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Zooniverse and the Next Generation Science Standards

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There is also a move away from the outdated and laughable idea of a linear scientific method, towards a far more realistic concept of three spheres of activity for scientists and engineers.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

Busy Month

April was a very busy month is the world of Zooniverse education.   Here are a few highlights and photos.


We attended and presented at the annual National Science Teachers Association Conference in San Antonio April 11-14.  Most conversations focused on the recent release of the new US Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).  Educators from all walks of life took some time to learn all about this exciting new development in science education.  Getting up to speed on these new standards is definitely on our list of summer to-dos.

We spent most of the conference at our booth in the exhibit hall having great conversations with teachers about current Zooniverse projects, ZooTeach, the Galaxy Zoo Navigator, and the upcoming Planet Hunters Educators Guide.  While not mingling with science teachers you can bet we took advantage of Texas-sized desserts (yes, that cinnamon roll was delicious).

Our little corner of the exhibit hall at NSTA
Our little corner of the exhibit hall at NSTA


The NSTA Exhibit Hall San Antonio 2013
The NSTA Exhibit Hall San Antonio 2013       
Largest Cinnamon Roll in the USA.
Largest Cinnamon Roll in the USA.


New Office!

The Chicago branch of the Zooniverse development team outgrew its office.  We’ve recently moved into new digs on the museum floor.  Not only is there more room, but we’re across from the classroom where field trip programs happen at the Adler!  Seeing students engaged in science learning is a great motivator here at Zooniverse HQ.

Zooniverse HQ at the Adler
Zooniverse HQ at the Adler

Zoo Workshop 2

April 29th-30th saw fifty-five scientists, developers, educators, designers, moderators, and citizens science enthusiasts gatherat the Adler Planetarium to discuss all things Zooniverse. This meeting serves multiple purposes,  first and foremost it’s a terrific opportunity to have face-to-face conversations with people usually dispersed around the globe.   Even with Skype and Google Hang-Outs, sometimes you can’t beat sitting down and talking over a coffee.

Secondly, this meeting is a great opportunity to bring science team members behind upcoming projects into the Zooniverse fold.  In his talk entitled Lifecycle of a Zooniverse Project, Rob Simpson gave the science teams behind upcoming projects a crash-course in what to expect over the lifetime of their project.  The development team used this meeting to begin conversations with these science team members about the design and implementation of their projects.  Not to give too much away, but there are some AMAZING projects in the pipeline).


Kyle Willet giving a case study of Galaxy Zoo and at  Zoo Workshop 2.
Kyle Willet giving a case study of Galaxy Zoo and at Zoo Workshop 2.

Stay tuned for more from Zoo Workshop 2….

National Volunteer Week

Stateside, April  21-27 is National Volunteer week.  Thanks to the collective efforts of 826,026 people scattered around the world, a heck of a lot of scientific research has occurred that otherwise would not have been undertaken.  don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty mind-boggling.

Whether you make one classification or 10,000 classifications, each Zooniverse volunteer furthers the cause of getting science done.  It’s nice to know that we’re all in this together.

Well, I’m feeling inspired.  To celebrate National Volunteer Week,I’m going to do some classifications on one of my favorite projects, Cyclone Center.

Thanks again for your efforts.  Keep clicking!

Awesome!  Since I started writing this post the number of Zooniverse volunteers has hit 826,049.  

Three Days of Awesomeness

The Zooniverse team is a mix of web developers, educators, and designers.  What would happen if you locked this group into a glass-sided room with like-minded folks from the New York Public Library Labs for three days?  That’s what we’re trying – three  days of hacking in the Cyberspace Studio at the Adler Planetarium!  For updates on our progress, check out @ZooTeach or @the_zooniverse on Twitter.

Let the awesome commence….

Sugar and coffee, let's build!
Sugar and coffee, let’s build!

Planet Four

You may or may not have already come across Planet Four the latest member of the Zooniverse family, our Martian project, and let’s face it Mars is hot right now. Since Curiosity Rover touched down on the surface in August of last year, after surviving Seven Minutes of Terror, through which much of the world waited with baited breath, we’ve all gone a little Mars crazy. Or is that just Zooniverse HQ?

