The education track of the conference explored citizen science both in K-12, classrooms, higher education, and out-of-school settings, with an emphasis on scientific inquiry and civic action. There were three talk sessions devoted to K-12 Classroom educators, each with 6-8 presentations on varying topics. There were dozens of hands-on workshops before and after the main conference program will take educators on a journey of experiential learning, inspiring them to guide their students in designing their own investigations. Attendees learned about cutting edge citizen science happening in experimental gardens, BioBlitzes, museums, universities, and libraries. Friday morning’s plenary talk featured Rachael Polmanteer, a middle school teacher who has transformed 90% of the labs in her 8th grade science classroom to citizen science projects, was also aligned with this theme.
CSA, with support from the Kenan Fellows Program for Teacher Leadership, provided scholarships to 25 teachers from across North Carolina and nation. The Kenan Fellows believe that, “By equipping educators with the resources and tools to connect their students with authentic STEM experiences, we believe more students will pursue higher education and careers in STEM fields, becoming the next generation of great inventors, leaders and thinkers.(1)” The Kenan Fellows are teacher leaders from across North Carolina who work collaboratively with scientists, citizens, and industry to make science more relevant to students.
Anthony Nesbit, a 2018-19 Kenan Fellow that teaches K-12 ESL in Craven County, NC, sent us the following reflection on the conference:
I am humbled by the amount of resources, connections, and opportunities that I have gathered at this conference. This is truly a game changer for me and my students. I am going from having used a few citizen science activities in my classroom to potentially being able to fund a community-centered original citizen science project with my students.Anthony Nesbit, Craven County, NC
Nesbit has had the opportunity to develop his skills as a science teacher through internships and mentorships provided through the fellows program. You can read more about his experience in the Kenan Fellow Program and detailed reflections of the conference on his blog here.
The conference was a great source of connections for many of the teachers in attendance. David Cooley, high school science taecher form Hoke High in Raeford, NC, told us that:
The many connections with both NC educators and folks from all over the world was an experience I have not enjoyed in nearly 20 years of teaching. I am very knowledgeable and good at what I do, but feel the added joy and excitement of doing real work for real scientists will ‘set my students hair on fire’ for science! They are excited by working with Wildlife, NC, and doing real science, and have asked that I help the Biology teachers next year plan for a continuation of my CitSci experiment. They want to continue the effort of being the eyes and ears of research, and seem to be entertaining the idea of careers in science!David Cooley, Raeford, NC
Getting students to entertain the idea of careers in science is the goal of many teachers who incorporate citizen science into their curriculum, as well as those who fund citizen science projects in schools.
Getting K-12 Teachers Excited about Citizen Science
Citizen Science was a new term to Emily Warnke, B3 Specialist at Winget Park Elementary School, prior to coming to the conference. Now she enthusiastically encourages other teachers at her school to check out resources she learned about at the conference like Backyard Wilderness, Ant Picnic, BioBlitz, EMammal,EBird, GLOBE, iNaturalist and City Nature Challenge. Warnke shared:
As an elementary school teacher, I am always in search of ways to make the process of learning more engaging for students, to help them see the “why” in what they do. Citizen Science projects are the perfect opportunity to get students outside, working like scientist, participating in real-life research. Terry Gates from North Carolina State University spoke about the “Democracy of Discovery” as a way to bring about education equality. What a powerful tool citizen science can be to not only inspire future great scientist, but to give all students, regardless of their background an equal opportunity to explore and grow.Emily Warnke, Charolette, NC
Two weeks post conference, and Warnke already reports that she is implementing an Ant Picnic project inspired by Friday’s keynote plenary talk given by middle school teacher Rachael Polmanteer.
Polmanteer discussed how she became a teacher and how she has transformed her 8th grade science classroom into a citizen science classroom, in her plenary talk. Today, 90% of the labs that she does are citizen science based. In her closing remarks, Polmanteer stated:
Right now, I look at my curriculum, then I go to SciStarter or similar websites and find citizen science projects and see if they seem do-able. I write lessons plans and align them to the state standards and then my kids can do them.Rachael Polmanteer, Raleigh, NC
And her kids want to do them. In addition to the success stories she shared in her talk about engaging students with science who previously showed little interest, she also had three students from River Bend Middle school share how their love of science has evolved since becoming involved with citizen science.
Polmanteer now does trainings around the state to encourage teachers to do citizen science projects. She walks teachers through citizen science projects, shares curriculum and gives them tips on how to engage students in the work. “It can be intimidating for teachers to do citizen science, and I want to be there like, yes you can take 36 kids into the woods, it might be scary, but you can do it!” Polmanteer shared in her talk.
In her introduction of Polmanteer, Lisa Hibler, associate director of the Kenan Fellow Program, extolled how engaged and enthusiastic Polmanteer’s students were on the numerous visits she has made to her classroom over the last three years.
When I walk into her classroom 100% of her students are […] are engaged, on task, and respectful because the work that their doing means something to them. And that’s one of the beautiful things about citizen science is that students feel that they really have a purpose for learning in that classroom.Lisa Hibler, associate director, Kenan Fellows Program
CSA Supports Educators and Students
The Citizen Science Association paid for lodging to K-12 Education Scholarship recipients in the conference hotel block. This offset the cost of attendance even more for these teachers and helped us meet our hotel commitments (a challenge outlined here). CSA supported 29 students at the conference, providing lodging for 15 students from universities across the country, and waiving registration fees for 14 student volunteers. There were almost 100 students registered for the conference with many presenting in the poster session pictured below. Conferences like this are an excellent way for graduate student researchers to gain more exposure in the field and to make valuable new connections that can further their careers.