The Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop – A Recap

Two days ago the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop concluded. It’s been an exhilarating, challenging, exciting and utterly exhausting couple of days, but in that good and really satisfying way. Fifteen classroom teachers and five informal educators from around the United States (and one from Ireland!) gathered at the Adler Planetarium for what I like to call “Zooniverse Bootcamp”. 

Getting Organized:

Planning this two-day event took a lot of time and energy but fortunately Laura and I had plenty of help. This summer we’ve had the great fortune to be working with Julie Feldt. Julie is interning with Zooniverse as she’s finishing up her certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Michigan.  Jennifer Gupta, the Outreach Officer for the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at The University of Portsmouth, also joined us for the workshop and the week leading up to it. Four pairs of hands are so much better than two!

Getting organized CSI style, by writing on the glass walls of our office at the Adler Planetarium.
Getting organized CSI style, by writing on the glass walls of our office at the Adler Planetarium.

Last week began with a scramble to make sure all of our ducks were in a row.  Internal and external catering arranged?  Check!  Workshop spaces booked at the Adler Planetarium? Check! Workshop participant hotel and flight Last week began with a scramble to make sure all of our ducks were in a row.  Internal and external catering arranged?  Check!  Workshop spaces booked at the Adler Planetarium? Check! Workshop participant hotel and flight reservations finalized? Check! Agenda having to be completely redone to fit everything in?  Double check! By Thursday morning we were ready to roll.

Day One Highlights

Laura kicked off the workshop by outlining the general landscape of citizen science and Zooniverse’s place within that landscape.

Citizen science is not a new idea, it’s been around for a long time.
Citizen science is not a new idea, it’s been around for a long time.
Arfon outlines how one project has grown to more than 15 in six short years.
Arfon outlines how one project has grown to more than fifteen in six short years.

Arfon Smith, Zooniverse Technical Lead and Director of Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium, then overviewed the rise of a little project called Galaxy Zoo and the development of the Zooniverse as a collect of online citizen science projects from across a wide variety of scientific disciplines. 

Next using Snapshot Serengeti as an example, I led workshop participants through the process of creating a Zooniverse project from submitting a proposal to the the Citizen Science Alliance to collaborating with Zooniverse developers and designers to build the website.

Talk 3

Throughout the first day workshop participants heard from science teams from several Zooniverse projects.   Scott Stevens from Cyclone Center, William Keel from Galaxy Zoo, Chris Lintott from Planet Hunters, and Jessica Luo from an upcoming project about plankton all discussed the science behind their projects.

A slide from Scott Steven’s talk about Cyclone Center explaining limitations behind historic measurements of tropical cyclones and how Zooniverse volunteers can help.
A slide from Scott Steven’s talk about Cyclone Center explaining limitations behind historic measurements of tropical cyclones and how Zooniverse volunteers can help.

 

A sea drifter from Jessica Luo’s talk about a soon to be launched project about plankton.
A sea drifter from Jessica Luo’s talk about a soon to be launched project about plankton. 

In addition to learning about the history of the Zooniverse and hearing the stories behind a selection of projects, we also took the opportunity to introduce some of the new educational resources we’ve been busy developing.  Jen Gupta introduced ZooTeach and demoed a lesson from the upcoming Planet Hunters Educators Guide.  Laura led an interactive activity using the Galaxy Zoo Navigator.  This tool allows students the ability to classify galaxies as a group and then probe the data a bit further with some simple graphing tools.

A plot of the distribution of  absolute radius among classified by workshop participants using Galaxy Zoo Navigator.
A plot of the distribution of absolute radius among classified by workshop participants using Galaxy Zoo Navigator

Day 2 Highlights

After an evening of Mexican food we were ready to move into the final day of the workshop. Day two was a whirlwind of continuing discussion about tools to bring Zooniverse projects into the classroom and more behind the scenes looks at projects.  Julie Feldt, Zooniverse education intern, and Karen Masters, Galaxy Zoo project scientist ran a prototype program aimed at giving students a chance to interact with a Zooniverse scientist through structured activities and discussions through Google Hangouts.

Teachers create their own galaxy classification schemes during Julie and Karen’s Google Hangout.
Teachers create their own galaxy classification schemes during Julie and Karen’s Google Hangout.

Aprajita Verma from the Spacewarps (http://spacewarps.org/) science team gave a terrific talk all about how Zooniverse volunteers are searching for gravitational lenses.

