need to do when starting a citizen science project is to understand the interests and tole of each stakeholder: school director, teachers who are very motivated, teachers who are not very motivated, students with different profiles, parents, and funding bodies from the government. In our opinion, the maintenance of the citizen science projects in schools mainly depends on the personal engagement of teachers. Teachers will be engaged by a variety of reasons: professional recognition, interest in doing science, interest in promotion, moral or civic values related to the project… The role of the school directors is to give positive feedback and recognition to the teachers engaged in these activities and to recognize the added value to the engagement of the student and the quality of the education.

As a teacher, you will find that citizen science in schools provides many opportunities to experiment with different pedagogies that are hard to bring into a classic textbook class. In the table below we present these opportunities. As a teacher, you can focus on a certain pedagogy you especially value, therefore highlighting a certain aspect of the citizen science project you decide to work on.

Table: Pedagogy opportunities of citizen science projects in schools

Aspects of CS

What students learn from it

Related pedagogy

Based on the scientific methodology

◾ Working with hypotheses and experiment design

◾ Gathering Data

◾ Extracting conclusions from observations and/or data

◾Criticise and discuss

◾ Evidence -based pedagogy

◾ Learning through research

◾ Theoretical learning

Project structure

◾ Managing a project and its resources (i.e. time, money, actors).

◾ Project-based education

Community-based: involving various actors

◾ Interacting, connecting and coordinating with various actors

◾ Benefiting from the experience of others

◾ Practicing inclusivity, patience and other key social skills from intergenerational learning

◾ Community-based learning

Engagement - centered

◾ Get into action

◾ Find motivation and self-confidence

◾ Action-oriented pedagogy

◾ Hands-on learning

“Real-world” implications and applicability

◾ Using theoretical knowledge in reality
◾ Solving concrete-case problems.

◾ Authentic situation pedagogy

 ◾ Learning-by-doing

◾ Challenged-based education

Based on sharing culture

◾ Practicing openness and sharing culture

DITOS Consortium (2019), Unleashing the Potential of Citizen Science as an educational tool towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), DITOS Policy brief 9. License CC 4.0 BY.


Picture credits: Imane Baïz, Liliana Baquero, Geraldine Carayol, Elina Moraitopolau, and Juanma Garcia. Open Science School workshops (togetherscience.eu)



As homework, you will read the chapter “Turning students into citizen scientists” (link here) from the book “Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society, and Policy”, edited in 2018. The full book is available in open access here. This chapter is written by teachers from Leysin American School and researchers from the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland and was the base to write this part of the unit. They describe the experiences designing by themselves a citizen science program running twice a year in the school, which collects biodiversity data at different altitudes in a nearby mountain.

Once you read this chapter, make a list of the different stakeholders in your environment and list the individual interests of these stakeholders. Is there any limitation that applies to your situation? Which stakeholder seems more challenging to get involved?

10 steps roadmap for launching a citizen science programme at school

  1. Listen to your stakeholders. What questions excite the teachers and students? What are the talents of the people around you? Do you know any local scientists to discuss this with?

  2. Consider your environment. What is available locally that you could research?

  3. Hatch an idea. Think of engaging research topics. Are there any environmental or social hooks you can bring to your project? (e.g., water quality, garbage, air pollution, biodiversity changes, habitat conservation and so on.)

  4. Build institutional support. Present the idea to administration departments and other stakeholders. Be sure to understand the details well enough to respond to concerns.

  5. Cultivate connections to the scientific community. Universities, museums, science centers, and other community groups often include community education in their missions. Use these human resources whenever possible – they add meaning to the project and help with student engagement. Ideally, get them involved in steps 1–3.

  6. Use good pedagogy. Be sure to tie your project to your curriculum. The project must support student learning at their level. Consider safety and privacy issues.

  7. Follow the Ten Principles of Citizen Science as best you can, but recognize that your bottom line as a teacher is to educate, which loosely falls under number 9, ‘participant experience and wider societal or policy impact’.

