Photo by Shailee Shah

Tips for Engaging Young Birders in Citizen Science

Citizen science is a great way to get kids engaged in STEM learning and achieve common core standards.  Our Most Wanted Birds curriculum and Using eBird with Students article each provide tips and tools for guiding kids through the process of participating in eBird citizen science by conducting bird counts with groups of kids. We know that engaging kids might still be a challenge even with well-structured resources, so we present to you seven basic tips for engaging the young people you work with.

kids, out, act

Photo by Shailee Shah

 1. Find the way through play

The best way to get anyone excited about doing something like citizen science is to have fun. Ease youth into citizen science with fun but educational activities about birds, especially if citizen science or birding is new. (Tip: find a variety of activities in our Feathered Friends free download.)  Laugh, smile, and enjoy yourselves… you are outside! Don’t be afraid to express your own excitement… Enthusiasm is contagious!

boy, out, act

Photo by Shailee Shah

2. Foster a detective attitude

Set the scene. Tell kids that they are detectives on an important investigation; one where making observations and asking questions will be the ultimate keys to discovery.  With this setup, you will have your very own team of Sherlocks ready to start inspecting the project at hand.  Support questions with an I Wonder board and you will have a wide range of questions to build on.  Inviting your students to look closely at birds and record questions will pique their curiosity about the world around them. Build on the excitement and their learning will blossom!

3. Share the learning process

Not an expert on bird identification? That’s OK.  Don’t be afraid to tell your students that you are not an expert and that you will learn about birds together. In fact, when you tell this to them, you may find them feeling even more empowered and interested in becoming a bird experts themselves.

Bird Watching with Cards

Photo by Shailee Shah

4. Guide youth through the learning process of identifying birds. 

Split up identification responsibilities and assign each student a bird  ID card, making each student an expert on a particular bird.  With 15 kids you will already have experts on 15 bird species when you are ready to go outside (or 16 if you make a card yourself!)

5. Keep track of observations in a personal journal or life list

Many birders (and nearly all scientists) keep journals or field notes of their observations. So, budding bird sleuths should too!  Keeping a journal develops keen observational skills.  Just by taking descriptive notes and drawing what they see, kids notice and remember birds better. Like top birders, some kids will also enjoy keeping a running life list of all the bird species they see.  By tracking observations, students excited when they see new bird, and by keeping a journal they will be able to compare notes with classmates.

6. Honor kids’ curiosity

While participating in citizen science, certain things like a Bald Eagle sighting, or strange behavior by a Canada Goose spotted on the sports field are going to pique curiosity. Pay attention to what students are most interested or intrigued in.  Honor their curiosity and learn more on All About Birds, the citizen-science database on eBird, or the Macaulay Library of Sound and Video, direct them towards experts or further reading on the subject, or help them get in touch with local nature centers for more information.  You never know where their motivation will lead if it has the proper support.  Curiosity can lead to the most fascinating inquiry projects!

7.  Let them know it matters

girl, out, act

As one of our BirdSleuth teachers told us, “Citizen science gives students the ability to genuinely participate in science. When students realize that their bird observations are important data that will be used to make connections that couldn’t otherwise be made, they realize, ‘I am helping.’ This really motivates the kids to get out there and do science!” (Phil Kahler, Middle school teacher in Oregon)


Thank you for all you do to turn your students into scientists!

Now that we’ve shared our tips for engagement in citizen science, we’d like to hear from you! What have you done that’s worked?


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