Category Archives: Education

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!

Insights for Informal Science Institutions from Citizen Science Projects

Today we have a guest post from Dr. Ryan Cook, Citizen Science Learning Researcher at the Adler Planetarium.  Ryan earned his PhD in socio-cultural anthropology from the University of Chicago.  His research interests include ethnographic  investigations in Mexico and the US on the intersection of science and religion.

It has been my pleasure to be a researcher for Zooniverse, based at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, since May 2012. This position has exercised my anthropologist’s curiosity about how people understand and engage with science, taking it in an interesting and very productive new direction that I plan to continue. Thus I am pleased to have a chance to share my work on this blog.

At this writing I am close to completing my portion of a federally-funded project studying Zooniverse volunteers.  I have benefitted greatly in this research from the assistance of your esteemed edu-bloggers, Kelly and Laura, as well as my former Adler colleague Jason Reed and former supervisor Karen Carney. Specifically, we tried to determine whether and how much volunteers’ conceptions of and attitudes towards science changed through their participation in virtual citizen science projects.

This week, I presented some of our findings at the Visitor Studies Association’s annual conference in the town that beer built: Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Outfitted with a snazzy poster and a pile of official Zooniverse postcards and stickers, I argued for the relevance of our studies of Zoo volunteers to museums and science centers that want visitors to their websites to learn about science.

To know what could possibly be learned about science in Zooniverse, Karen, Kelly, and I put together a model of understanding science to guide us. We based the model’s criteria on what scholars who theorize, research, and teach science claimed as central characteristics of the sciences — for instance, relying on sense experience, proceeding methodically or logically, and revising knowledge in light of new evidence.

I then spent several months combing through Zooniverse databases and Google Analytics tables, trying to create a quantitative picture of how volunteers engaged with the tasks, blogs, and forums making up each Zoo. Figure 1 shows an example of the data by which we quantified and compared engagement among Zoos.

Fig. 1 - Old Weather visitor flow, Google Analytics
Fig. 1 – Old Weather visitor flow, Google Analytics

Following the lead of some preliminary statistics, Kelly and I applied our model to mapping out opportunities for learning about science in a subset of mature Zoos (i.e., those launched before the shift to an all-in-one-page design strategy). The Zoos were chosen in pairs with similar tasks but different levels of volunteer engagement:

[*Since the Supernovae Zoo was retired during the course of our project, it was included in the engagement variables but left out of subsequent research stages.]

Upon matching these engagement statistics to the range and type of learning opportunities we identified, three main patterns emerged:

  1. Opportunities for science learning were unevenly distributed within and across Zoos’ webpages. Talk and the Forums, for instance, allow a wide range of volunteers to engage in rich communication with each other and with moderators, administrators, and the science teams regarding the scientific import of the Zoos.
  2. The parts of the Zoos where volunteers went in the greatest numbers and spent the most time were typically those with the fewest, most limited, and least obvious learning opportunities. High-traffic, low-opportunity pages included the classification, marking, and transcription tasks at the core of each Zoo, as we can see in Figure 2.
Fig. 2 - average time on page by page type
Fig. 2 – average time on page by page type

1. Of the more than 700,000 volunteers to visit these Zoos at the time of our analysis, only a small percentage stayed long enough or reached enough pages to encounter many of the learning opportunities we identified.

Each of these findings makes sense if we bear in mind that Zooniverse did not start out as a platform for volunteers to learn about science, but rather as a tool for scientists to carry out certain kinds of data-intensive research.

I contended in my VSA presentation that this mismatch offered museums and science centers some guidance in how to (re)design their websites to improve the chances that visitors would encounter opportunities to learn what the institutions decided was important. Laura, Kelly, and the Zooniverse team have been testing out ways to design more learning opportunities into the “stickiest” parts of the Zoos.

And as for me, I have followed up this quantitative work with a series of in-depth interviews of heavily involved volunteers. By coding their responses based on an extended version of our science learning model, I aim to find out what they feel they learned from their Zooniverse engagement and how it helps us to determine how one segment of volunteers engaged with the science learning opportunities we identified. This interview material will appear along with the engagement data and the science learning model in my report, which should be completed by late September. Stay tuned: you will hear about it first!

