Making Connections for Citizen Science

By Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky

Sharing citizen science

Sharing citizen science

Standing on the dais in front of accomplished scientists and professionals, I faced a series of tough questions about my program, but I was accustomed to fielding probing questions from my 12- and 13-year-olds on a regular basis.

Two weeks ago, I presented my project—teaching sixth and seventh graders how to use low-cost environmental sensors—at the Citizen Science Association’s inaugural conference in San Jose, Calif. Citizen science is an emerging field that actively engages community members and formal scientists in data gathering and research. Several EPA colleagues also attended the conference, called CitSci2015.

Last fall, I worked with Citizen Schools (also see Chasing the “Wow” with Citizen Schools and EPA Science) on an after-school class for middle schoolers in northern Durham, N.C., teaching them how we can use low-cost sensors to quantify the environment around us.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Citizen School students from Neal Middle School (Durham, NC) measure dissolved oxygen levels in water.

Though I was nervous about presenting an education-based project instead of a scientific-based study, I soon realized I had found the right conference. My fellow presenters also shared their educational and student-based citizen science projects. I was able to learn about new ways to engage citizen scientists and foster continued project participation. At the same time, I got to share my experiences and lessons learned about citizen science (and dealing with middle schoolers).

Surprisingly, this was only a single, 75-minute session.

Throughout CitSci2015, attendees shared new and inventive ways to actively involve individuals in quality scientific research. Data quality is always in question with citizen science, and CitSci2015 presented several sessions on how to address this, including talks by fellow EPAers about their Air Sensor Toolbox and the Agency’s vision for citizen science.

Several other talks emphasized the importance of ensuring communities are involved not only in the data collection but in all the steps of the project—from the research question to sharing the results. Chris Filardi, the keynote speaker, underlined this point when kicking off the conference by saying the researcher “should be riding shotgun.”

CitSci2015 created connections and new partnerships between non-profits, academics, state, local and federal governments and private industry. These new connections will help move citizen science and science in general forward by utilizing all available resources, especially communities.

CitSci2015 emphasized that the roots of citizen science have been established through engagements in environmental science, highlighting a continued role for EPA in this growing movement.

About the author: Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky is an Association of School and Programs of Public Health Environmental Health Fellow, hosted by EPA.

Note: For more insights from CitSci2015, check out the conversations on Twitter: #WhyICitSci, and #CitSci2015. The conference agenda and my presentation can be found on the Citizen Science Association website.

 

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Chasing the “WOW!” With Citizen Schools and EPA Science

By Andrew Murray

Students share their final presentations.

Students share their final presentations.

When I was first asked to lead an after school Citizen Schools apprenticeship, I was fairly apprehensive. Sure, I had taught plenty of episodic classroom presentations and felt comfortable around kids, but committing to teach the same 20 students every week? It was a bit intimidating at first, especially since I’ve never been trained as a teacher and just graduated from college myself.

I was quickly reassured that Citizen Schools is all about having non-teachers teaching; thus the reason it’s called “Citizen” Schools. Volunteer “Citizen Teachers” teach after school hands-on apprenticeships on topics from their careers and expertise. The apprenticeships are taught for 90 minutes, once a week, for 10 weeks, with a final showcase at the end of the semester. The Citizen Schools program targets low-income middle schools to close the “opportunity gap” through academic enrichment and career insight. EPA has been participating in the Durham, NC Citizen Schools program for seven years, at both Neal Middle School and Lowe’s Grove Middle School.

Last fall, I was lucky enough to join a team of veteran EPA employees teaching at Lowe’s Grove. Our apprenticeship was called “Power Play,” which focused on studying various energy generation methods, and their relations to pollution and climate change.

Once we decided on what we were going to teach, we pitched our apprenticeship at the Citizen School Apprenticeship Fair. The students then get the opportunity to sign up for the apprenticeships that interest them. I watched the veterans pitch the apprenticeship a couple of times, and then took my first swing at it. After seeing the kids get excited, my own excitement and confidence grew and, suddenly, I was hooked.

Over the following ten weeks, we would meet with the students every Wednesday after school and teach them about energy and the environment. We built solar ovens, wind turbines, and water wheels, and learned about energy consumption and modeling through an Energy Generation board game developed by EPA colleagues.

"GENERATE!" board game developed by EPA researchers.

“Generate,” a board game developed by EPA researchers.

Every week was mentally challenging, but extremely rewarding. It all lead up to the final presentations – the WOW! event where the students had the chance to “teach back” to the public, their teachers, and their families. For me, the WOW! was what made teaching the apprenticeship addicting. After seeing what the students took away and how excited they were to present it and teach it to the public, I realized what a difference the citizen teachers make in the lives of these students.

The new semester of Citizen School is about to start, and I will be teaching with the same team again at Lowe’s Grove. We will be leading an apprenticeship on “Making Sense of Air Quality,” while another team leads an apprenticeship at Neal on “Environmental Sensing.” I’m so excited to get back in the classroom to make a difference in the lives of another class of up-and-coming environmental experts!

About the Author: Andrew Murray is a Student Services Contractor for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. He graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 2009, and a received B.S. in Environmental Science from NC State University in 2014.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.