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NC Kids Get Involved in Scientific Field Research as Dragonfly Detectives

October 3, 2015
 As we enter fall and the natural world starts preparing itself for winter, we’re working with the last few groups in year 1 of the Dragonfly Detectives program. Dragonfly Detectives is a citizen science afterschool program that we’re offering with NC State Parks to NC children in grades 4-8 that gets them outside doing real science. Over the course of six weeks, the students collect data on dragonflies for three citizen science projects at an area NC State Park or at the Museum’s Prairie Ridge Ecostation. The goal of Dragonfly Detectives is to get children outdoors learning about science and nature by doing real science in the field. We hope that our participants are more likely to become scientists after experiencing the scientific method first hand in a fabulous outdoor setting!
Each Dragonfly Detectives group works with us one afternoon a week for six weeks in the spring, summer, or fall. The first week, our educators go to the school to introduce the group to the citizen science projects they will be participating in, teach everyone how to identify the dragonflies they will need to know, and give everyone practice using their insect nets and the weather equipment. The second through fifth weeks, the students travel to a nearby state park to collect data in the field and learn about the natural world. Each week, the students collect data on the abundance of migratory dragonfly species visiting the pond/lake, record weather data and make counts of dragonfly flights, and look for dragonfly swarms. In addition to the data collection, the students complete a variety of hands-on activities that let them explore aquatic ecosystems, do water quality analyses using aquatic insects as indicators, and explore the difficulty of tracking dragonfly migrations by capturing, marking, and attempting to recapture dragonflies at the pond. In week six, we go back to the school to analyze and interpret the data the students have collected and the students create a poster that presents their findings. We then send the kids home with their field notebooks, their insect nets, and their dragonfly field guides to keep so that they can continue their explorations on their own.
The kids going through the Dragonfly Detectives program are getting first-hand experience doing scientific research in the field. They’re collecting data for three scientific research projects and have surpassed our expectations in the level of accuracy they have exhibited in their data collection. It’s easy to see the improvement in the students’ abilities to identify the dragonflies they see in the field from week to week and the excitement that being able to identify a dragonfly to species or understand their behaviors gives them. Their teachers and parents often tell us that the kids talk about dragonflies non-stop during the program, that they mention seeing Wandering Gliders in their yards or Common Whitetails at a pond in their neighborhoods. The kids tell us stories about dragonflies they’ve seen and how they’re teaching their families how to identify the dragonflies too.
The kids are also producing some excellent posters. We have them make hypotheses about what the best and worst weather conditions for dragonfly flight might be on the first day and then use the data they collect in the field on the last day to decide whether their hypothesis fit their observations or not. It’s clear from the posters that the students have a realistic picture of how weather impacts dragonfly flight by the end of the program – and they came to their own conclusions using their own observations in the field to guide them!
We were able to offer the students a great opportunity to publicly present their findings at the Museum’s recent BugFest as well. We had 9 students talk to BugFest visitors about their experiences and the things they learned this year. It’s no small thing for a 10-year-old to stand in front of a group of strangers and teach them about dragonflies and how they respond to weather, but they did an amazing job! It was wonderful watching the kids present their findings, share the science they did with others with pride, and tell stories about things they’d seen in the field.
The dragonfly season will end soon and we’ll have to stop offering Dragonfly Detectives for the winter, but we’ll start back up in the spring with an expanded list of parks/facilities in year 2. If you have a group of up to 15 kids who you think might enjoy Dragonfly Detectives, please visit our website or comment below and we’ll send you more information. We have funds available for transportation, to provide snacks, and will give all participants a bug net, field guide, and field notebook to keep. We’re hoping to offer the program to 30 groups next year, so please let us know if you want your kids to become Dragonfly Detectives!
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