Category Archives: Education

We took it offline and you can too! A night of Zooniverse fun at the Adler Planetarium

Our inaugural Chicago-area meetup was great fun! Zooniverse volunteers came to the Adler Planetarium, home base for our Chicago team members, to meet some of the Adler Zooniverse web development team and talk to Chicago-area researchers about their Zooniverse projects.

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Laura Trouille, co-I for Zooniverse and Senior Director for Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium

Presenters:

  • Zooniverse Highlights and Thank You! (Laura Trouille, co-I for Zooniverse and Senior Director for Citizen Science at the Adler Planetarium)
  • Chicago Wildlife Watch (Liza Lehrer, Assistant Director, Urban Wildlife Institute, Lincoln Park Zoo)
  • Gravity Spy (Sarah Allen, Zooniverse developer, supporting the Northwestern University LIGO team)
  • Microplants (Matt Von Konrat, Head of Botanical Collections, Field Museum)
  • Steelpan Vibrations (Andrew Morrison, Physics Professor, Joliet Junior College)
  • Wikipedia Gender Bias (Emily Temple Wood, medical student, Wikipedia Editor, Zooniverse volunteer)
  • In-Person Zooniverse Volunteer Opportunities at the Adler Planetarium (Becky Rother, Zooniverse designer)

Researchers spoke briefly about their projects and how they use the data and ideas generated by our amazing Zooniverse volunteers in their work. Emily spoke of her efforts addressing gender bias in Wikipedia. We then took questions from the audience and folks chatted in small groups afterwards.

The event coincided with Adler Planetarium’s biennial Member’s Night, so Zooniverse volunteers were able to take advantage of the museum’s “Spooky Space” themed activities at the same time, which included exploring the Adler’s spookiest collection pieces, making your own spooky space music, and other fun. A few of the Zooniverse project leads also led activities: playing Andrew’s steel pan drum, interacting with the Chicago Wildlife Watch’s camera traps and other materials, and engaging guests in classifying across the many Zooniverse projects. There was also a scavenger hunt that led Zooniverse members and Adler guests through the museum, playing on themes within the exhibit spaces relating to projects within the Zooniverse mobile app (iOS and Android).

We really enjoyed meeting our volunteers and seeing the conversation flow between volunteers and researchers. We feel so lucky to be part of this community and supporting the efforts of such passionate, interesting people who are trying to do good in the world. Thank you!

Have you hosted a Zooniverse meetup in your town? Would you like to? Let us know!

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Crowdsourcing and basic data visualization in the humanities

In late July I led a week-long course about crowdsourcing and data visualization at the Digital Humanities Oxford Summer School. I taught the crowdsourcing part, while my friend and collaborator, Sarah, from Google, lead the data visualization part. We had six participants from fields as diverse as history, archeology, botany and literature, to museum and library curation. Everyone brought a small batch of images, and used the new Zooniverse Project Builder (“Panoptes”) to create their own projects. We asked participants what were their most pressing research questions? If the dataset were larger, why would crowdsourcing be an appropriate methodology, instead of doing the tasks themselves? What would interest the crowd most? What string of questions or tasks might render the best data to work with later in the week?

Within two days everyone had a project up and running.  We experienced some teething problems along the way (Panoptes is still in active development) but we got there in the end! Everyone’s project looked swish, if you ask me.

Digging the Potomac

Participants had to ‘sell’ their projects in person and on social media to attract a crowd. The rates of participation were pretty impressive for a 24-hour sprint. Several hundred classifications were contributed, which gave each project owner enough data to work with.

But of course, a good looking website and good participation rates do not equate to easy-to-use or even good data! Several of us found that overly complex marking tasks rendered very convoluted data and clearly lost people’s attention. After working at the Zooniverse for over a year I knew this by rote, but I’d never really had the experience of setting up a workflow and seeing what came out in such a tangible way.

Despite the variable data, everyone was able to do something interesting with their results. The archeologist working on pottery shards investigated whether there was a correlation between clay color and decoration. Clay is regional, but are decorative fashions regional or do they travel? He found, to his surprise, that they were widespread.

In the end, everyone agreed that they would create simpler projects next time around. Our urge to catalogue and describe everything about an object—a natural result of our training in the humanities and GLAM sectors—has to be reined in when designing a crowdsourcing project. On the other hand, our ability to tell stories, and this particular group’s willingness to get to grips with quantitative results, points to a future where humanities specialists use crowdsourcing and quantitative methods to open up their research in new and exciting ways.

-Victoria, humanities project lead

Floating Forests: Teaching Young Children About Kelp

Today’s blog post comes from Fran Wilson,  a second grade teacher at Madeira Elementary School. Fran strives to promote an interest in science in her classroom and help students discover that not all scientists work in labs wearing white lab coats and safety goggles. She seeks meaningful opportunities for her students to participate in citizen scientist work to be responsible citizens, inspire future careers in science, and to connect science concepts to the real world.

This fall I decided to implement Zooniverse’s Floating Forests in my second grade classroom. As soon as I read the description of the project, I knew it was perfect for addressing both my state science and social studies standards dealing with interactions within habitats – living things impact the environment in which they live and the environment can also impact living things. The best part was that my students would be able to engage in meaningful work to acquire these concepts. I like to incorporate project-based learning whenever I can to allow my students to assume ownership of their learning and Floating Forests was no exception. My first challenge was determining how to introduce my students to the project when I didn’t even live anywhere close to an ocean.