Adler Planetarium educator Andi Nelson led teachers through an amazing session of constructing lesson ideas using Zooniverse projects that map to the recently finalized Next Generation Science Standards. 

One group’s plan to use Cell Slider (http://www.cellslider.net/) as the focus of lessons structured around the NGSS framework.
One group’s plan to use Cell Slider as the focus of lessons structured around the NGSS framework.

By the end of day two, workshop participants were brimming with ideas to share!  As homework, each person will create an educational lesson or resource aimed at using a Zooniverse project with students. We will post these in ZooTeach. The teachers will also each be writing a blog post, so you can hear directly from them about their experiences with citizen science.

Some Lessons Learned

Of course, we can’t help but share a few valuable lessons that we learned…

  • Science teams scattered around the globe make for some agenda setting nightmares.  But totally worth it! 
  • Don’t get cocky and let your guard down after a smooth day one.   
  • Think of technology like a small child, it acts-up or gets cranky at the most inopportune times
  • Coffee available all day, every day is always the way to go!
  • 8:30am-5:30pm – too long of a day.
  • Teachers are always early, be prepared!
  • Two days isn’t enough, a little longer is better.

We’d like to thanks everybody involved in the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop!  We were so lucky to spend two days with such talented and passionate educators. The science team members all gave stellar talks and we’re grateful to all who participated.  Also a special thanks to all of the staff at the Adler Planetarium that made this workshop possible. We’re hoping to do this again!

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4 thoughts on “The Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop – A Recap”

  1. So wonderful to read that the workshop was such a success! Exhausted? By the sound of it, everyone was, totally. Exhilarated? Likewise. 🙂

    From your comment, in reply to my comment on the last blog post, I know there’s no public forum – yet – for discussion of the Zooniverse (in general) and Zooniverse Education (in particular). I do hope that will change, quickly.

    One thing I’m quite interested in is the informal education side of things; how can the Zooniverse and its projects be used for outreach? for ‘adult education’ (which surely means different things in different countries)? Etc.

    In my experience, something like Galaxy Zoo can whet your appetite, but to go beyond requires a drive and dedication that’s usually found only in near-fanatics (using the word in its most positive connotation!) If formal education is not a choice you have – and that surely is true of the great majority of zooites – what to do?

    Curiosity question: “one from Ireland”; I thought this workshop was open to only US educators?

    1. Great points Jean.

      It’s true that many of the efforts of us Zooniverse educators are focused on school audiences, but this is not entirely the case. At the Adler Planetarium, where much of the Zooniverse development and education staff is based, we’ve used Zooniverse projects in a number of adult programs. Just last week we participated in the California Science Academy’s NightLife event entitled “Power in Numbers”. Zooniverse developers and designers have participated in panel discussions at our 21+ event Adler After Dark. We’re beginning to incorporate projects into Adler museum exhibitions. If you haven’t already seen it, I’d invite you to check out Laura’s blog post about using Planet Hunters in one of the more recently opened In fact we’re quite interested in how other informal institutions can and are making use of citizen science projects in their programs and exhibits. Last winter the Adler’s citizen science department hosted a meeting of local Chicago museum educators to talk about just this topic!

      To answer your final question, our Irish attendee is a partner in an upcoming Zooniverse project currently in development. The science team secured funds to create a school outreach program to be launched in conjunction with this project. There was a travel budget associated with their funding, so this collaborator came to Chicago to attend the workshop and meet with the developers building the project. Unlike the US-based teachers, this participant did not receive travel support or a stipend for attending.

      1. Maybe I should move to Chicago! So many great things being done by the Adler. 🙂

        OK, so within minutes I broke my word (I’m writing yet another comment to a blog post, rather than waiting for a decent discussion forum to be set up), but … are any of you involved in the Quench project (I remember seeing Laura (?) in one of the Hangouts)? If so, I think it would benefit greatly from your more active participation.

        For example, I have received several (private) messages about how to ‘do’ the things explained in one or other tutorial; from these I gather that there’s a pretty huge gulf between what the SCIENTISTs expect the keen ordinary zooites can do and what they are, in fact, able to do. I had a go at writing a bit about this, to try to get some discussion going; I think it’d be great if at least one of you could join in!
        http://quenchtalk.galaxyzoo.org/#/boards/BGS0000006/discussions/DGS00001ub?page=2&comment_id=5208f2ae0aab2a4595000136

  2. The workshop was an awesome experience! I had no idea that so much can be done by just getting the collective cooperation of regular people who want to help!

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