citizen scientist

Become a Citizen Scientist

Become a Citizen Scientist (Using Your Phone!)

Did you know that you can contribute to scientific research using only your phone? Scientists around the globe are calling on anyone with a camera or a computer to help contribute to our knowledge of the world. This movement is called Citizen Science and it’s a win-win – it enables the public to play a role in advancing science and gives scientists access to more information than they could ever collect on their own. For teachers, it is an opportunity to bring real-world content into the classroom and to empower students to make a difference.

Anyone Can Be a Citizen Scientist

I first got involved in a citizen science project over ten years ago. One of my friends was an avid birdwatcher and a frequent contributor to eBird, a project run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to document bird sightings around the world. We spent a day hiking around the jungles of Peru with our cameras, binoculars, and notebooks, recording every bird we saw. Later that night, we uploaded our sightings to eBird, where they became data points that anyone could access. As of 2016, eBird had over 370 million bird sightings in its database, representing 10,313 different bird species. Scientists are using this information, which has been collected by members of the public, to answer important questions about where birds live and how abundant they are. And, anyone can contribute!

Use Your Camera

As a professional nature photographer, I’m most excited about opportunities to use my camera to help scientists. One of my favorite platforms to use is iNaturalist, a free app that lets me to snap a photo of a plant or animal with my phone and upload it to a database along with location information. If I don’t know what the species is, other users from around the world help me identify it. iNaturalist is a great tool for classroom use – you can ask students to document the trees in your schoolyard or to upload 10 sightings from around their neighborhood. Together, you can create a map of the species near your school that can then be used by scientists anywhere.

Even if you don’t have access to cameras in your classroom, you can still use photography to contribute to citizen science through fun projects like Chimp & See or Wildlife Watch Kenya. These projects ask volunteers to review images from camera traps (cameras that are remotely activated by a motion sensor) and to identify the animals they see. Check out Zooniverse to learn about other incredible projects.


Teach Science Vocabulary

Bringing Citizen Science into your classroom will inspire your students and enhance your English language teaching. To be good global citizens, it is important that students understand the scientific process and can talk about issues related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Use a citizen science project to introduce new ELT vocabulary to your classroom or find a TED lecture featuring a scientist to use in your classroom. Your students will have a better understanding of the new words if they participate in science while they are learning.

A word from ELT Teacher Trainer Justin Kaley:

As teachers, we all hope that our classes will ultimately be of real-world use to our students – enabling them to take their new skills and make an impact in their own lives and on the outside world. All too often, though, as we’re immersed in teaching grammar and vocabulary, or prepping students for the next big exam, it can be difficult to provide meaningful opportunities for students to apply what they’ve learned. Gabby Salazar’s ideas bring the concept of ‘exploration’, in a palpable and exciting way, right to us – showing that anyone can be a scientist right where they live, without a high level of specialist knowledge or even English ability.

A teacher could easily use Gabby’s projects to extend students’ learning beyond the classroom. For example, in unit 5 level 4 of National Geographic Learning’s Impact series, students learn words and concepts that relate to exploration, like ‘research’, ‘investigate’ and ‘encounter’. Students are also presented with the task of planning an expedition and researching what they’ll find. A teacher could challenge her students to contribute to eBird or iNaturalist with findings from their own neighborhood – first researching and planning their ‘expedition’, predicting what they think they’ll find, then using their cell phones or cameras to record images of birds or wildlife around their homes. In the next lesson, students can report their findings to the class, putting their newly learned English skills to immediate use by sharing what they, ‘researched’, ‘investigated’ and ‘encountered’ on their exploration, and on the websites.

Through this activity, teachers can not only help reinforce the English students have learned, but also show them the purposeful and immediate ways they can participate in their own learning, and potentially, open the doors to an exciting world of exploration, science and discovery that awaits them outside.

Have you ever used science projects in your ELT classroom? We would love to hear from you in the comment section below.

For more National Geographic Learning content from Gabby Salazar, be sure to check out her webinar recording: Inspiring Environmental Responsibility in the Young Learner Classroom.

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Author: Gabby Salazar

Photographer and conservationist Gabby Salazar travels around the globe to document rare and endangered species and to raise awareness about their plight. She is a National Geographic Young Explorer, a former President of the North American Nature Photography Association, a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Photography, and a member of the Emerging League of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). At 19, she founded a student magazine with Nature’s Best Photography to promote photography as a way to connect kids with nature. She continues to teach photography to children and teenagers around the world.

For more National Geographic Learning content from Gabby, you can watch her webinar recording: Inspiring Environmental Responsibility in the Young Learner Classroom here: .

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