In 2012, HawkWatch International (HWI) created a school-based “Cavity Nester Urban Bird Study” in partnership with the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) in 2017. Designed to be a student-led expansion to the project, the study has allowed them to start studying all cavity-nesting birds living in urban settings.
In this project you’ll learn more about how citizen science increased student awareness related to cavity nesting species, specifically the American Kestrel, a species in decline across much of its natural range. Both the Salt Lake Center for Science Education (SLCSE) and Farmington High School participated.
What were the goals of this project?
The goals for this project were to collect data that allowed an understanding of the
survivorship and reproductive success of the American Kestrels, and to reinforce high school math and science concepts by allowing students to gain hands-on experience in field biology. Students would complete a field journal where they would record observations, collect data, and draw conclusions. They would also present their findings at a symposium open to their peers, families, and the broader community. The journals and presentations were to be shared to draw attention to the project and its benefit to local students.
How did they approach the project goals?
This goal was achieved through several visits to each classroom, a total of eight visits — focusing on project and monitoring procedures, natural history information about American Kestrels and other cavity nesters, nest check ethics, and how to determine the age of nestlings. They brought in live birds to connect students to the natural history of raptors, as well as actual monitoring equipment for the students to become familiar with the technology used and to ensure a comfort level with the process.
Participation in Large Scale Citizen Science
Working directly with the students and teachers in the classroom and in the field to practice and understand the necessary protocol to monitor the nest boxes, capture photos and videos of the activity in the boxes, and to enter their nest box data. Project leaders worked with students and teachers to learn how to use the technology employed to check the nest boxes and how to use the data platform, Jotform, to enter the data. And they participated in the regular monitoring of the nest boxes.
Journaling for students and lesson plans for teachers
They developed sixteen lesson plans related to both math and science, as well as a journal developed with teachers for students to keep track of their own data. The journal also included some valuable reference information about the American Kestrel and the nest box procedures.
How did they achieve their goals?
Through the project, three visits were offered to SLCSE and five visits to Farmington High School. These visits helped develop relationships with students and teachers. At each visit, they established an aspect of the project, covering the concepts of natural history of cavity nesters, procedures for the project, and practiced how to use the technology and equipment necessary for the project. This was accomplished using Powerpoint presentations and actual equipment in the classrooms.
Additionally, they went out with the students and teachers on nest box checks to make sure they understood the process and equipment use.
What was the impact of this project?
Here is a quote from one of the participating teachers.
“We have a student at our school who is autistic and struggles socially and academically. In an effort to provide opportunities for students of all abilities, we’ve invited this student to participate in our nest box monitoring because of his love of birds. Each week we checked the nesting boxes, and this student was required to complete all of his homework to attend because he was not actually in the statistics class. He did not miss a week. He is constantly telling me about the new information he is learning about random raptors. Just today he went out with his group to check his assigned boxes and there were some people there from Hawkwatch who were kind enough to point out some nearby raptors. His enthusiasm about birds keeps growing.” -Emma Chandler, SLCSE science teacher
Working on this allowed educators to develop and execute an in-depth citizen science program. They often only see students for one class period and then part ways, but with this project, programs were offered for teachers and students on a regular basis throughout the semester. They were able to share their passion with them and engage students in a way wherein they started looking forward to checking boxes and developing “relationships” with the nestlings in their assigned boxes. Having the students see science careers that happen outside the lab and working directly with scientists was beneficial for students in considering higher education and career opportunities in science.
What challenges did they encounter?
They budgeted for 12 cameras for Farmington High School, but had to allocate 4 of those cameras to SLCSE due to wear and tear on the older cameras. In an effort to mitigate this challenge next time, they plan to meet with the administration of Farmington High School to encourage support for allowing the students to check boxes during school hours. They will also ensure there is a camera and set up for each group, rather than a certain number per school.
