Investigations to Inspire!

The 2015 White House Science Fair highlights citizen science and its intersection with exciting student research. President Obama is also announcing over $240 million in new STEM commitments at the Fair, and the Cornell Lab and BirdSleuth are involved! Here are the details from the White House, as well some of the amazing work that BirdSleuth students do to turn their citizen science and schoolyard observations into inspirational Action Map stories and quality science reports for our BirdSleuth Investigator publication. Citizen science generates a world of opportunities for students… you can be involved!

From the White House Press Release (3/23/15):

Federal agencies, companies, and others are creating new ways to engage students in citizen science: Citizen science and crowdsourcing projects can be powerful tools for engaging students in STEM learning, giving them the ability to gain hands-on experience doing real science, and in many cases take that learning outside of the traditional classroom setting. New commitments to give more students these hands-on experiences include:

  • Science is everywhere, including the White House: The White House will showcase that anyone can participate in citizen science by installing a new rain gauge in the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden, becoming part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS) citizen-science network of over 20,000 active participants who serve as the largest source of daily precipitation data in the United States;
  • Making use of Federal lands and parks: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and NEON’s Project BudBurst will offer a new online course to support citizen science at wildlife refuges, and the President’s “Every Kid in a Park” Initiative will work with organizations and universities such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to enable tens of thousands of families and school groups to contribute citizen-science data from Federal lands during the 2015-2016 school year;
  • New “create your own” citizen-science project app: Building on its ConnectED commitment to provide its software for free to all K-12 schools, and responding to the President’s call to action, Esri will release this year a free open crowdsourcing app designed to empower citizen science.  Teachers, students, and youth groups will be able to easily create their own projects and use this app in the field to report observations and explore them on a dynamic map; and,
  • Lending library of citizen-science instruments: Arizona State University’s Center for Engagement and Training in Science and Society, the Museum of Science Boston, Public Lab, and SciStarter will create a Citizen-Science Tool Library, to increase access for students, parents, and other adults to citizen-science data collection tools.

 To see a full list of commitments and more details on the efforts to empower students through citizen science, see this backgrounder.

Cornell Lab Efforts Brings STEM to life for K-12 Students!

kids, boy, out, teacher, look, binoc, groupCitizen science motivates and inspires students through research that is real and relevant both locally and globally. Students connect to the natural world as they make observations, collect data, and see their findings within the broader scope of the project. When students design and do their own investigations, they build science skills… they become scientists. Many are even inspired to take positive actions for the local environment. Who are these citizen scientists who contribute, connect, and care? Here’s a sample…

Action for Eagles

Near Erie, Pennsylvania, Marcia Carone’s fifth grade class was especially excited to see three adult Bald Eagles over their sanctuary in the fall of 2010 during their citizen-science count. Their curiosity piqued, they learned that these eagles were wintering along a local creek. When they later saw an eagle who was behaving as if it might have lead poisoning, the students interviewed local wildlife rehabilitation professionals and learned about the problem and solutions. They raised funds for a lead poisoning test kit to be used at a local nature center and developed a public relations campaign to alert local fisherman that using lead sinkers in fishing causes lead poisoning in eagles and other birds of prey. Over time, Marcia’s students began to participate in hawk counts and eagle nest monitoring.

Citizen Scientists in Oregon | Photo by Phil Kahler

Citizen Scientists in Oregon | Photo by Phil Kahler

 Citizen-Science Discoveries

When Phil Kahler’s classes at Tualatin Valley Academy first began observing birds in 1996, Dark-eyed Juncos were the most abundant species at their school’s feeding station. Years later, students compared their bird observations to data entered into eBird by classes in previous years. They noticed a dramatic decline in Dark-eyed Juncos and a huge influx of House Sparrows, a species not previously recorded before. They speculated that juncos had been driven off by nearby residential development, or perhaps by the influx of sparrows. One student investigated whether eBird data showed similar declines in Dark-eyed Junco populations in other Oregon locations. Seeing no widespread downward trend, she concluded that habitat loss due to house construction in their area was the likely cause. Her study was published in our BirdSleuth Investigator research magazine.

And how many bird species can be seen in a single day?  In May 2013, the Kestrel Krew, an enthusiastic group of 8th grade students from the school began their quest to find the answer. They made a detailed itinerary so they could hit multiple habitats in the hopes of recording as many different species of birds as possible in a single day, from 3am until 8:30pm. The Kestrel Krew covered over 200 miles to see wetland, coastal mountain, and beach habitats, and identified 139 bird species in a single day! “This trip was a real adventure”, says Mark Janta.

Bird-friendly, Kid-friendly Schoolyards… Inspiring Stories of Habitat Heroes

Saving the American Kestrel 

Rachel Supnick wanted to make a difference. The 4th grader from Manatee Bay Elementary in Weston, FL had read an article about the declining population of the American Kestrels in southern

Students in Weston, FL construct nest boxes for American Kestrels. Photo by Andrea Perez.

Students in Weston, FL construct nest boxes for American Kestrels. Photo by Andrea Perez.

Florida and the importance of nesting boxes to help revive their numbers. “This gave me the idea to write a grant for my class to build nest boxes.” Rachel received a $1000 Summer of Service grant from the Youth Services America and ABC and used it to build, along with her class, 24 nest boxes to be placed around southern Florida. Rachel’s “Saving the American Kestrel” project then inspired her teacher, Andrea Perez, to implement weekly birding classes she called Birding 101 with the help of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Rachel’s work also earned her class a BirdSleuth Habitat Heroes mini-grant to further their work with bird education and conservation, including $500, free educational materials, and bird feeders.

The Duck Squad from Stephen Maguire's class at Scituate High School

The Duck Squad from Stephen Maguire’s class at Scituate High School

Duck Squad

For the last eight years, students and Scituate High School have noticed female ducks nesting in their enclosed quad. Though it provides a predador-free nesting site, the site didn’t have the water needed for ducks to successfully raise young. In August 2013, a dedicated group of students decided to take action. It was the Duck Squad’s mission to create a duck pond. They were awarded a Habitat Heroes mini-grant to complete a 15×15 pond for the nesting ducks in time for last year’s breeding season. Read more about this teacher’s story via this news article.


Whether at the White House Science Fair or simply on schoolyards around the country… citizen science intersects beautifully with exciting student research! We hope you will learn more about citizen-science opportunities, visit our inspirational Action Map  and BirdSleuth Investigator publication and get involved with your students!


  1.  by  Barbara Jacobs-Smith

    Congratulations! It couldn’t happen to a better or harder working group of people! Well done!

  2.  by  Mike Hackley

    Good morning.
    I spoke with Mike Wulf about possible getting some donations for my middle school. I teach STEM and am interested in exploring this opportunity.
    Mike Hackley
    Silver Sands Middle School
    1300 Herbert Street
    Port Orange, FL 32129

    Thank you

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