Zooniverse held it’s second annual conference for new project scientists a couple of weeks ago, where we introduced them to the process of building a successful online citizen science projects. This intense two-day event bombarded new recruits with a ton of information relating to data reduction, web development technology, design and of course education.
Zooniverse projects have immense outreach potential, the expertise and experience that the team has collected over the years lead to complex and often intimidating science being simplified for a general audience. If you have yet to be convinced by this process, check out SpaceWarps. The hunt for the warping effects on the light from distant galaxies, caused by huge foreground galaxies acting as lenses, has been transformed into a two minute tutorial and a couple of clicks.
The projects become a tool for science teams to share their research with the public, their funders: The Tax Payers. Better still, beyond sharing their research they can ask people to participate and what better way is there to engage the public? Taking this a step further though, many science teams do wonder what, if anything, they have to offer for more formal education settings?
Formal science education in the US is about to undergo some changes with the impending adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Twenty-six states were involved in the development of these standards, which have a heavy focus on inquiry based learning, and more have signed up to implement the use of them. Their recent release has cause some excitement in the Chicago Zooniverse HQ, as they very specifically call out large data sets online.
“Students need opportunities to analyze large data sets and identify correlations. Increasingly, such data sets—involving temperature, pollution levels, and other scientific measurements—are available on the Internet. “
There is also a move away from the outdated and laughable idea of a linear scientific method, towards a far more realistic concept of three spheres of activity for scientists and engineers. When using Zooniverse projects in an educational setting it is a struggle to fit them into the pigeon-hole boxes of the linear scientific method. Perhaps because they are in fact real science projects and not simplified lab experiments designed to train children in the so-called scientific method.
The spheres of activity are much more representative of the circular, back and forth process that most researchers recognize as science. Particularly, in the modern world of large data-sets and massive international collaborations, where many researchers only work on a small pieces of large puzzles, not unlike Zooniverse volunteers. Their piece of the puzzle is just a bit smaller!
Zooniverse projects already ask volunteers to take part in several of the practices identified in the spheres of activity. They observe, they measure, they analyze. In our discussion tools and forums they ask questions, argue, imagine, reason and often critique! The recent addition of the Navigator classroom tool to Galaxy Zoo will provide more opportunity for students to undertake more of the practices from ‘Evaluating’ and ‘Developing Explanations and Solutions’ spheres.
The most exciting of these little boxes though has to be the one in the top of the “Investigating” sphere. This little box calls out “The Real World”, students should be investigating the real world, using real data. So to summarize, the NGSS wants students to investigate the real world using large data sets online…
They’ll be stealing our tagline next.
real science online