  8. Launch your project. Expect something to go wrong.

  9. Ask for feedback and adapt accordingly.

  10. Think long term. The first time you try a new project might not yield great science, but student learning is at least as valuable as the data you gather. If you are doing worthwhile research, repeat it year after year, improving the results over time and gradually building a long-term study that offers real value to science as well as to education.

From the chapter “Turning students into citizen scientists”. By John Harlin, Laure Kloetzer, Dan Patton, Chris Leonhard, and Leysin American School high school students pp. 410-428 (19 pages). From the book Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society, and Policy. UCL Press 2018.

Part 2: Evaluating and documenting your work

Researchers typically spend as much time talking about what they did or want to do or hearing about what others did or want to do as into doing experiments or research, if not more. Evaluation, documentation, and active communication of research results are keystones for the development of science. Unfortunately, citizen scientists or open science projects can forget about these steps. Open science and citizen science must create a culture of collaboration to advance the knowledge of the community. Is it not enough to place your content free of copyright on a website, or to label it under creative commons, you must take an effort into documenting it well and spread it to others in order to be satisfied with your project. Researchers in “classical” science know this very well. The tools that researchers have made to share data and results, and to review each other’s work, have made science what it is nowadays. Did you know that the internet was originally invented at a physics lab of CERN, Switzerland, to share data from experiments?



Evaluation does not start at the end of the project, but rather at the very beginning, in the planning phase. The expected outcomes of the project must be tightly related to the evaluation schemes. What are your expectations for student learning, teacher or parent engagement, or the scientific accuracy of the data produced in the experiments? As you might realize, there are many different outcomes that can be evaluated coming out of citizen science in schools projects:

  • Learning outcomes: technical knowledge about science topics, or skills such as data representation or project management. Teachers can also have learning outcomes related to pedagogical strategies or also technical knowledge.
  • Motivation: One of the main outcomes often cited in citizen science in schools works is the motivation of both teachers and students as a result of engaging in citizen science activities and workshop with a real problem. How did this project change their attitude in other subjects? Does it have an effect beyond the scope of the project? Do the students work better together after the project? Did it integrate the class better?
  • Citizenship, political attitudes: Are the students and teachers more conscious about the problems that we are facing as a nation, country, or planet? Are they willing to change their routine? Did they change their political views or ideology as a result of participating in an environmental monitoring program?
  • Data: this is the scientific outcome itself. What is the quality of the data obtained? Can you extract any conclusion to help the scientific community understand better the problem you are focusing on?

There is sometimes a tendency to value more numerical data outputs issued from questionnaires than interviews or discussion reports. Quantitative questionnaires have the advantage of being very quick and convenient, but they cannot replace the richer and more structured written conclusions in a report from an evaluator. Ideally, questionnaires lust be complemented with a more qualitative evaluation and interview with some participants and the involvement of a third person as an evaluator (e.g. another teacher should come and interview the students before and after the duration of the program and write down his/her conclusions)

Depending on the relationship between the project members and the evaluation process, we can distinguish two types of evaluations:

  • Self-evaluation: this is done by the people running the project, or in close relationship with them (e.g. teachers from the same schools). The results from this self-evaluation are typically documented along with the results of the project
  • Peer-review evaluation: this is the evaluation of work by one or more people with similar competencies as the producers of the work. It functions as a form of self-regulation by qualified members of a profession within the relevant field. Peer-review occurs typically when you submit an article to an academic journal. The journal will send your work to people that know about your subject. They will volunteer to review it and give you and the editor feedback. The editor will ask you to improve your work based on the reviewer’s comment and to resubmit to the journal, or just accept it or reject it.



In citizen science projects in schools, you need to pay special attention to where you will publish your results so that they can be used by others. Your results do not only involve the water quality data, but also your pedagogical activities, the teaching guides you made, or the feedback from the students.

Firstly, you will need to choose which language you will publish your results. For non-English speakers, your materials and project documents will probably be in your local language. You can choose to translate it to English to reach a wider audience or publish it in your local language to reach the people in your community better. Most scientific publications use English nowadays, and researchers worldwide communicate in this language. However, the world of education is not quite like the world of research, and the local language plays a very important role in teacher journals and communications. While citizen science is very well supported and widespread inAnglo-Saxon countries, you might want to contribute to developing content in your mother tongue, to help spread these methodologies. Ideally, your outputs should be in your language and in English.