Introducing the Problem by Integrating Curriculum

Sea otters are very cute! I decided to use second graders’ love for animals as the entry to the study of kelp. I believe that children learn efficiently when curriculum is integrated across content areas so I made a plan. I selected the book Sea Otters by Suzi Eszterhas. The text tells how a mother sea otter cares for her growing pup. The book’s full page color photos with just the right amount of text on each page made this an ideal book. I chose to begin with a language arts lesson. I projected the book onto my Smartboard and modeled a lesson on determining the main idea and details using a page of the text. Sea Otters does not contain subtitles so I told my students that determining the main idea for a page of text was like creating the subtitle to accompany a portion of text. My students eagerly participated in guided practice of this skill while oohing and aahing at the photos of the sea otters and becoming increasingly more intrigued with the information presented in the book.

By the time we finished reading the book, the children had seen the word kelp in the text and noticed the sea otters lounging on top of the ocean in a bed of kelp. It was the perfect time for me to pose some questions: What exactly is kelp? and Why is it important to the sea otter? My naturally curious students shared their thoughts and the interest in the sea otter and kelp escalated.

Shared Research

How can we learn about the sea otter and kelp?  That was the next question I posed after the groundwork was laid for engaging my students in collaborative research. Of course Sophia suggested that we find some more books on sea otters and Jon Miguel added that we should even find some on kelp. Tommaso proposed that we do an internet search to locate information on kelp. This planning step empowered my children with making the decisions about how to learn as well as reinforcing the steps a scientist might undergo while researching. Foreseeing my students’ plan, I had already checked out multiple books on sea otters written at various readability levels along with the few books on kelp that I was able to find.

I selected the book Sea Otters by Laura Marsh to read aloud next to my students. This enabled them to compare the information presented in two books on sea otters.   My students listened closely to identify the facts from the text that highlighted the importance of kelp to the sea otters. I started a large chart titled “Sea Otters and Kelp Facts” and modeled how to take notes for our shared research. After reading aloud each of our class notes, the students decided that they had learned some ways in which sea otters depended on kelp but that they still didn’t know much about kelp. At that point we started our internet search.

The Floating Forests webpage provides some great resources, even for use with second graders! Under the education tab of the site, I found a link to a video produced by NOAA to introduce the kelp forest to my students. I was excited that one of my students suggested that they should take notes about kelp in their science journals. (I so love when they take the initiative in their learning!). I discovered several other informative, kid friendly sites with information and videos that we viewed in class and my students continued to take notes. After watching the videos Miki suddenly made the connection and proclaimed, “Hey we eat kelp at my house!” The next day she brought kelp in for everyone in the class to taste.

Websites for Learning about Kelp:

  1. Here is a great introductory site to begin the study of kelp. At this link students can view a video of the kelp habitat created by NOAA. My students were in awe after viewing the video. (Ok I’ll admit I probably let them watch it at least 5 times and each time the students took away new facts!) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GcbU4bfkDA4
  2. This website provides information about the kelp forest habitat and the animals which live among the kelp. The kids loved taking the quiz at the end after reading the information on the site.  http://web.calstatela.edu/faculty/eviau/edit557/oceans/norma/oklpfst.htm
  3. The following website supplies lots of information for children to learn more about kelp and its uses. http://aquarium.ucsd.edu/Education/Learning_Resources/Voyager_for_Kids/kelpvoyager/
  4. This video about the disappearing kelp forests in Tasmania prompted my students to think about the need to protect kelp habitats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eRfxFZ4ndlg
  5. Here is a link to a Dragonfly episode in which kids dive to explore sea life at different depths of the kelp forest. http://pbskids.org/dragonflytv/show/kelpforest.html

Books for Learning About Sea Otters and Kelp:

  1. Baker, Jeannie. The Hidden Forest. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2000.  This story of two children retrieving a fish trap off the eastern coast of Tasmania helps children to see the kelp forest with wonder and appreciation. The author’s note at the end of the book offers insight to this disappearing kelp forest.
  2.  Douglas, Lloyd. Kelp. New York: Scholastic, 2005.  This simple book presents facts about the kelp forest. It’s perfect for lower level readers.
  3. Eszterhas, Suzi. Sea Otter. New York: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2013.  Readers can learn how a mother sea otter cares for her pup from birth until she is grown up.
  4. Marsh, Laura. Sea Otters. Des Moines, IA: National Geographic Children’s Books, 2014.  This informative book contains interesting facts on sea otters and is accompanied by colorful photos.
  5. Slade, Suzanne. What If There Were No Sea Otters?: A Book about the Ocean Ecosystem. North Mankato, MN: Picture Window Books, 2011.  This book enables children to see the importance of the sea otter as a “keystone species” in the kelp habitat. It explores the food chain and how the plants and animals of this ecosystem are connected to one another.
  6. Tatham, Betty. Baby Sea Otter. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005.  A mother sea otter protects and cares for her pup until it is able to care for itself.
  7. Wu, Norbert. Beneath the Waves: Exploring the Hidden World of the Kelp Forest. San Franciso, CA: Chronicle Books, 1992.  Children will be intrigued by the photos of the kelp forest and the animals that live in it while checking out this book. It is a more complex text that children will need guidance to read.

Compiling the Research:

What a list of kelp facts my students generated! After reading and researching about kelp on the internet, I compiled all of their facts onto our classroom chart. I sensed my students’ enthusiasm towards learning and researching but this was confirmed when I opened my email the next morning from a parent.

