Youth learn scientific practices through citizen science projects

Citizen science projects are a wonderful way to get youth outside and engrossed in science projects while exploring, discovering and recording the outdoor environment.

Citizen science initiatives are opportunities for public involvement and collaboration in science projects and research. Citizen science projects are a wonderful way to get youth outside and engrossed in science projects while exploring, discovering and recording the outdoor environment. These projects can be conducted with school classes, 4-H clubs, faith-based youth groups or any group of youth.

Citizen science projects go hand-in-hand with the practices of the Next Generation Science Standards. Youth engage in inquiry, they ask questions, plan and carry out investigations, and collect data before analyzing and interpreting the data, constructing explanations, drawing conclusions and designing possible solutions. Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development recommends that teachers and adult volunteers ask youth questions and involve them in argument to share and evaluate their project data and to take action as a result of what they have learned.

The result of a citizen science project could lead to a community service project for youth to plan and carry out. The opportunities for citizen science projects are endless. Adopting beaches, tagging migrating monarch butterflies, and mapping habitats for endangered species are a just few of the hands-on ways in which teachers and students can get involved as citizen scientists.

The following are two examples of fun and easy citizen science projects this winter for both youth and adults:

  • To get started with a citizen science project and to get outdoors, you may want to look into the Christmas Bird Count. The Christmas Bird Count is a program of the National Audubon Society. It has a long history and tradition. In fact, this year is the 118th year of the Christmas Bird Count, which is an early winter bird census. Bird counts are done within a 24 hour time-span between December 14 and January 5 every year. Select a bird count circle closest to you on the Christmas Bird Count map and contact the bird count coordinator of that particular circle to get started. The coordinator’s name and contact information will come up in a pop-up window when you click on the circle. If you are new to birding, you will be teamed-up with experienced birders as mentors.
  • Another popular citizen science project involving birds is the Great Backyard Bird Count, which is a program of the National Audubon Society in partnership with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. It takes place every year in February. In 2018, the Great Backyard Bird Count will be February 16 – 19. This is also a citizen science project for all ages and all experience levels. It brings families, youth groups, or any group of people outside to observe their surroundings, learning and watching birds together. For 15 minutes, or longer if you wish, participants count birds and report their counts at At this website, Backyard Bird Count participants can view and compare the sightings and counts of fellow participants. Looking at counts from previous years one may recognize changes or a shift in the movement of certain birds. Discuss with youth what patterns they observe and what might be the reason behind the shift of patterns.

MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H Youth Development help to create a community excited about STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). 4-H STEM programming seeks to increase science literacy, introducing youth to the experiential learning process that helps them to build problem-solving, critical-thinking and decision-making skills. Youth who participate in 4-H STEM are better equipped with critical life skills necessary for future success.

To learn more about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth in STEM literacy programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Building Science Literacy and Future STEM Professionals.”

Michigan 4-H has many 4-H science programming areas for youth to explore. Science is everywhere with many questions to ask and discoveries to be made. For more information about 4-H learning opportunities and other 4-H programs, contact your local MSU Extension office.

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