ZooTeach and Resources for the Classroom

Have you got your students whirling with excitement over Cyclone Center ?  Are they positively passionate about Planet Four?

Here in Zooniverse HQ, we like nothing better than hearing from teachers and educators about how you’re using Zooniverse projects in your classrooms and other learning environments.  Over the last year we’ve traveled to several conferences and meetings and heard about all kinds of innovative ways that teachers have put Zooniverse projects to use with their students.  We need you to share your amazing ideas!

ZooTeach is a companion website to Zooniverse containing lessons and resources aimed at helping teachers bring Zooniverse projects into their classrooms. Anybody can upload and share activities; you only need a Zooniverse login to contribute.  This fall we’ll have several new lessons and activities created as part of the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop to share with you.  We hope that you’ll consider sharing some of the ways that you’ve found to bring citizen science into your classroom or check-out ideas from other educators.

Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop

Where: Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL
When: August 8-9, 2013

Join us in advocating for citizen science in the classroom. Citizen science is an emerging tool for teachers – it provides an opportunity for students to participate in real research, analyse real data, at home or in school. The Zooniverse and the Adler Planetarium want to find US Middle or High School teachers who can help bring citizen science on the web, into the classroom. We need your expertise and we want to bring you to Chicago to talk to us!”

We would like to invite US middle and high school teachers, to apply for a 2 day workshop at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago on the 8th and 9th of August 2013. Travel, hotels and working meals will be paid for and a generous $1000 stipend should cover any additional costs. The first $500 installment will be paid at the end of the workshop.

During the workshop participants will be introduced to the array of Zooniverse projects and the existing educational resources available to help bring them into the classroom. Members of the development team will provide insight into the process of project selection, design and development that allows a scientific dataset to be transformed into an interactive citizen science project. In addition, there will be live virtual presentations from at least five science teams, giving the participants the opportunity to ask questions and interact with researchers from a variety of disciplines.

Participants will have the opportunity to share any experience they have of using Zooniverse projects in the classroom and will begin developing a lesson plan for the project of their choice. This lesson will need to be completed and submitted within 4 weeks of the workshop, along with a blog post for publication on the our blog describing their experience in promoting the Zooniverse. After this the second $500 installment of the stipend will be paid. The lesson should also be tested in their classroom, by the end of the 2013-2014 school year and a simple evaluation questionnaire submitted.

Teachers who are interested in attending this workshop should apply by the 7th of June 2013, they will need to include 500-word summary explaining why they would like to participate and how they plan to spread the word about the Zooniverse to their colleagues and local communities. Successful applicants will be informed by the 12th of June 2013.

 

UPDATE:

Applications for the Zooniverse Teacher Ambassadors Workshop are now closed.  Thanks very much for your interest.  We’ll be reviewing applications next week.

NSTA or Bust

 

At this time next week we’ll be rubbing elbows with science teachers and informal educators at the National Science Teacher Association’s annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas.  This year’s conference theme is Next Generation Science: Learning, Literacy, and Living.  It’s promises to be four days packed with excitement and science fun (and delicious TexMex food).

Zooniverse education will be out in full force!  Laura and I will be at the Zooniverse booth in the exhibition hall (Booth #1444) throughout the conference. We’re also facilitating a workshop entitled Citizen Science Investigations in the Classroom on Saturday April 13th from 12:30 – 1:30pm. If you happen to be attending NSTA, we hope that you’ll stop by and say hello (and score one of our snazzy new Zooniverse stickers). If you’re not attending but want to follow our wacky and sciencey adventures, we’ll be tweeting (@zooteach) throughout the conference.

 

One of these sweet stickers could be yours!
One of these sweet stickers could be yours!

Teachers Wanted For Planet Hunters Educators Guide Piloting

We need you and your students to help us craft a top-notch resource for teachers!  Educators at the Adler Planetarium have been hard at work creating an educators guide aimed at helping teachers bring the thrilling hunt for exoplanets into their classroom.  The first draft is nearly ready and we want to know what you think.

We’re looking for US-based 6th -8th grade teachers to try one or more lessons from the Planet Hunters Educators Guide this spring with their students.   Each lesson can be taught as a stand alone activity and takes approximately 45 – 60 minutes of class time.  We want to know what works, what needs to change, and any other feedback you can provide.