Sonia's note to her mom. Dear Mom, I missed you when you were at your art class. Today at school we learned about kelp. Did you know kelp is good to eat? And it can help you if you’re ill. And kelp has gas inside of it. The gas is stored inside big round leaves. These leaves are called sword leaves. Kelp is used in toothpaste and shampoo. And so many other things too. Love, Sonia
Sonia’s note to her mom.
Dear Mom,
I missed you when you were at your art class. Today at school we learned about kelp. Did you know kelp is good to eat? And it can help you if you’re ill. And kelp has gas inside of it. The gas is stored inside big round leaves. These leaves are called sword leaves. Kelp is used in toothpaste and shampoo. And so many other things too.
Love,
Sonia

What should we do with all of these facts? That was the next question I posed.   Addy had the answer to that and she shared that the facts should be placed into categories. I cut apart all of the kelp facts on the chart and we laid them out in our meeting area. The students quickly sorted the facts into categories. Some of these categories included: What is kelp, Parts of kelp, Kelp forests, Animals that live in kelp, Fish and the kelp forest, Sea otters and kelp, and Scientists and kelp. Next, some children volunteered to work in small groups to write the information into a paragraph with a main idea sentence and details. (Yay! This writing linked back to the initial reading of text for main ideas and key details.). Other children volunteered to illustrate the text with crayons and watercolors. The class research on kelp was almost finished until we started…

Discovering the Ecosystem:

Extending learning across the curriculum is really important to me so while the children were working collaboratively to research kelp through viewing websites and the few books I found, I was meeting with guided reading groups to read and discuss books on ocean life. The children began to think about the ocean as a habitat for many animals and the kelp forest as a very important habitat! After sharing the book What if There Were No Sea Otters?: A Book About the Ocean Ecosystem by Suzanne Slade with a small group of children, Ben announced, “I get it!   It’s all connected like a big puzzle!” Kalley latched onto the term “keystone species” highlighted for the sea otters in the text and Sonia explained the relationship between the sea otter and the kelp in the ocean habitat.

All these relationships between the many sea animals in the kelp habitat had the children talking. We needed to solidify their thoughts in a way that we could see them. That’s when the children created a giant model of a kelp habitat. The kelp stalks grew quickly on the large blue poster paper while sea otters were being drawn in a corner of the room, prickly purple and red sea urchins were crafted, fish with fins formed, and kelp labels were created. Of course a new page was added to the children’s book on kelp. Now it was time to publish!

A digital story was created with all of the children’s research. I scanned the children’s writing along with their illustrations. I used Keynote and placed each of the children’s pages of text onto a slide. A small group of children were recorded reading the text upon the slides. The keynote was then exported as an iMovie. We posted the individual pages of the children’s kelp research in the hall for all the other students of our school to enjoy. I submitted the digital story to the Floating Forest blog. Here is the link to view my students’ digital informational book on kelp: http://blog.floatingforests.org
A digital story was created with all of the children’s research. I scanned the children’s writing along with their illustrations. I used Keynote and placed each of the children’s pages of text onto a slide. A small group of children were recorded reading the text upon the slides. The keynote was then exported as an iMovie. We posted the individual pages of the children’s kelp research in the hall for all the other students of our school to enjoy. I submitted the digital story to the Floating Forests blog. Here is the link to view my students’ digital informational book on kelp.

Finding Kelp on Floating Forests

It was finally the right time! My students knew about kelp and understood what an important habitat it was for many sea creatures. Now was the time for sharing Zooniverse’s Floating Forests project with my class.   Do you think you’d like to help some scientists with a special project on kelp? I asked. My students were SO excited to become involved. They were even more excited when they realized that they would be looking for kelp on real satellite photos taken from space!

First, I prepared for the children’s “official training.” I connected my computer to my Smartboard and the children viewed the brief tutorial on the Floating Forests website. They quickly learned how to classify the satellite photos and circle the kelp. We circled hundreds of photos together and each time they spotted kelp they became very excited.

Circling kelp on the Floating Forests website continues to be a favorite classroom activity. My students enjoy working in teams of two or three on an iPad taking turns to mark the satellite photos. They often keep a tally of how many times they identified kelp on a photo. I love the discussion it prompts among teams of children circling photos. Through their work, they’ve learned that kelp is found near coastlines. They’re intrigued with the places in the world that kelp might be found.

Participating as citizen scientists with the Floating Forest Project has enabled my students to engage in meaningful work. They feel responsible contributing to important scientific research. My students know that some of the kelp forests are disappearing and they are genuinely concerned. This work has made them more interested in their world and has instilled a need to work collaboratively to care for our earth. My students’ interest in science has been fostered and perhaps some of them will even be inspired to become scientists. I feel like my students have gained so much from this learning opportunity but perhaps it’s what they think that counts most.

Student Responses to Floating Forests

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Some student reactions to Floating Forests
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Using Tag Groups to Collect Images on Talk

Hashtags are an important element of how the current generation of Zooniverse’s Talk discussion system* helps to power citizen science. By adding hashtags to the short comments left directly on classification objects, users can help each other (and the science teams) find certain types of objects—for instance, a #leopard on Snapshot Serengeti, #frost on Planet Four, or a #curved-band on Cyclone Center. (As on Twitter, hashtags on Talk are generated using the # symbol.)

One of the ways in which zooites can take advantage of hashtags is by using Talk’s tag group feature. A tag group (also called a “keyword collection”) is a collection that automatically populates with all of the objects that have been given a specific hashtag by a volunteer.

For instance, here is a Galaxy Zoo tag group that populates with all Galaxy Zoo objects that have been tagged #starforming. It will continue to automatically add new images that are given the #starforming tag as well.

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There are two ways to tell that this is a tag-group collection, not a manually curated one. The first is that the fourth letter in the last part of the URL (CGZL000056) is an L, for “live” collection. (The other type will have an S as the fourth letter, for “static” collection.) The second is that under “description,” the conditions for the tag group will be displayed: what tags it includes and excludes.

Users can create a tag group in either of two ways: 1. Click the “create a tag group” button that will appear underneath the “tags” on the right side of any object page that has at least one hashtag (and then edit the conditions to their liking), or 2. Add “/#/collections/new/keywords/” to the end of the Talk URL; for instance, talk.planktonportal.org/#/collections/new/keywords/

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At this point, there is no way to create a collection that includes, say, on Operation War Diary, #casualty or #sniper—only objects that have #casualty and #sniper. You can, however, exclude certain tags: e.g., all #casualty objects not also tagged #sniper, or #casualty and #sniper but no #horses.