The other challenge faced was ensuring timely and accurate data entry by the students. A greater focus was needed in emphasizing the importance of entering the data in a timely manner from the nest box checks. The same is true for the accuracy of the data entry by the students. A fair amount of time was spent by staff going back and verifying data entries with students and/or teachers. In the future, they plan to practice data form entries more diligently with the students prior to actually checking nest boxes in an effort to prevent these kinds of challenges moving forward.
Explore Citizen Science
Science, inquiry, project-based learning, and relevance take center stage in STARS.
At a time of such ecological uncertainty, when some of our greatest minds have given us 1000 years as a species until extinction, one thing is abundantly clear: the study of celestial bodies, near and far, has never been more important. And while 1000 years may be a bit far off to even comprehend, it behooves us to broaden our understanding of our neighboring planets in stars in hopes that when the time comes for us to leave our terrestrial trappings behind, we’re ready.
This is exactly what educators at George West High School have been working on for the past two years with their innovative STARS (South Texas Astronomical Research for Students) program.
“It has widely been assumed that scientific research and especially astronomical research was an endeavor to be pursued at the university level, and even then primarily by graduate students, certainly not at the high school level. STARS challenges that notion.”
Research Ranch Cultivates Learning
STARS is not limited to astronomy. At Research Ranch, tiny ranch by Texas standards of only 34 acres, introduces students to real research in the following fields of study:
- Solar energy to electricity conversion
- Materials engineering
- New techniques in ranching (the solar ranch)
According to the report, in the first two years of this project all the areas above demonstrated tremendous progress in regards to research. Current efforts continue to focus the project primarily on astronomy, materials engineering, and solar energy.
A Converted Marching Band Trailer becomes a Mobile Astronomical Observatory
One of the most exciting developments of the past year was the STARS observatory telescope coming fully online to fully begin the program. It’s housed in the Mobile Astronomical Observatory, an 8 by 16 foot, 30-year-old converted marching band trailer.
This year saw the final steps of the transformation into a scientific research facility. Even receiving a brand new coat of paint and its official logo as the school year began.
The mobile observatory is divided into a control room and telescope room section. Most of the student researcher’s time is spent in the control room which is climate controlled.
The primary instrument used this year with the telescope was the thermoelectrically cooled CCD camera that could be used to take timed exposures of the heavens as well as make measurements of star brightness at a variety of wavelengths. This opens the possibility of making measurements of color and surface temperature of stars or the shapes and rotational periods of asteroids. The student operators, CCD camera and main telescope are shown in the slideshow below.
Rocketry Club Qualifies for National Competition
The observatory isn’t the only thing to be excited about. An unexpected offshoot of the astronomy program has been a new rocketry program. Interest in the mobile observatory inevitably led to an interest in all things space, and it led students to pursue the Team America Rocketry Challenge. Two teams from George West High School participated in this nationwide competition. The challenge was to build a rocket that would carry two raw hen eggs to an altitude of exactly 850 feet and return them to the ground undamaged in a flight time between 44 and 46 seconds. This is a most difficult task and one of the two teams (Cloud 9) qualified for the national competition.
Solar Voltaic Arrays Support Real World Agricultural Inquiry
The solar ranch is another reason to celebrate this program. Junior Ryan Repka has been working on two different designs for photovoltaic arrays. The first one is the semi-active array. The first panel will be finished before the end of the school year and will be installed during the summer of 2016 with the entire photovoltaic array to be completed during the fall 2016 semester. At that point, Ryan will begin a semester long study as to the best ways to maximize efficiency, from panel positioning to water cooling of the panels.
Through repositioning of photovoltaic arrays as part of the STARS research project, an additional 15-20% solar power efficiency can be realized.While this project exceeds expectations for high school students, it continues to expand student learning opportunities.
In terms of agricultural and ecological research, the project is just beginning to make progress. In fact, an intriguing future project is taking shape. Not far from the observatory site and solar ranch, the first trees of a citrus orchard have been planted. The observatory site is a bit north of the main citrus growing region of Texas. Being on a hill out of areas of cold sinking air help, but this area is subject to serious killing frosts about one year in four. To combat this problem, the students and educators plan to develop what they are calling a microwave defroster. This system could be used to prevent frost damage on citrus but would be even more useful on more sensitive winter vegetables such as lettuce. They plan to initiate a pilot project for this device no later than the winter of 2018.