Besides, one of your students may just discover a new planet!  You can’t get that in gym class (although physical fitness is very important). 

If you’re interested, please email the following information to education@zooniverse.org

 

Name:

State:

Grades & Subjects Taught:

Number of Class Sections (if applicable):

Zooniverse Workshops

It’s very exciting, and a little bit scary, but we’re going to begin offering online educator workshops! The first two will occur on the 30th of March and the 6th of April and we’re looking for volunteers who would like to participate.

The workshops aim to introduce educators to the range of citizen science projects available on zooniverse.org, our new website ZooTeach and the new classroom interactive tool for Galaxy Zoo, the Navigator. They are aimed at teachers, but anybody who is interested in using citizen science in a informal education setting, after school club, scout group or maybe with their home schooled son or daughter, is more than welcome to join us.

We will be using Google + Hangouts (http://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/), which can be freely accessed by anyone with a Google email account. The time of the workshops has yet to be decided as we were unsure what would work best with different time zones, but it will last for approximately 2 hours.

If you interested in participating please email education@zooniverse.org, including the date that suits you best and your location and we will do our best to set up a time that work for as many people as possible! Each workshop will have a maximum of 10 participants, but we may decide to do several smaller groups in different countries.

I hope to meet some of you online in the not too distant future!

Under the Sea and On the Moon with Third Graders

We have had a great response from teachers in the Chicago area to our offer of making classroom visits. Yesterday marked out first visit to West Ridge Elementary in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood.  After consulting with Ms. Tschaen, the third grade science teacher, we decided to present Seafloor Explorer and Moon Zoo to the students.  Apologies in advance for the lack of pictures, we were having way too much fun to think about proper documentation. 

One of the challenges while preparing for this school visit was figuring out a quick and easy way to explain crowdsourcing to third graders.  I scoured the web for a nifty interactive or video,but in the end decided a low-tech solution, a story, was the best solution. I told the students that when I was a kid my friends and I loved to play soccer.  One we were planning to play but my Mom told me I wasn’t allowed to until my room was clean.  When I was a kid, the floor of my room generally resembled a soup of toys, clothes, books, and papers.  Cleaning it was no small task and usually entailed the better part of a whole day.  I asked the students how they thought my friends and I solved the problem.  Every group offered the solution that we could work together to clean my room and then have time to play soccer together.  Voila! The principle of crowdsourcing quickly and easily explained.  Granted, I settled on a somewhat simplified definition, that crowdsourcing is getting a bunch people to help solve a bigger problem, but it did the trick and the students “got it”.

Next we were ready to set the stage with how Zooniverse projects utilize the efforts of many to solve problems involving large datasets.   With the first two classes, we decided to test a newly developed Seafloor Explorer classroom activity. For time’s sake we modified the activity by focusing on species identification and left out ground cover identification component.   After a 10 minute group discussion of Seafloor Explorer’s science goals and how to identify the different animals we were off and running.  Just like with the example of cleaning my room and soccer, the students called out that we needed more people to identify the 30,000,000 + images comprising this project’s dataset.  Success!  They were challenged to work together as a class to beat the time it took me to identify species on 40 different cards.  Working together each class about 1/3 of the time it took me to do it alone.  Double success!

Laura engaged the third class in lunar adventures using Moon Zoo.  Students learned a little bit about the history of moon exploration.  Next they discussed craters and the different ways we can find out information about our nearest celestial neighbor.   After a brief introduction to the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, they divided into groups to explore individual portions of the moon.  Students worked together to mark any craters larger that their thumbprint on their section of the moon.  They tallied the total number of craters on their group’s individual moon section and compared them to the other groups’ moon sections. Finally students identified potential sites for a lunar lander to touchdown.