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Also, please note that, like all collections, these tag groups are currently capped at 500 total visible images.

It is likely that the next generation of Talk (currently being built) will feature a more refined method of curating collections from hashtags, as well as a more effective search functionality. For now, however, zooites should keep the tag group feature in mind… especially as it will be a critical feature of an upcoming project!

* As of January 2015, the Zooniverse projects using the most recent generation of Talk are: Galaxy Zoo, Planet Hunters, Operation War Diary, Milky Way Project, Snapshot Serengeti, Planet Four, Galaxy Zoo Radio, Asteroid Zoo, Disk Detective, Sunspotter, Cyclone Center, Plankton Portal, Notes from Nature, Condor Watch, Floating Forests, Penguin Watch, Worm Watch Lab, Higgs Hunters, and Chicago Wildlife Watch.

Happy Halloween! Going Batty for Citizen Science

Sadly there don’t seem to be any scientifically valid citizen science projects about ghosts, poltergeists, hobgoblins, or werewolves.   There are, however plenty about that Halloween staple – the bat.

Bats get a bum wrap as blood sucking pests.  Nothing could further from the truth!   Bats are incredibly helpful to us humans because they are natural pollinators and pest controllers, but they are also an indicator species.  Indicator species are plants and animals that can be studied to give a snapshot of an ecosystem’s environmental health.

Here are a few ways that you as a citizen scientist can get involved with learning more about these amazing animals.

Bat Detective  – Zooniverse’s own bat project.  Bat calls are recorded by data collection citizen scientists and then uploaded on to the Bat Detective website.  Zooniverse volunteers classify the calls to give scientists a better idea about the distribution of these animals in Europe.

Alaska Bat Monitoring Program – Did you know that Alaska is home to five species of bats?   If you live in Alaska you can help the Alaska Department of Fish and Game collect learn more by making and sending in your observations of bats!

iBats (Indicator Bats Program) – This international effort recruits volunteers to record bat calls all around the world.  iBats is collaboration between the Zoological Society of London and the Bat Conservation Trust.

 

Know of other bat-related citizen science projects?  Please share them as a comment below!

 

Adler Teens Working in Citizen Science

Today’s guest post comes from Sarah Xu and Thomas Janopoulos about their experience as our Citizen Science interns at the Adler Planetarium as part of the Teen Intern Program.

Sarah Xu is currently a senior attending Air Force Academy High School. She has a wide range of interests that change all the time, but computer science has been an interest ever since she was introduced to it in 7th grade. She also is really into Biology, but the Adler Planetarium has recently sparked interests in Astronomy.

Thomas (Tommy) Janopoulos is a Sophomore at Jones College Preparatory High School. He aspires to be an aerospace engineer, focusing on the mechanical engineering aspects of the field. He has a large interest in using the autodesk inventor program, a 3D modeling program to recreate objects virtually.

How did you become a Teen Intern at Adler Planetarium?

Tommy: I learned about the Adler teen internship from my sister, who was a long time volunteer at the Adler. She suggested that I apply to their upcoming internship. She explained that I already know some of the staff from the Web Making for Civic Hacking program, which was a program where we created websites about teen issues to present to problem solvers interested in finding solutions to our issues, we did earlier in the year and having a familiarity with the staff would make the transition into a work environment easier. Also the fact that the Adler is a space science museum would be great for me considering I want to go into aerospace engineering as a profession. So I decided to apply to the internship and now I am in the Citizen Science intern position creating an activity on a Zooniverse project about urban wildlife in Chicago.

Sarah: How I got my internship has a lot to do with my school. Air Force Academy High School has a partnership with Adler. Freshmen year, we had several field trips where we did various activities around the Adler. Many of the students at my school get involve with the Adler. I was brought into the a teen program, Youth Leadership Council (YLC), my sophomore year by one of the volunteers who attended my school. Youth Leadership Council is an after school program where teens plan workshops for civic hack day, a day where people come to offer solutions for any problems that are presented. There I got to know Nathalie Rayter, who is in charge of the Adler teen programs and internship. By talking to her, I received a lot of opportunities to be part of the planetarium. Junior year, I was a member of YLC and a volunteer telescope facilitator. I just kept coming back to Adler through many different programs. This summer I was looking for something to do because I previously interned at an investment firm, but didn’t really enjoyed it much. I was trying to find an internship that’ll provide a different experience. My classmates and teachers along with Nathalie told me to go for the Adler internship. I applied and got the position as a Citizen Science Intern!

As a citizen science intern, I learned a lot of what the Zooniverse does. Zooniverse is a group of people who work on websites for citizen science. On my first day, I was introduced to two projects. One of them is finished while the other one is still being worked on, but will launch September 10th. Tommy, my peer, and I chose to work with the one that is still being worked on. The reason for that is it takes place in Chicago and it would be a bit easier to have the participants we meet at events around Chicago connect to it. Our project with our department is to design an interactive activity that will spread the word of this citizen science project and also citizen science itself. We designed our activity for mainly museum visitors, such as families and younger kids.

What does being a Teen Intern entail?

A teenager as an intern… the title says it all! A bunch of teenagers working together sounds like a lot of fun. For the most part it is, but it also requires many skills to become one. As teen interns at the Adler Planetarium, we have several projects going on. Every intern is assigned to a department with a supervisor who will give you projects to accomplish. On top of that, every teen is required to work on a personal project that we have to pick from a list. Every teen has to make a project to be showed off at the Community Bash which is a party to display what we have done over the summer. We also have to do our daily jobs which can consist of various tasks such as making an activity to being on the floor doing an activity. Now it might not be something that is interesting to you, but having an open mind is very important. You never know until you actually follow through with the project and that is from personal experience! With all these projects happening all within the same 8 weeks, we have to be very organized and on top of our schedule in order to finish them in time. One badly organized and managed day will set everything behind! But incase that does happen, communication and diligence were the key things that helped put us back on track. It is imperative to communicate with our supervisors and other peers so that we can collaborate to get our work done. This internship is not about working alone at all. 99% of the time we did activities and projects with each other. You must be able to work with others because that will really help you succeed in this internship. There is just one last thing you need… Enthusiasm! You will be interacting with lots of visitors and your peers. If you do not have a positive attitude everything else you need to succeed in this internship will not be able to flow because no one wants to work with someone that does not want to be there.