Now, the question that follows is: where to publish it? It generally depends on the effort you can put into wrapping up the information, your funding needs (if you have a grant they might need a publication in a journal), or the project (some large citizen science project have their own data collection websites). Here are a few options:

  • Your own blog: if you decide to make your own website, make sure you put it somewhere else as well. Personal websites do not have very good SEO, so when people search on google, they will hardly find your work. Also, you might not continue updating your website in a few years, so the information will be lost if the domain is lost.
  • Citizen science or education blogs or websites. Some academic journals also keep blogs for more informal communication, such as PLoS ONE journals.
  • Academic journals: they can be focused on more educational or scientific topics. When choosing your journal, make sure they have open access! Journal with closed access will not allow visitors to access your article, diminishing the impact of your work.
  • Data archives: websites such as citsci.org or water monitoring day have data archives where you can submit your own data.



As homework, you will read the “Evaluating citizen science” (link here) from the book “Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society, and Policy”, edited in 2018. The full book is available in open access here. This chapter is written by researchers from Austria and Germany focused on environmental citizen science.  Unfortunately, this article is not focused on citizen science in the context of a classroom, so some of the criteria and resources will not apply. Can you identify which criteria do not apply in the case of a school, and which ones you would add?


Picture credits: Alicia Mansilla Sanchez. Open Science School workshops (togetherscience.eu)


Picture credits: Juanma Garcia. Co-lab bioremediation worskshop UCL.

CASE STUDY: How do I bring the WATER WATCHERS workshop into my school?

Please find here as an example, a quick overview on how we can apply these 10 simple steps to the Water Watchers workshop. If you are quite new into starting research projects in your school or somewhere else, this could be a great start, but do not forget that this is only “a door opening”. Do not be afraid and you will be soon able to conduct any type of research. You and your students will turn quickly into citizen scientists!

To make it simple, you could start to book into your calendar specific dates to follow the 10 STEPS ROADMAP by Harlin et al.:

DAY 1: Understanding the Water Watchers workshop. Read here the objectives, student guides and the teacher guides: http://openscienceschool.org/scienceinschools/ (Estimated time: 1h). Find time to have a quick discussion with your students know about water quality and what could be important for them: Are they engaged in any environmental activities already? Is this something that could interest them? What they could learn? Could I find any volunteers to help me to develop the workshop? (Estimated time: 1h).

DAY 3: Who could help me? Do a deep search on research groups or centers close to your location. Any scientists working in the region? Local authorities? Citizen science hubs? Search also worldwide, sometimes, it could be easy and beneficial to work with people from other countries. This will give your project another dimension. (Estimated time: 2h).

DAY 3: Where could I launch my Water Watchers workshop? Think about locations: locations for research purposes, and locations to bring the students+scientists together. How we could get there? Search your region: could you find any environmental sites interesting for water quality purposes? Would it be easy to bring the students there? Or we will bring the water into the school? Are there any rooms free? (Estimated time: 2h - 4h).

DAY 4: Pedagogy: Think about your pedagogy. How this could tie to my current curriculum? Could I bring other teachers together? (For example, English teachers if one of my partners is from abroad..etc). (Estimated time: 2h).

DAY 5: Budgeting: At this point you already have an idea on how to bring your Water Watchers workshop into your school. It is time to plan travel costs and do your shopping for reagents. You can find all you need here: http://openscienceschool.org/scienceinschools/. Estimated time: 2h

DAY 6: Tidy up your plan. Ask for feedback to the scientists and your peers. Make a solid idea with dates and logistics into it.

DAY 7: Now you will be more than ready to launch your project. Expect that some things might go wrong but enjoy fixing them. Focus on the importance of your project, besides the pitfalls.

DAY 8 and afterwards: Think long term. Evaluate the experience, think if you could expand it, how you could make things better next time. The first time you try a new project, you might not yield rocking science yet, but gather all the outcomes and analyze the value of the experience.

