On January 11, 1908, our 26th U.S. President, Theodore Roosevelt declared the Grand Canyon a national monument. President Roosevelt was remarkable in his foresight. He knew the historical, ecological, and recreational value of the site. Find out for yourself. Take the U.S. National Park Service’s Virtual Tour of the Grand Canyon and discover the wonders that archeologists, naturalists, and hikers experience when they move through the park.
One of the most effective ways to teach pupils about science is go beyond simply reading about science and have learners actually do the work of scientists by immersing them in citizen science. January is a great month to help students take on the role of citizen scientists. How? Simply point pupils to the Journey North site (a free, web-based program sponsored by Annenberg Learner). Journey North participants do what scientists do. They do science. Learners make field observations, collect data, and contribute valuable information to ongoing, worldwide studies.
- Another great citizen science project to involve students in is the Great Backyard Bird Count. The GBBC gets underway beginning February (15th to 18th, to be exact).
- If the GBBC is of interest to you, be sure to visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and sign up for a bird-watching calendar that was created for the 2012-13 season of Project FeederWatch, a winter-long survey of birds at feeders across the U.S. and Canada. Be sure to drop by the NestCams portion of the site, too.
- Consider visiting the Citizen Science Alliance site. The CSA, describes itself as “a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process.”
Kurt Grandis, a soft-spoken software engineer from North Carolina, delivered a humorous and informative presentation at PyCon 2012. PyCon is the largest annual gathering for the community using and developing the open-source Python programming language. During the course of his presentation, Militarizing Your Backyard with Python: Computer Vision and the Squirrel Hordes, Kurt describes how participating in citizen science (ala the Backyard Bird Count) led him to use Python to tap into computer vision libraries and build an automated sentry water cannon capable of soaking bushy-tailed backyard bandits.
- Kurt mentions OpenCV in his presentation. What is it? The Wikipedia entry for OpenCV (or Open Source Computer Vision Library) states that it “is a library of programming functions mainly aimed at real time computer vision.”
- He also talks about support vector machines (SVM) as a means of analyzing images so as to recognize and distinguish bird shapes from squirrel shapes.
- Canny edge detection also comes into play.
- NumPy (also mentioned in the presentation) is the fundamental package for scientific computing with Python.
Want to participate in an international citizen-science campaign designed to raise public awareness of the impact of light pollution? Check out the GLOBE at Night program. The program encourages interested individuals to measure their night sky brightness and submit their observations. Contributors may share their findings to via a computer or smart phone. Why is this citizen-science campaign important? Light pollution affects energy consumption, wildlife, health, and our ability to appreciate the heavens.
- National Geographic’s Our Vanishing Night By Verlyn Klinkenborg explains why most city skies have become virtually empty of stars.
- International Dark Skies is the recognized authority on light pollution.
The invaders are here. Actually, they’ve been here. Not only that, they’ve put down roots. The University of Georgia’s Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health (a collaborative project with the Plant Conservation Alliance‘s Alien Plant Working Group, the folks behind Weeds Gone Wild) maintains a database of information about the perniciously pesky plants that invade natural areas in the U.S. The database, known as the Invasive Plant Atlas, contains a wealth of useful information for students interested in ecology and the effects of organisms that end up where they shouldn’t be.
While others may be trying to get rid of any number of six-legged critters, artist Mike Libby is busily constructing them. His site, Insect Lab Studio, hosts images of mechanical creations that fascinate and evoke thoughts of science-fiction steeped in steampunk fauna. The cog and mainspring creepy-crawlies Libby assembles are beautiful and and instructive. His quasi-robotic works make viewers want to know more about their real-world counterparts. Fly over to Insect Lab Studio and see what the buzz is all about.
- Though they’re not as beautiful as Mr. Libby’s creations, another kind of mechanical insects is attracting attention. Roboticist Charles Richter of the Cornell Creative Machines Lab has been using 3D printing to make ornithopters.
- The Institue of Robotics and Mechatronics has all kinds of exciting projects underway.
- What’s next? Snake robots?
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.