How did you choose what to work on and what did you need to learn to do the work?

When we walked into Zooniverse, Julie, our supervisor, gave us a run through of what citizen science is and what kind of work they do in the office. Then she told us about the two newest biology projects: Condor Watch and a project looking at urban wildlife in Chicago (now with a name, Chicago Wildlife Watch). Condor Watch is up and running, while the other project launches September 10th. Fortunately with the launch date near, they had a demo site we were able to explore to get a feel of what it is. So, we played around with the projects to see what they’re really about. We were given the option to either work together on one or separately on either. Tommy said he liked the animal conservation one because it takes place in Chicago and I agreed. We figured it was easier to introduce the activity and connect it with most of the museum visitors because we’re in Chicago. It’s also a good way for Chicagoans to be more aware of what’s truly around them in this amazing city. It is not just buildings and artifacts; we also have nature that could put people in awe as well.

Chicago Wildlife Watch is a collaboration between the Urban Wildlife Institute at Lincoln Park Zoo partnered with Zooniverse to create a project that will help with animal conservation in Chicago. Camera traps are set up all around Chicago to gather images of what kind of animals live here, their behavior, and how they interact in the urban setting. So we came up with an activity that will not only help promote the project, but also convey the message of nature being everywhere to the public. We designed this activity with museum visitors in mind, meaning it is aimed towards younger kids and families. We use animal cards containing the picture and some factoids of the animals along with a big image of a basic background with a house, park, tree, underground, and water. During the activity, depending on the age group, we give the physical description of the animal and have the kids guess it, whereas with little kids, we would show them the picture and have them guess that way. If they guessed it right, we would hand them the card and have them stick it up to where they think the animal lives. Even though we live in the urban Chicago, we’re still part of nature. Along with that, we hope that participants will have an idea of what citizen science is and what exactly is Zooniverse. A more detailed description and run through will be up on Zooteach when the project launches on September 10th!

After we chose what project we wanted to make an activity around, we had to first learn what concepts we would need to cover, so we went onto the demo site to learn more about the project. We had to researched what conservation is and how it applies to the project so we could have a better understanding on what points we wanted to get across for our participants. Looking at the website and the background information given wasn’t enough. We had a meeting with one of the driving forces of the project, Seth, and one of the lead members of the Lincoln Park Zoo and its Urban Wildlife Institute on what he would like people to take away from our activity. He said, “I want people to know that nature is everywhere”. That gave us a way to go on our activity. It was hard to come up with an activity to do. We tried to google some classroom activities that teachers do for animal conservation. After a few days of research and talking to our supervisor, we took a whole morning to just brainstorm outreach activity ideas. Our supervisor gave us an activity idea earlier that week on how they had classrooms work to classify images of animals and put them into the according bin or bag. So then we took that idea and try to add on to it to fit into our urban wildlife activity. We thought we could have people classify the animals of Chicago. Then we came up with an idea of having our participants try to guess what animals live in Chicago since the project looks at Chicago’s urban wildlife. We thought this activity would hit our learning goal of understanding what nature is and that it is all around us, even in the city. So we presented this idea to our supervisor and then ran with it. We typed up our concept and showed it to peers and supervisors and were constantly updating and adjusting to develop the best activity possible. Now time to test it out!

Our visit to the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum helped us to a realize what age group we really aim for. At the Nature Museum, there was mostly little kids who are around 3 or 4 years old excluding summer camps. We weren’t able to test it with kids that young because there is a limited amount of knowledge as to what the kids know about urban wildlife. They do know the very basic animals, but it was hard to carry out our whole activity because our activity contains questions that are at elementary school level. However, there were adults that were interested in what we do and often they are parents of little kids. With the adults, we found out that we just have to describe what citizen science is, what the Zooniverse does, and the project that they’re currently working on. We would proceed to do the end part of our activity which is to show them the demo site of Chicago Wildlife Watch. They would try out the demo site and because it only has a limited amount of pictures, we would try to direct them to try out our other projects. Sometimes Snapshot Serengeti would be used to show a better demonstration of what the fully functional website of the project would look like. At the end of the talk, either one of us would give them a postcard to encourage the visitors to go on Zooniverse.org to try out the projects on there. Through testing it on the floor at Adler, we noticed that it is difficult to draw people in. Creativity really helps with floor activities. People are usually more drawn into something “cool”.

What were the challenges with your project?

Sarah: After we designed the activity, we had to test it out on the floor. That was the second most challenging part of the whole project. The first was having to come up with an activity that’s will get people involved and convey the message we want. I’ve always struggled with public speaking. It was hard for me to go up to the visitors and ask them to help us test run the activity. However, I got past the awkward stage after having to interact with visitors on so many different occasions.

Tommy: Creating this activity has been so much fun and enjoyable but like any other job it had its challenges. My biggest challenge was taking a Citizen Science project and creating a fun interactive activity that educates people about urban wildlife and how they can contribute to science. When you get this job of creating an activity you think creating an activity is easy but having to consider how people learn, how not to bore young kids, how to get people to stop and participate, and how to hit all of your objectives you set becomes a massive task. With a lot of hard work and the help of my peer Sarah, we researched and brainstormed and found a way to take all of these aspects into one activity which is now “What Lives With Us.”

What do you feel you have gained from being a Teen Intern this summer?

