Fostering student engagement is a perennial challenge faced by many educators, including those who are adopting place-based, project-based, and sustainability learning in their classrooms. How can I make my lessons rich and meaningful to students while satisfying the state and national standards that I am required to meet? Service learning is a great way to connect curriculum with the students’ communities; however, what about connections to the non-human world, to nature? In a world where many children are happier with a tablet rather than a compass in hand, how can we connect them to the ecosystems that sustain us all?


For a growing number of schools, the answer to this question is citizen science, or the collection of data by non-scientists (“citizens”) to inform a larger, science-based research project. Citizen scientists are helping professional scientists gather data on a wide range of topics, from climate and weather to birds, bees, and butterflies. Their efforts are helping scientists track trends and answer important questions around climate change and population health, among others. Students can get in on the action too.


I recently paid a visit to Ford Elementary School in Cobb County, Georgia and was immediately struck by the school’s integration of citizen science across all grade levels. Every grade, from Kindergarten to Fifth, is engaged in at least one citizen science project during the school year. Whether it is creating habitat for Monarch butterflies or monitoring the life cycles of plants, students are collecting real data, for a real purpose. And it does not stop there. Teachers have integrated these citizen science projects into core subjects, including reading, writing, math, and social science. Students are presenting their findings to a real audience of community members who are impacted by their research. It is rigorous learning in disguise, teaching students not only how to collect and analyze data, but how to interpret that data in a way that benefits the natural world.


This issue of GreenNotes will introduce you to some of the exciting citizen science programs that are being used in K-12 classrooms, including Monarch Watch (butterflies), Nature’s Notebook (phenology), BirdSleuth (birds), and Project BudBurst (plants). You will also be introduced to some of the many schools that are implementing these programs and learn how their involvement is sparking student engagement. This issue also includes a different take on citizen science in Virginia Beach City Public Schools with their Urban Tree Canopy project, as well as a story exploring how the California Academy of Sciences is using Science Action Clubs to spark student interest in STEM subjects and careers.


Eager to learn more about how citizen science works in the K-12 classroom from the real experts? Ford Elementary will be hosting a pre-conference seminar prior to the start of the 2017 Green Schools Conference and Expo in Atlanta. Plan to attend to see how this exemplary school is using some of the programs highlighted in this issue to transform their students into the environmental stewards of tomorrow!


Happy New Year!