By Sonia Agüera @immunosoni

Unit 4: Case studies on science teaching.

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

Do plants feel pain interview 1

Picture credits: Juanma Garcia, Imane Baïz and others. Co-lab Open Plant worskshop at Uni Cambridge.


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, and 2. 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 end of May.


Unit designers

Sonia AGUERA (content, homework, extended resources) and Juan Manuel GARCIA ARCOS (content, website)


You have learned in the previous units about environmental citizen science and how to manage scientific projects. It is time now to bring everything together to the design of your own Citizen Science project.

By the end of this unit you should be able not only to adapt a given project but also to generate new Citizen Science innovative ideas. In this unit you will find practical examples and information to help you design a citizen science project for your classroom or other chosen audience.

In the first part of the Unit, we will showcase some successful examples of Citizen Science projects. We would like you to look at them carefully to find out techniques, objectives and ideas that might be relevant for you. In the second part of the Unit, you will work on your Citizen Science project proposal.


Part 1: case studies of science projects in classrooms

To start creating a Citizen Science project, one should have a brief idea on what others have done in the field to find inspiration and a source of tools to succeed in the project design.

Here, you can find some case studies of successful citizen science projects. These are great examples to find inspiration for your own projects and concepts. You should observe their methods, their tools, objectives and then think on how those will fit into your idea.

Citizen Science projects can span a wide range of topics and objectives. As case studies, we had chosen the following four due to their relevance to the school curriculum, quality in their documentation, pedagogical value and their variety in topics. We hope you find them useful. We would like you to focus on those points that might be relevant for your own interests, so take a pencil and take notes on the parts that you think you could adapt to your own project design.

CASE STUDY 1: In Living Color. Bacterial Pigments as an Untapped Resource in the Classroom and Beyond (link here)

This project presents a great way to bring biomaterials into the classroom. The general proposal is to use pigments of harmless soil bacteria for art projects. They proposal seems quite smart, as this project covers various disciplines including biotechnology, microbiology, chemistry, art, history of art materials and physics for example. You could make a painting with living bacteria, introduce bacterial culture techniques, grow them in large scale in a bioreactor, introduce the physics of colour facing, discuss the origin of paints, just to name a few. The project is well documented with advice on student age-range and includes specific details on the materials required (see their shopping resources tab).

This project, while quite compelling from the point of interdisciplinarity and scientific work, it is disconnected the student environment and community. For example, other citizen science projects such as our CASE STUDY 2 (below) are more connected with the own world of the student and their community. For example, they cover ecological issues from the region where they can observe local variations of global changes. They could also involved local scientists to foster the student knowledge of its surrounding scientific community.

bacteria color

CASE STUDY 2: Students Collect Valuable Mammal Data for Science, Conservation, and Community Engagement (link here)

In this project, scientists of the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the Ecological Society of Australia (ESA) developed a project to investigate the habitat of urban pollinators in various schools in Australia. The design of the sampling was done by the researchers, in a way that could be easy to be reproduced. Insects were caught in various traps and their habitat was then analysed. The students learnt topics included in the Australian Curriculum, such as scientific questioning and predicting, scientific planning, data processing and analysis, and data evaluation (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority 2010). Projects such as this have the potential to enhance scientific literacy, by giving students first‐hand experience in the scientific process. By integrating ecological projects with long‐term learning outcomes, students have the opportunity to learn ecological knowledge of their study organisms well in advance of sampling, as well as the importance of sound experimental design and sampling programmes that optimize data collection.  

As you have seen, these two studies are quite different, and they have very different objectives. Both of them bring citizen Science to the classroom successfully and raise relevant issues in terms of interdisciplinarity and citizen contribution to science.


CASE STUDY 3: Water watchers. Open Science in schools (link here)

“Water Watchers” is a science project in schools that aims at characterizing environmental water quality. It brings together teachers, students and scientists from 4 different European countries. The project was started in the context of an Eramus+ exchange grant. The project started with the following objectives:

  1/ Developing multilingual and reusable educational materials for learning about water quality, treatment of water and environmental intervention.

