Zooniverse and Teens: 1,034 M&Ms In A Jar and a Pooping Sloth

First a quick introduction, I’m Kelly, one of the educators on the Zooniverse development team based at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.  Recently we’ve had some opportunities to speak with teens about the awesomeness of the Zooniverse and citizen science in general.

First-up were freshman from the Air Force Academy, a Chicago Public high school. For the last three years the Adler Planetarium has partnered with AFA to develop a series of field trip experiences for their freshman class. The first trip is billed as a “behind the scenes” look at the Adler where students attend sessions presented by different departments within the planetarium.  Web-developer extraordinaire Stuart and I spoke to 80 students in four 25 minutes sessions about all things Zooniverse.

We introduced students to citizen science, crowdsourcing, and multiple Zooniverse projects.  To demonstrate the power of the crowd, each student guessed the number of M&Ms in a jar (1,034 painstakingly counted by yours truly).  We averaged students’ guesses and, in most instances, this average was closer to the actual number than their individual guesses.  After a brief demonstration on the transit method of planet detection, students dove into Planet Hunters.  The program ended with students giving feedback about what they liked and what they would change about the website.  We’ll use their feedback as we develop educational resources for Planet Hunters.

Zooniverse student outreach isn’t limited to the walls of the Adler Planetarium.  On cold November Friday, Laura, Ed, and I headed out to Downers Grove South High School in the suburbs of Chicago.  Each year the school’s library teams up with an academic department to participate in the American Library Association’s Teen Read Week.  This year it was the science department, so Zooniverse joined organizations like Argonne National Laboratory to speak with freshman and sophomores about various sciencey things.

Ed presenting to students during Teen Read Week

Admittedly there was some stiff competition for student attention, namely live animals.  A sloth availing itself of the facilities proved quite fascinating to the students.  While not directly related to our outreach endeavors, we did learn that sloths only go number two once a week (file that away for your next bar trivia or Trivial Pursuit game). Overall our participation in Teen Read work at Downers Grove South High School was a huge success. All told over 600 students classified galaxies in Galaxy Zoo, searched for extrasolar planets in Planet Hunters, counted and measured seastars in Seafloor Explorer, and previewed Snapshot Serengeti.

We’re looking forward to more opportunities to work directly with students, just maybe sans sloth and with a smaller jar of M&Ms.

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