There are a range of Mars related teaching resources out there and NASA’s wavelength is a great way to access a collection from across multiple NASA missons. However, if you’d like your students to do some real exploring, look at real data, while making a contribution to scientific research, how about letting them loose on Planet Four?

Personally I’ve dreamed of visting Mars for as long as I can remember, but in my imagination Mars was always a dusty, rocky outpost. Planet Four has totally revolutionised my vision of our nearest neighbour, the diversity of the landscape is breathtaking, inspiring and totally unexpected.



These spectacular images of the southern Martian pole were taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a great collection of education resources relating to this mission.



The task that volunteers are asked to undertake on Planet Four is fairly easy, it’s simply a case of marking fan and blotch features on that appear on the frozen carbon dioxide ice during the winter months. The size and direction of the fans are a great indication of the wind speed and direction, so measuring these will help planetary scientists better understand the climate on Mars. For more details, check out the Planet Four “About” page or the project Blog which has some great postings from the science team.

So I do wonder, would this be an interesting project to use as part of a geography lesson, perhaps to discuss some of the processes that might have occurred to create some of the features we see? Or maybe a physics lesson, where students measure the length of the fan features and discuss what wind speeds would be required to send the material that far across the surface. What assumptions would you need to make and are there any experiments you could design to recreate the patterns?

If you’ve got any idea’s please do share them here or on ZooTeach!

Snapshot Serengeti

It probably would have been best to kick off the Zooniverse education blog with some kind of ‘welcome to Zooniverse education’ type posting, but with Snapshot Serengeti going live today I really couldn’t bring myself to write about anything else.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure, Snapshot Serengeti is the latest addition to the Zooniverse family, and quite possibly the most addictive project to date. There are 225 camera traps at the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania which snap three photographs every time something moves in front of them. As you can imagine, the scientists who run the camera traps, would need decades to look at all these images and computers aren’t good enough at identifying animals to rely on them to complete the task. Plus there is the additional challenge of determining what the animals are doing, humans can see that a ‘cheetah is chasing a gazelle’ in a heartbeat, no complex algorithms required!

Fortunately for us, these images make for the perfect Zooniverse project. The ecologists at the University of Minnesota Lion Project are overwhelmed with a data that is only suitable for human classification, they have important research into predator prey relationships that will be significantly advanced by these photographs being organised and classified and the photo’s are utterly brilliant!

I’m excited about Snapshot Serengeti as both the mother of small kids and as a former high school science teacher. Firstly, as a mother, I can see huge potential for a bit of family science time. My son turned four last week and we have already had a couple of sessions of identifying and counting animals and I have it on good account that @orbitingfrog has been doing the same with his three year old daughter. My son is too little to read the animal names, but I suspect he’ll soon be better than me at identifying the animals. The site works brilliantly on an ipad, so if you’re lucky enough to have one, it’s a lovely thing to get cozy on the sofa and work together to help the ecologists understand the herbivores and carnivores who live in the Serengeti. We also took a look on google maps at the location of the Serengeti and talked a little bit about the African continent, plus lots of ‘what does elephant start with?’ type questions. Ecology, geography and literacy all in one afternoon!

For teachers out there who’d like to bring real research into the their primary or elementary school class, I think this project is ideally suited. For the younger ones, the classification interface is going to be tricky, but a computer hooked up to a projector or smartboard would allow the class to work together as a group identifying and counting the animals. I have extremely limited experience of working with this age group, so if any teachers out there have any idea’s how please share them below or upload them to ZooTeach.

Most middle and high school students should be able to participate on with very little input from teachers and I’d imagine that biology (and perhaps geography?) teachers won’t have any trouble finding curriculum links with this project. The original project (Serengeti Live) had a collection of quizzes which I’ve linked to on ZooTeach that would be useful for introducing Snapshot Serengeti.

Here at Zooniverse HQ we’re going to work on producing some lesson idea’s and resources to complement Snapshot Serengeti and in the not to distant future the project will have a map tool added. The map will allow you to see how many of each animal you have found at each camera trap, this will be a great additional resource, allowing students to take slightly deeper look at their own data set.

In the meantime, if anyone has any inspiring idea’s to help teachers and educators bring Snapshot Serengeti into the classroom so that kids everywhere can be ecologist for the day, please do share them!