  2/ Encourage productive scientific collaboration. All materials and equipment used are cheap and easy to buy. Teachers would be able to repeat this experience in the future on a short budget. The materials and protocols were validated by the water quality control lab of the city of Seville and graduate students. The students analyzed water from 3 rivers in the South of Spain and learned that water can have different problems.

  3/ Soft skills. Provide students with research scientific skills that are useful not only in a laboratory but also in any other personal and professional aspect: observation and problem solving. We provided the students with limited information on the protocol to follow so they could fully experience the process of research: analyse and think how to fix the problem.

The data from the workshop is not really usable by any environmental study due to lack of periodicity. The main outcomes of the projects were the training provided to teachers, the development of open teaching content materials, and the networking with students, teachers, and university students.


CASE STUDY 4: GMO detective (link here)

Gmo Detective is a low cost and open Citizen Science project for detection of transgenic elements in food and plants. For both scientific and educational purposes.

The DNA base pair is currently joining the atom, the bit and the joule in the pantheon of elementary units from which new things are made. But DNA is not like the others. Everything we eat, everyone we love, sickness and health, the entire living world is written in DNA. Few today understand, but many fear, this new power that is quickly maturing. To this end, we are developing an easy to use, economic and robust method to allow anyone anywhere to detect a DNA sequence of interest. We have created a 5 minute DNA extraction protocol that only needs water. This is coupled to novel isothermal DNA amplification techniques, detected through fluorescence, utilizing ultra affordable LEDs and plastic gel filters. The first use case is detection of GMO’s in  food. The quick experiment allows anybody to actually see with their eyes if a gene is present. Be it in a school, biohackerspace or a kitchen, you are encouraged to upload, share and discuss your results with others across the world. Empowering and educating citizens, while allowing new information to be gathered and shared on a global scale.

GMO detective


  • Read these two case studies (follow the links above)
  • Find another two additional Citizen Science projects. This could be around the topic of environmental issues such as water quality or any other topic of your interest. Think what you would like to learn and focus on. Write a brief description on why you had chosen them and describe how they are relevant to develop your own Citizen Science Project. Take notes on which methods and objectives could be adapted to your own project.

Part 2: Water quality and citizen science project database

Secondly, we had build an interactive database around the topic of citizen science and environmental water quality. In this database, you have plenty of examples to get information and inspiration from. They all focus on environmental issues related with water and how citizen science can help us to bring light to incorporate science into our classroom or daily life. There is a brief description of the project, the main objectives, their water quality parameters, their database and a contact in case you would like to ask them more information. Some of the projects are already finished, some of them are still ongoing. We had chosen them because of their relevance and quality. We greatly encourage you to have a look to their websites to have ideas for your own Citizen Science Project:


Database link here



  • Read the database, look at those projects that might interest you the most.
  • Complete the database with one or two additional Citizen Science projects. Initially, try to aim to find two examples around the topic of water quality from your own country. It is ok if they are in another language. The aim is that the database will have a wider coverage in languages and countries. If you do not find them from your own country, please feel free to include those from other countries.
  • Look more carefully at three projects of the database. Write down four ideas that had caught your interest. For example, which sample size they use? Do the collaborate with scientists? Are the students part of the data collection and analysis? Which materials do they use? Could I afford something similar?

Additional resources

Example projects for elementary students in the school yard

Focus Example Citizen Science projects

Part 3: Developing your own citizen science project proposal

Educators and  researchers often  suggest that participation  in “real” science may help students “think like” or “see themselves as” scientists because students participate in and contribute to the broader scientific community. However, bringing  citizen science activities into the classroom does not necessarily lead to these outcomes; they do not happen by default. How do we proceed?

