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.