So, what did we learn from our adventures with third graders?  I’ve long suspected that, while students certainly have the ability to participate in most any Zooniverse project, it sometimes helps to introduce the project “offline”.  This may help students feel more secure when they begin participating on a project’s website.  Many teachers I’ve spoken with point out that students don’t always feel empowered in their practice of science.  By frontloading students with a little bit of a project’s background content and walking through the classification task together, students can easily see that they are more than capable to make an important contribution to current scientific research.  Working as a group also fosters a sense of community that we, as a class, are working together to help scientists make important discoveries and maybe even making some important discoveries ourselves.   I’m sure that there will be many lessons to learn over our remaining visits to Chicago-area classrooms.

No Right Answer?

Last week we had the pleasure of speaking to a class of pre-service teachers at Loyola University in Chicago.  After discussing the basics of citizen science and the origins of Zooniverse, the teachers took time to explore projects of their choice.  Always being keen to show-off  Zooniverse’s new educational offerings, we then demonstrated ZooTeach and a beta version of Galaxy Zoo Navigator.

Many of these pre-service teachers are preparing to begin or are in the midst of their student teaching placements. We spent the rest of the class discussing ways they could incorporate Zooniverse projects into the classroom, specifically how they could be used to facilitate scientific inquiry.  Over the course of the discussion the notion of “right” answers emerged.  This was a real ah-ha moment for me.  I suddenly remembered my own fears of getting the wrong answer as a first-time Zooniverse user. Whether a Zooniverse volunteer or a student, encountering a project for the first time can be a bit intimidating.  There is the fear, however irrational, that by submitting an inaccurate classification you could single-handedly break science.  If you look closely all of the different Zooniverse project sites are peppered with reassuring messages of “don’t worry you’re good at this” and “just give it your best try”.

Laura has previously blogged about how Zoonverse projects are used to engage museum audiences at the Adler Planetarium on the Planet Hunters blog.  Whether working with members of the public or groups of students, we often encounter “Did I get it right?”.  This is a tricky question to answer; Zooniverse volunteers are supplying the answers from which scientific interpretations are drawn.  Projects employ measures of checking for accuracy.  That’s why any given object be it a galaxy to classify or a bat call to listen to, is looked at by more than one individual.  The “power of the crowd” yields more accurate results than one single person.  Needless to say the idea of crowdsourcing as a quality-control mechanism is easier to convey to adults than to a bunch of eleven year olds.  It’s difficult to get students over the hurdle that, in the instance at least, being right isn’t so important.

I don’t know about you, but this leaves my head full of more questions than answers.   How do we as educators model for students that science can’t only be about getting the right answer?  How do we encourage students that being wrong can be oh-so-right?  Taking a risk of being wrong is brave and necessary to advance this thing we call science.  So how about it, how do you encourage a risk-taking culture in your own classroom or other learning environment?

Zooniverse Education Chicago Classroom Visits

Photo by: Rhett Sutphin
This trusty steed could bring Zooniverse education to your classroom.  Photo by Rhett Sutphin.

During our pre-Zooniverse days, Laura and I both worked with students.  I worked as a museum educator and Laura as a math teacher.   Being  educators in an office of developers and designers is wonderful because of the opportunities to engage in great conversations about marrying technology and educational opportunities within the wide world of Zooniverse.  Sometimes though, you miss the smell of school lunch and want to get in front of a group of kids.  Thus Laura and I thought it would be fun to go on the road and make ourselves available for classroom visits.  Sadly no fancy tour bus for us, just the CTA or my old Volvo 850s.

Would your students like to discover an exoplanet?  How about explore the Serengeti?  Zooniverse educators (aka Kelly & Laura) want to come to your classroom and share the exciting world of citizen science with your students.  Let us show your students how they can contribute to scientific research via Zooniverse’s collection of online citizen science projects.

We are reserving a limited number of days in February, March, and April to visit schools in the Chicago area (City of Chicago and immediate suburbs).  Requests will be taken on a first-come, first-served basis.  Participation will also be determined by educator date availability and location of school (we need to be able to get to you).  Preference will also be given to schools requesting more than one session on a day.  Sessions can range from 20-45 minutes depending on the topic.

We’ll work with you to tailor a presentation and related activity to fit the needs of your class.  We can speak about citizen science as a research method or speak about specific projects. If like to request a classroom visit, please register your interest by answering the questions below.

UPDATE:  Thanks for your interest in Zooniverse education classroom visits.  As of February 21, we have reach capacity for visits this spring.