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Training the Trainers in Citizen Science

September 30, 2014

leavesThe annual meeting of the Environmental Educators of North Carolina is a great place for environmental educators to network, exchange ideas, learn from one another, and form new collaborations.  This year, three Museum staff from Prairie Ridge attended to present a pre-conference workshop on citizen science.  Our goal: to give attendees the confidence, skills, and tools necessary to implement citizen science at their schools or environmental education centers.  By sharing some of our lesson plans, our methods, and the lessons learned from developing and implementing citizen science programming at the Museum, we hoped to encourage environmental educators and teachers across North Carolina that citizen science is worth incorporating into their own lesson plans.  Ultimately, we want to train a corps of teachers to go out and get people involved in real scientific research through citizen science!

The morning started like many others, with copious amounts of coffee, but we quickly got down to business.  After group introductions and covering our workshop goals, we dove into citizen science.  We defined citizen science and did a quick introduction to the field to familiarize our participants with some of the many, many options available to them so that everyone was on the same page. 

But then we spent most of the day actually doing citizen science.  We took everyone outside and began collecting data, giving a demonstration of how they could use the citizen science projects we covered in their own lessons and programs.  We observed trees for Nature’s Notebook and noticed that fall was just starting to creep into the trees in central NC.  We looked for birds for the eBird project and learned that there weren’t many birds in the forest behind the conference center.  Before breaking for lunch, we showed everyone how to enter the data we collected into the project websites so everyone had observed trees and birds, collected data, entered our observations, and explored the data available on the project websites – all before lunch!

After lunch, we took everyone through a ladybug identification activity.  The Lost Ladybug project is a great one for kids, but a lot of people feel uncomfortable when they realize they’re supposed to try to identify the ladybugs they find.  The ladybug ID activity gives educators the confidence they need to bring this wonderful project to their classes and programs, and everyone was getting most of their identifications correct after just 30 minutes of practice.  Then it was back outdoors to look for ladybugs.  We also did a nature scavenger hunt for Natural North Carolina, the Museum’s biodiversity citizen science project.  We challenged everyone to find and photograph 10 different species, including a tree, a reptile, a toad, a ladybug, and a butterfly, in just 20 minutes.  It was a difficult list and only one group documented all 10 species, but everyone was able to see how they could use the project in their teaching and started coming up with ideas for how to incorporate it.

We uploaded the afternoon’s data to the project websites, then broke everyone into groups to discuss how they could incorporate the things they’d learned at the workshop into their teaching.  The groups came up with some stellar ideas for how to use citizen science and it gave us, as leaders, some ideas for how we can better promote and educate about citizen science in our own teaching.  We revisited our goals and had everyone do a quick evaluation before we gave away some swag to get them started in citizen science and sent everyone on their way for the evening.

This was the first full-day citizen science training workshop we’ve offered, and we felt it was a success.  Shortly after the workshop, we started to notice new Natural North Carolina members and new NC sightings for Nature’s Notebook from our group, a good sign that people will use what they learned.  Based on our experiences in the workshop and the feedback we got from participants and others, we realized that there’s a need for this sort of training program in North Carolina.  We’d already planned to offer a three-day Museum teacher trek April 17-19, 2015, but we’ll be offering another single day workshop at the end of March.  We’ve even started the process of seeking Criteria I certification for the NC Environmental Educators Certification Program and plan to start offering the workshop regularly.  If you have an interest in citizen science and teach either formally or informally, we hope you’ll join us at a future workshop!

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