It truly is an exciting time to be a student or a teacher participating in the STARS program at George West High School. There’s something very powerful about teaching and learning while simultaneously working for a better future for all humans.
When students tackle science hands on, they can save the world!
If inquiry is meaningful, real world practices improve student understanding.
Memorizing the periodic table, a formula to determine the circumference of an atom, or the genus of a frog can be important, but let’s face it… you’re looking at an uphill battle when you are staring down the barrel of sixty drooping eyelids trying to explain why it is important that the student retain this information.
There is ample evidence that students retain very little from lectures in science classes. There is a reason for this – when you are given lists of equations, tables, or dozens of names to memorize it can be difficult to see where this makes an impact in the real world.
So how do we change this?
Simple. We help students impact the real world using practical inquiry into local and global science. Or better yet, take the classroom to the science! Whether students are contributing data to global honey bee research or graphing the skies, citizen science allows students to participate in global scientific inquiry. As explained here, integrating inquiry based science meaningfully in the real world is a tall order for any educator. In this post, we will share with you an example project and supporting resources to inspire this integration in your classroom.
How do educators integrate scientific inquiry and real world relevance?
The Water Quality Project: A Map to Understanding was reported by Linda Weber of Natick High School in Natick, Massachusetts. The goal of this project at is to let students “do” science like real scientists by observing, questioning, and ultimately coming up with a solution to a problem that can be shared with the larger community. In the short term, participation allows students to see and experience the process of scientific inquiry first hand, rather than having someone dictate it to them. In the long term, students who participated would see how the decisions they were making now would impact their lives in the future. According to the National Science Teachers Association’s position statement:
“Scientific inquiry reflects how scientists come to understand the natural world, and it is at the heart of how students learn. From a very early age, children interact with their environment, ask questions, and seek ways to answer those questions. Understanding science content is significantly enhanced when ideas are anchored to inquiry experiences. “
What strategies can be used to increase the real world relevance of the inquiry process?
One of the long term goals of this project included helping students see how the decisions they make today influences their future. This ambitious goal required teachers to frontload curriculum earlier in the year and to engage students with relevant narratives (like PBS’ Poisoned Waters) and a guest speaker assembly including local and regional water quality scientists.
All of this preparation helped students prepare for real world and hands on activities for the project. These included:
- Helping out their community
For the annual Charles River Watershed Association’s clean-up day, students and teachers removed a variety of trash, from traditional cigarette butts and paper to more unusual things like television sets. For the nearly 50 students that participated (on a school vacation weekend, mind you) the experience was insightful. Class discussions about and concern for their environment lingered into the following weeks in class. These shared experiences became the “reason” to investigate water quality in the community rather than the “just the wrap up activity” of the project.
Collecting local data
After the students had returned to the area to collect water samples. They used collection robots they built during their classroom time to reach water samples they couldn’t normally get to. Using technologies like wikis, blogs, and Google Maps they were able to share their results instantly with their classmates.
- Contributing to global datasets
The project also included research for the testing parameters of The World Monitoring Day Organization or World Water Monitoring Day. The Water Quality Project isn’t the only program in the United States doing this. Many other schools (in over 24 countries) are participating in The World Water Monitoring Challenge. It charges its members to educate and engage students and citizens in the protection of international water resources.
- Presenting the results
When all the research was said and done there was a “massive poster presentation” where every student was required to present his or her findings and share ideas for how to improve the water conditions in their community.
Why does it work?
When learning is meaningful, the impact is tangible.
When students have the opportunity to showcase their skills to a larger audience than their teachers or peers it helps to internalize the lessons they learn in the classroom. This benefit accumulates when the students can see themselves using inquiry-based science to make a real difference in their communities.