Sarah: Through this internship, I had to talk to visitors a lot, so communications and public speaking are things that I got away from it. My ways of starting a conversation and demonstrating things to the public has improved. Aside from that, I was also able to learn what Zooniverse does, what citizen science is, and about Chicago’s wildlife. More importantly, I’ve gained friendships with other teens and professional relationships with the staff members that will only benefit me. It’s great to be able to have this experience of interning at a museum. This summer has been awesome thanks to the Adler, and I hope all the other teens and supervisors had as much fun as I did!

Tommy: This internship has given me so much its hard to put it into one sentence but the one thing I can say is that this job is incomparable to any other opportunity for someone my age. This gives teenagers the opportunity to gain work experience and actual know what its like to be in a work environment while learning new things everyday as if we are in an outside school program. This job showed me how to teach others my knowledge by using simple techniques such as outreach activities to make people understand simple concepts also just teaching me what is and how to create an outreach program. I have learned all the steps educators take in creating lesson plans and understanding how the lesson benefits the participant so they walk away with a skill or knowledge. Now I can identify what it takes to teach others. This internship has also provided me with friendships and relationships that I would never had made without it. I have developed peer friendships by working and hanging out with each other on a daily basis. I have gained relationships with my supervisors, not just the worker to supervisor relationship but friendship as well. We are able to talk with each other not just about work, which has created a fun workplace. Finally this internship has given me connections that can benefit me for years to come in whatever field I decide to pursue. I feel it has given me everything it had to offer and it exceeded expectations in how amazing an experience this has been I gave the Adler my all and I hope I was able to return the favor.

 

Voyage to Teaching in the Zooniverse – A Teacher Workshop in Chicago

Today’s post comes from Kate Meredith. Kate is a former middle school and high school teacher who considers herself a virtual person in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey database.  She has been involved with pilot testing, writing and training teachers to use the database for the past twelve years.  Kate will be facilitating this teacher workshop at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on October 11th. 

In the past ten years there has been an explosion of internet-based citizen science research in astronomy. Hundreds of thousands of people have contributed to scientific research through Zooniverse projects.  Participants in Galaxy Zoo, Sunspotter, Planet Hunters and more have been so active that educators and scientists needed to develop new ways for participants to explore beyond the focus of any one project.  The result is a whole host of new web-based tools designed to assist citizen scientists in exploring vast quantities of astronomical data on their own.

The Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) has been part of the Zooniverse since the beginning, contributing millions of images in four separate projects. The SDSS itself has been providing web-based tools, activities and resources to educators through the SkyServer website since 2004.  Check-out this video for more information about SDSS education resources.

About the Workshop:

On Saturday, October 11, 2014 the Adler Planetarium in Chicago will host a free all-day workshop giving an in-depth look at a new SkyServer education website, Voyages, Zooniverse web tools and the ZooTeach lesson and resource repository.

Workshop highlights will include

  • Introduction to the Sloan Digital Sky Survey
  • A brief history of the Zooniverse
  • The Voyages website and the NGSS
  • Database Basics with SkyServer – Find Your Special Place in the Database
  • Galaxy Shape in the Galaxy Zoo – Navigator Tool in the Classroom
  • Scaffolded Research Experiences for Lab Settings
  • ZooTools
  • Resources Abound – Voyages Preflight, Help Documents and Zoo Teach

This free workshop for Chicagoland educators is appropriate for 9th-12th grade teachers or middle school teachers who work with advance students. Participants are asked to bring a laptop or tablet in order to fully participate in activities. Lunch will be on your own, so please bring a bagged lunch or plan to purchase in the Adler’s cafe. The first five participants that sign up for this workshop will receive a coupon for a Saturday Tour at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin where they can pick up one of the large SDSS telescope plates that you will learn about at the workshop.

 

For more information or to register please visit http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/events/voyage-to-teaching-in-the-zooniverse-a-workshop-for-teachers

Questions? Email education@zooniverse.org

 

Teens Designing Zooniverse-Themed Programs for Their Peer at the Adler Planetarium

This summer high school juniors and seniors from the IIT Boeing Scholars Academy program joined Zooniverse educators at the Adler Planetarium for six days of program prototyping. The IIT Boeing Scholars Academy seeks to inspire high-achieving Chicago-area teens to lead and serve through STEM with an emphasis on pursuing higher education. One component of the summer portion of the program is to embark on a Service Through STEM project during which the scholars coordinate with Chicagoland organizations on projects benefitting the organization. That’s where the Zooniverse team based at the Adler Planetarium comes in.

The Problem:

It probably doesn’t come as a complete shock that the dedicated corps of Zooniverse volunteers is not largely comprised of teens. That’s something we’d like to change. What better way to figure out how to better get more teens involved in Zooniverse projects than by going straight to the source? Sixteen IIT Boeing Scholars worked with Zooniverse and Adler educators on strategies to engage more teens in Zooniverse citizen science projects at the Adler Planetarium.

The Goal:

In order to develop ideas of how to better engage young people in Zooniverse citizen science projects, the sixteen IIT Boeing Scholars stepped into the role of informal science educator to develop a series of museum programs to potentially implement at the Adler Planetarium based around Zooniverse projects.

Museum Program Development:

A huge component of any informal museum educator’s job is to develop programming. Programs come in an endless array of formats – perhaps a five-minute science demonstration, a series of workshops for teens, or an interactive activity within a museum exhibit. As the saying goes there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and that’s certainly true of program development. No matter which model of program development you follow, there is a set of common considerations to be made including

  1. Who is this program for?
  2. What is the content of this program?
  3. What is the best format or program model to use?
  4. What should the audience take away?

 

Answers to these questions formed the skeleton around which the programs would be built.

Who is this program for?

This was the easiest question for the IIT Being scholars to answer. Since we’re looking for ways to engage teens in Zooniverse projects, the audience for the scholars’ programs was their high-school aged peers.