A starting point to shape your Citizen Science project is to consider three interconnected cores: learning activities, learning outcomes, and key practices. We will try to imagine our project under these three different points of view and think how the project needs to be shaped from that direction. These three cores are the basis of a research-based educational framework developed by Harris & Ballar, 2018 (Figure 1, based on Basu & Barton 2009). The main aim of this framework is to help educators to think beyond what citizen science activities to do and consider how to design and facilitate those activities for meaningful student learning. Here, we propose a brief summary and our take of it.

three cores triangle

CORE 1: learning OUTCOMES of students/other participants

We will first focus to envision the learning outcomes of our project and how to develop and understanding of the environmental science content and gain scientific practices.

For example, in our case study of the “Water Watchers” workshop, the students learn the techniques and protocols to measure water quality parameters, learn the scientific basis of their measurements, context of environmental aspects and water quality. Each project is different, the specific scientific outcomes need to be identified in advance while being flexible to change approach while doing it. In a citizen science project carried out by Harris & Ballard, young students collect data from ladybugs and have a deeper understanding of their life cycle, analyse ladybug data from the garden, take pictures of them, draw them and communicate findings through writing and presentations (see below Harris & Ballard 2018).

A second learning outcome to consider is the development of the student identity as an expert and their ability to learn soft skills during the process.  Harris & Ballard highlight the way students can develop self-identity as experts and develop personalized roles within the scientific work. By doing specific tasks, students become more involved and the fact that they interact with their peers in an “expert” way builds their confidence and level of involvement with the scientific work. These roles, allow to specialize, develop and recognize their unique expertise that aligns with who they are or want to be. In our case study of “Water Watchers” in schools, for example, we could develop a “mentoring workshop” for students who have already done already the workshop to train other students on this matter.

Lastly, a third learning outcome for the students is to develop the sense of using the data to make changes and decisions that affect their world and their environment. Building citizen science activities to make changes -large or small- in their own lives and communities. Students actions manifest in many ways from gaining confidence to share ideas, to advocating for changes in management in the city council or other environmental issues. This outcome is crucial, since it proposes citizen science activities as a way to go beyond science content. It is the time where students can fully engage with the scientific work beyond their schools. Student “Water Watchers” are encouraged to discuss and take roles on the different parties that control the water management in their city, and young students suggest to their school gardeners which plants are better to keep the ladybugs happy in the garden. This connection with their world usually translates into deeper involvement with the citizen science activities and performance.


  1. Think about your own Citizen Science project. Write down a short statement about your main idea and your essential goal.
  2. Write down four learning outcomes that you wish to achieve with your project. Think about the specific scientific skills, how students can become experts and develop this identity and how the students could could lead to take actions in their environment and their community.


Harris & Ballard 2018



Learning outcoles scheme

CORE 2: learning ACTIVITIES and DATA handling

To design a successful Citizen Science project, we will develop different community scientific activities. They can be varied and with careful facilitation will foster our learning outcomes. Our activities can focus on:

  • Activities to develop scientific expertise: for example learn protocols to measure water quality parameters, learn how to identify cyanobacteria under the microscope, learn from field guides, collect and identify specimens, work with a local expert…
  • Activities to help to gather data to be uploaded and shared with other scientists: upload in a shared database, sent directly to researches, review and compare data, investigate a monitoring site, review and compare data…
  • Activities to analyse data already available: for example, find a database and use their data to model predictions: making graphs of public data, confirm data of other investigations, reproduce the experiments of other projects…
  • Activities to make meaning: generate new questions to investigate the environmental issue, compare our data with the data of other citizen science groups…
  • Activities to share the work and take actions: share findings to stakeholders, present their work in a student conference, write a paper, share data with local organizations: city council, parents, school leaders, present data to their class, write to local authorities...These activities where students share the work and bring it to their community, allow to them to think beyond the classroom. This might include even making land management recommendations, writing a letter to city council, or sharing surprising discoveries with local scientists. The process of sharing the world outside the classroom helps to provide further insight into their citizen science vision and involvement.

