A Little Bird Told Me: Citizen Science With the GBBC

One of the most effective ways to encourage students to learn about science is to help them do science. Learning facts is helpful but there’s much, much more to science. Doing science means actively asking questions, making guesses, questioning assumptions, collecting and analyzing information. Go well beyond the confines of a textbook. Guide learners in doing the actual work of a scientist.

Show students how to find and join a network of volunteers. Like our learners, volunteer scientists have very little (or no) specific scientific training. Despite deficits in factual information, novice researchers can perform and manage extremely important research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation.

For example, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology follows an excellent collection of projects that need volunteers. CLO’s site, dubbed Citizen Science, tracks projects that encourage and allow young researchers to do the work of scientists. Such projects create powerful relationships between the general public and professional scientists, resulting in some of the world’s largest research teams. The projects highlighted at CLO make it possible for students and concerned citizens to contribute valuable information to ongoing, worldwide studies.

A great citizen science project to involve students in is the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC gets underway beginning February 17th and lasts until the 20th. It’s an event that encourages bird watchers of all ages to count birds. The simple act of observation (an important skill for any scientist!) creates a real-time snapshot of where birds are across our continent. Participating in this event takes as little as 15 minutes on one day. If students get excited with the process, they are welcome to count for as long as they like each day of the event.


Google+ Common Name Policy: The Latest Turn of Events

After trying to convince cyber-citizens that they didn’t need nicknames or internet nom de plumes, Google seems to have applied the brakes on and shifted into reverse. Lance Ulanoff of Mashable reports that Google + users may now use pseudonyms. Well, I suppose that’s good to know.

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What Do You Know About Good to Know?

Google's Good to KnowLife is often about tradeoffs. We give up one thing to gain another. This is especially true of when we roam about on the web. We want to gain admittance to a site or its services so we divulge information–a username, a password, our birthday, gender, location–and all sorts of other demographic delights. In doing so, we get something we think we want (access to a forum, a place in a community, connections, expertise, images, audio, video, etc…) and the entity we barter with gets a little sliver of who we are. This routine plays itself out over and over but how often do we think about what we are doing and how it might affect us? What does the online entity do with all of that information. Details of how our personal information will be used sometimes resides in the depths of arcane legalese…if we even bother to look.

Maintaining our privacy involves knowing what happens we agree to share our personal details. Would there ever be a compelling reason to let an online entity know more about us, to not try to hide behind a cyber-pseudonym? Google believes that this is the case. Google’s Good to Know campaign extolls the benefits of telling Google who we are. Even if we disagree with Google’s philosophy, we can still learn a great deal about privacy and security by merely listening to the company’s position.

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