What is the content of this program?

The content for the programs being designed by the scholars was limited to the science content behind active Zooniverse projects. While a constraint, with over 20 active Zooniverse projects the list needed to be considerably narrowed down. The teens began assessing Zooniverse projects to determine which would be of the most interest to their peers. After careful review they selected Radio Galaxy Zoo, Condor Watch, Cyclone Center, and Planet Hunters as the projects that would be most engaging to teens. The science case behind each of these projects would be used as the meat and potatoes behind the programs the scholars designed. 

What is the best format or program model to use?

There are endless possible formats for an informal science program at a museum. In order to explore the options the IIT Boeing Scholars spent time exploring different museum programming models at the Adler. The participated in a 45-minute field trip workshop designed for 7th-12 graders, watched science demonstrations facilitated in Adler’s exhibits, explored museum exhibitions, and watched a planetarium skyshow. After this exploration the group created a menu of museum program models and defined them so that we could develop a shared vocabulary of what program models they would be working with.

  • Structured Workshop – a longer facilitated hands-on program with a set start and finish time
  • Unstructured Workshop –a longer hands-on facilitated program where museum guests can come and go as they like
  • Demonstration – a short facilitated program on the museum floor
  • Exhibit – one small piece of an exhibition that (e.g. a model and accompanying text panel about Saturn)
  • Exhibition – a collection of exhibits that group together around a central theme (e.g. Our Solar System)
  • Planetarium Skyshow – a presentation including images, music, and narration presented in one of the museum theatres

What is the goal of this program?

Some informal science educators would call them learning goals; others might call them program objectives. Whatever they’re name, program developers should identify what they want their audience to take away from a program. These may be experiential goals like “Have fun” or more content driven goals like “ Program participants will be able identify lead poisoning as a threat to the endangered California condor population.”   The IIT Boing Scholars aimed to incorporate at least one experiential goal and one content goal in their programs.

The Programs:

Once they were able to answer the questions above, the scholars were ready to put some meat on skeleton the questions provided. The scholars broke into four small groups with each group working together to write a rough draft of a program outline that could be used by a person unfamiliar with their ideas to facilitate the program. Here are the program ideas they came up with…

Program Name: Save the Condors

Featured Zooniverse Project: Condor Watch

Program Model: Demonstration

Description: This 10 minute floor demonstration was designed to bring awareness to the problem of lead poisoning within the critically endangered California condor population and publicize how members of the public can assist scientists in their continuing efforts to save this species. The demonstration starts off with a video placing the viewer in the shoes of a condor suffering the effects of lead poisoning. Next the facilitator shows a hands-on activity showing how lead spreads throughout the condor’s body when it ingests a lead bullet embedded within the carcass on which it was feeding. The demonstrations ends by introducing Condor Watch as means to help research scientists better understand how to detect early warning signs of lead poisoning.

 

Program Name: Inside a Cyclone

Featured Zooniverse Project: Radio Galaxy Zoo

Program Model: Planetarium Skyshow & Demonstration

Description: This group created a storyboard and script for a short skyshow. Unfortunately time did not allow for the development of a prototype that could be projected in one of the museum theatres. This program delved into the science behind tropical cyclones, also called hurricanes or typhoons. It introduced the mechanics of how these storms work, safety precautions that should be taken in the event of such a storm, and the drastic impacts these weather events can have on people and property. Cyclone Center was introduced as a way for people interested in meteorology to participate in the important research behind tropical cyclones.

 

Program Name: Are We Alone?

Featured Zooniverse Project: Planet Hunters

Program Model: Demonstration

Description: This 5-10 minute floor demonstration was designed to take place on a small stage on the museum floor. Using the Drake Equation, the facilitator engages audience members in a conversation about the possibility of alien life in our galaxy. The program ends with an invitation to actively participate in the search for habitable worlds through Zooniverse’s Planet Hunters project.

 

Program Name: The Mystery of the Universe: Black Holes

Featured Zooniverse Project: Radio Galaxy Zoo

Program Model: Structured Workshop

 

Description:

This 30 minute workshop was designed to introduce teens to perhaps the most asked about of space phenomena – black holes. Through a video, hand-on demonstrations, and a small group activity the facilitator guides program participants through. Radio Galaxy Zoo is presented as a way for teens to continue their exploration by helping scientists locate supermassive black holes.

 

We really enjoyed working with these bright and motivated young people!

Demonstrating Citizen Science at Adler Planetarium

Today’s guest post comes from Jesse Feddersen and Rachel Wolf about their experience developing a citizen science themed floor experience at the Adler Planetarium as part of the summer school sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. 

Jesse Feddersen is a PhD student in the Astronomy department at Yale University. He is especially interested in observational studies of galaxy evolution. He believes scientists have a responsibility to actively engage in public outreach, and it’s fun too! When he’s not doing science or outreach, Jesse enjoys hiking, baking, and singing songs from Frozen. Do you want to build a snowman with him?

It doesn’t have to be a snowman…

Rachel Wolf is a PhD student in the Physics and Astronomy department at the University of Pennsylvania.  Her research focuses on observational cosmology using Type Ia supernovae.  She loves sharing science with the public and is especially passionate about getting kids excited about science! In her spare time, she loves to cook, host game nights, and cheer for her UCLA Bruins!

“I don’t need to help scientists, I’m already a scientist!”

The sentiment of one precocious little girl perfectly reflects our philosophy: everyone can be a scientist, and through Zooniverse and other citizen science projects, contribute to research projects in the fields they find most exciting.

We came to Chicago for a summer school sponsored by the University of Chicago’s Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics. This two week program was designed for graduate students in astronomy and physics who are interested in education and public outreach and partnered them with teams at the University and Adler Planetarium. We chose to work with the Zooniverse team at Adler.