Another relevant point in the design of our Citizen Science project is the quality of the data we are producing. When the students are able to take ownership of their data, and not only that, on the quality of their scientific data, the students positions himself/herself in a more active situation. The students develops a sense of expertise, and is more invested in the scientific work. For example, if the student not only has to gather scientific data, but also ensure that the correct information is recorded . Therefore, it could be important to add some “quality checks” to the data gathering. This could involve questions such us: is this data good enough for other scientists to use? How certain are we about this data? What remains uncertain? Do others agree with this data? An additional quality check could be reviewing the data in groups after collection. Students could group together to see how their data is similar or different if they were in the same location. How do our data compares to the data of other students?  If we think that the data we had collected is not good enough for scientific use, we can bring questions such as: how we could improve our protocol to make it better? Do we need data from additional sources?

Posing these open questions to the students about data gathering raises critical thinking to help the students to evaluate the quality and come to their own  understandings of what information needs to be collected and a greater scientific knowledge is achieved.


  1. Write down four activities to establish in your citizen science project. Think about different focus for them (developing expertise, sharing knowledge...etc).
  2. Write down two different ways that you could implement in your project to increase the student engagement into the project by using data quality checks.

The degree of success of your citizen science project might depend on how successful is your collaboration with other partners, humility, planning, execution and how your intuitive ideas can lead to great outcomes rather than only focusing on preconceptions.

Learning activities scheme

CORE 3: KEY practices

Doing core Citizen Science activities alone, will not necessarily translate into meaningful learning for students. Data gathering can be repetitive, protocols might be too complicated, our data might not be good enough, scientists can be distant and the questions can be perceived as too esoteric to be relevant. Which practices can teachers and students perform to arrive to a meaningful learning?

One step, as we had already mentioned, could be adding data quality checks so the students develop their identity as experts. Secondly, engaging in complex social-ecological systems involves students in thinking on their role as part of the interaction of human and nature, and students start to think bigger. Impacting the environment is not a choice, but impacting positively is an active choice by helping in management decisions.

Teachers can also support students’ development of core community scientific issues by different practices. First, teachers can position students as scientists. How teachers frame the scientific work through their words and actions can shape whether the students see themselves as having important roles in authoring scientific practices. When the teacher brings a framing with questions such as: “Could a scientist use this data?”, the teacher opens a conversation between students to evaluate the quality of their data. They need to ensure that the data is good enough. Students are considered capable investigators alongside scientists. This question positions the students into an important role of the scientific work and it is more likely that they consider themselves involved in the process. This means positioning students to not only collect data but to look for patterns and develop unexpected explanations to reach deep conceptual understandings. If we consider a different framing, such as: “you guys are going to help scientists by bringing them data”, students are considered as facilitators and have a more passive role. They are contributing but to someone else’s scientific work, not their own. This risks students as feeling like just collecting data for scientists.

Second, teachers can frame the scientific work globally and locally. We could bring scientific questions to a global scale, but that might only be relevant to students already interested in science. By bringing scientific work to their neighbourhood, their school yard, their local park, students can see the impact of their actions rapidly, and their contribution to places that they know can boost their understanding of local ecosystems and boost their existing knowledge of the place. The local understanding helps to motivate students as they can see a closer impact of their contribution. It can also be brought back into a global scale, to be discussed as part of a global environmental case.

Finally, teachers need to embrace the “unexpected” and pay attention to the surprises that bring the environment and the development of the project, just as researchers do! By being flexible to adapt the scientific work and practices, teachers can figure out with students new understandings together. Teachers can help students engage in the reasoning and meaning-making practices of science. For example, if in our citizen science project, we are observing bumblebees, and unexpectedly they begin to interact with another bee species, let’s say honey bees, and this interferes with our data gathering, students will be full of new questions, as the protocols does not work now. This could be a great opportunity to facilitate a class discussion about biodiversity, leading to new student understanding. By adopting a “co-learner” experience, teachers can greatly contribute to the student learning and involvement in the project while working out a new topic together.


  1. Describe how you can bring these key practices into your Citizen Science Project. Think about one additional key practice that can help the students to be placed as scientists and not only as facilitators of data for other scientists.

More resources

BirdSleuth www.birdsleuth.org

Lost Ladybug Project www.lostladybug.org

UC Davis Youth-focused Community & Citizen Science Research https://yccs.ucdavis.edu


Quality checks on the data
Where do we end up