On our first day at the planetarium, we met with Laura and the citizen science team and situated ourselves in Zooniverse HQ. This felt a little like meeting the Wizard of Oz, or getting a backstage pass to a Queen concert. We soon realized that to planetarium guests, the Zooniverse presence at Adler was confined to a room hidden away in a dark corner at the end of a hallway. There were few exhibits or demonstrations explaining what the Zooniverse is and how to get involved. It seemed like a great starting point for increasing exposure was to create an interactive activity introducing planetarium guests to the Zooniverse.

Early on, we decided to tailor our demonstration to elementary school kids and their families. We spent some time looking through the various Zooniverse projects and thought, “We could teach about galaxy formation!  We could teach about magnetic fields and solar activity! We could look for cute pictures of baby elephants all week!” The more we brainstormed the more we realized why we were so excited. Sure, images of space are mesmerizing and everyone loves baby elephants, but we were also just really curious about these things. As astronomers, it’s our job to be curious and to figure out new things. But science is certainly not limited to people like us – it’s for everyone! That’s when we decided our activity should get at the core of the Zooniverse and demonstrate just how everyone can be a scientist.

We knew we wanted to emphasize key components of citizen science projects, like observation and collaboration, but we weren’t sure how to integrate these ideas into an activity that would attract a sugar-buzzed eight year old. Our hook had to be exciting and offer guests a unique “I’m in a space museum” experience. After much thought, an idea finally hit us: how cool would it be if we had a meteorite small enough for guests to hold?  From there, our activity almost designed itself(even though we had yet to confirm the existence of said meteorite). After discussing our first draft with Laura and Julie and making a few changes, we had a solid outline of what we wanted to do. “Mystery Rocks” was born!

Step 1: Present the guests with a problem. We incorporate the meteorite into the activity by having guests compare it to Earth rocks (found in the flowerbeds outside the planetarium). Our opening line sounds something like, “We have some rocks we know nothing about. Can you help us?”

Step 2: Make some observations. At this point, we offer our rocks to the guests and encourage them to make observations using the tools available (magnifying glass, magnet, etc). After a few minutes, we ask guests to shout out their observations as we write them on a whiteboard for everyone to see.

Step 3: Classify the objects and vote. We then group the rocks based on the observations (e.g. rough v. smooth, heavy v. light, magnetic v. non-magnetic) and have guests vote on the classifications. Our goal was to make this part of the activity tactile.  After rummaging through the supply cabinets of the public programs department, we found some clear plastic graduated cylinders and large, colorful, fuzzy pom-poms that we thought would do the trick. For each classification, we use the pom-poms as our “ballots” and the graduated cylinders as our “ballot boxes” and have each participant cast his or her vote in a different box. After determining the group consensus, we write the classifications of the rocks on the whiteboard.

Step 4: We just did science! Here is our chance to emphasize how everything we just did in the activity is precisely how science works. We then introduce the idea of citizen science and talk about the Zooniverse.

Step 5: Use the voting results to learn about the rocks. Hopefully we still have the group’s attention and can discuss how to use our classifications to learn about the rocks.  We ask the group if they can tell us where the rocks came from and then blow them away with the fact that they are actually holding a rock from space!

Having cobbled together a prototype of our activity, we headed upstairs to try it out with visitors. Our first trial run was in the Planet Explorers area, with a group of kids:

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 Here’s the initial set-up of “Mystery Rocks” (first image) and a mid-activity shot of the whiteboard full of observations (second image). We tried to write down everything the crowd observed!

We took two big lessons from this first demo. The first was that kids love distractions, and we provided them many by having lots of clutter on the activity cart. The second was that kids love pom-poms and stickers, and having these props helps to keep their interest. Surprisingly for us, most kids were not very impressed when we told them they were holding a meteorite, but were more interested in making observations about the rocks. We would never have come to these realizations ourselves, and we learned just how invaluable it is to actually test an activity, even if it is still rough around the edges.

Using our experience on the floor as a guide, we changed our procedure to make “Mystery Rocks” more effective. We tested the activity with Adler’s Education and Public Programs department, as well as their teen interns. We got some excellent critiques about our hook and how best to communicate concepts of citizen science. We also learned the requirements for floor programs and documented “Mystery Rocks” for future use at Adler and beyond. Keeping all the feedback in mind, we took the floor again, ready to excite planetarium visitors about citizen science!

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“Mystery Rocks” by the beautiful Milky Way panorama just around the corner from Zooniverse HQ.  This gave us an excellent opportunity to talk about Galaxy Zoo! 

The philosophy of citizen science, and of “Mystery Rocks”, is that everyone can participate in science. Of course, our little visitor already knew this and we’d like to inspire this same enthusiasm in others by showing how everyone can be a part of the scientific community. Our activity not only demonstrates how science works, but also how much learning thrives through teamwork. Many people we interacted with during our time at the planetarium had never thought of themselves as scientists and we hope we changed that! This little girl, however, was clearly excited about a life in science:

Us: “What kind of science do you do?”

Girl: “I’m an inventor! I’m going to invent wings that people can wear, and a way to go to the places you see on TV. […] I’m going to work in a lab!”

Us:  “Well you know, we’re scientists, but we don’t work in a lab.”

Girl: “Well then you can’t be scientists!”

We’ll just have to work on that another time.

We would like to thank Laura and Julie for all of their guidance and support as we developed our activity! We learned so much from you and had such a great team working with the Zooniverse team!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Educator Bloggers Wanted

Are you a classroom teacher or informal educator using Zooniverse or other citizen science projects in your teaching practice? We’d love to hear about how you’re doing it and share it with others!  Whether you’re using Seafloor Explorer with third graders, Radio Galaxy Zoo with adult learners, or Operation War Diary in a history museum.

If you’re interested in sharing how you use citizen science to engage students or other audiences on the Zooniverse Education Blog, please email education@zooniverse.org with a brief description of how you’re doing it.