Citizen Science Projects

I came across this post – 12 Days of Christmasy Citizen Science Projects – and thought I would share some of my favorite Citizen Science Projects. One thing to remember – just because the word “science” is in the title doesn’t mean that these projects won’t fit into the middle school math curriculum. Many of these projects provide data sets that can be analyzed in a variety of ways!

If you would like to suggest other projects, please add them to the comments section.

Measure rain, snow, and hail:
CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail, & Snow)

Track when leaves grow and flowers bloom in the spring:
National Phenology Network

Project Budburst

Observe migrating patterns:
National Audubon Society

Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Monarch Butterfly Studies

National Phenology Network

Monitor invasive species:

We Want Your Feedback
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Beyond Penguins Wins SPORE Award

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears has been awarded the Science Prize for Online Resources in Education (SPORE) by Science Magazine. The magazine, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, developed the prize to spotlight the best online materials in science education.

Science editors and a panel of teachers and researchers in the fields select the prize winners. Kimberly Lightle and Jessica Fries-Gaither of the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears staff were invited to write an essay about the project’s history and goals. The essay, Penguins and Polar Bears Integrates Science and Literacy, appears in the January 28 issue of Science.

Even though the magazine is directed at K-5 teachers, much of the content is applicable to the middle grades. Each of the 20 issues covers science concepts such as rocks and minerals, the water cycle, seasons, states and changes of matter, and plants, all in the context of the Arctic and Antarctica. Each issue highlights a literacy strategy, misconceptions, ideas on integrating technology, the research that is going on at the polar regions, and much more! Project staff have also written informational texts that have been differentiated in terms of reading level. The books are available in three versions – including an electronic version with an audio track. The Stories for Students link in the header of the site will take you to all versions of the books.

Follow Adelie Penguin Chicks with the Penguin Science Program

Would you like to incorporate more real data into your class? Are your students fascinated by penguins? Consider participating in the 2010-2011 Adelie Penguin breeding season program, as described below by coordinator Jean Pennycook!


Dear Educators,

Welcome to the 2010-2011 Adelie Penguin breeding season. Follow along as Adelie Penguin families raise their chicks ( in the harshest environment on Earth.

Students keep a field journal based on daily photos from Antarctica during the breeding season starting Nov 7 – Jan 28. Other activities for your classroom include: receive a postcard from Antarctica (, design a flag to fly over the colony (, ask a researcher a question, discover how penguins are coping with global climate change, gallery of adaptation photos, field notes, and many other classroom ready activities. Have your class watch for the first penguins of the season to arrive at Cape Royds, and let us know when you see them. Our Penguin cam takes a picture of the colony at Cape Royds every day. Go to our home page: and click on the webcam.

Questions? Email me at

Jean Pennycook
Penguin Outreach Coordinator

Free Professional Development Webinars

We’ve got four free professional development webinars coming up in the month of April. The first two are specifically for middle school math and science teachers. The second two are for elementary teachers but plenty of the content would be appropriate for older students. Librarians and media specialists, science specialists, informal educators, and others will find them useful as well. Please join us for one or all!

Getting to the Good Stuff: Online Resources for Middle School Math and Science
April 7, 2009, 3:30-4:30pm EST
Presenters: Robert Payo, National Science Digital Library and Kim Lightle, Middle School Portal 2

With huge volumes of materials on the Internet, how can teachers find the good stuff? We’ll explore how the National Science Digital Library and the Middle School Portal 2: Math & Science Pathways project addresses this question. We’ll show you how to find quality materials through organized collections, bundled resources that build teacher content knowledge, and online tools that facilitate better alignment of resources to teaching and promote broader community discussion through social networking.
Registration information:

Global Warming and the Polar Regions
April 28, 2009, 3:30-4:30pm EST
Presenters: Jessica Fries-Gaither, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears and Kim Lightle, Middle School Portal 2

How is climate change shifting earth’s energy balance? In this seminar, we’ll provide content knowledge as well as resources for the middle school science classroom.
Registration information:

Ecosystems: Life in the Polar Extremes
Tuesday, April 7, 2009, 6:30-7:45 pm EST
Presenter: Jessica Fries-Gaither, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears

At first glance, the polar regions may seem barren and lifeless. Yet there are surprisingly rich terrestrial and marine food webs that can be used to illustrate ecological concepts, relationships, and changes. In this web seminar, we’ll discuss the Arctic and Antarctic ecosystems and their response to climate change. Through examples of resources, lessons, activities, books, and teaching strategies, we’ll explore common ecological misconceptions and exemplary science and literacy instructional resources from the Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears cyberzine.
Registration information:

Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears: Arctic and Antarctic Birds
April 21, 2009, 6:30pm-8:00pm EST
Presenter: Jessica Fries-Gaither, Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears

Did you know that of the 17 penguin species, only a few live or nest in Antarctica? Or that many of our familiar bird species from the mid-latitudes migrate to breed in polar regions? While we’re all familiar with Emperor penguins, there are many other fascinating birds that call the polar regions home at least part of the year. In this session, develop your own content knowledge and learn how to use birds to promote inquiry, teach physical science concepts, and integrate hands-on science instruction with reading strategies and other literacy skills.

Registration information:

Birds of a Feather: Citizen-Science and Data Analysis

Do you need an innovative way to engage students in data collection and analysis? Or maybe you’d like to teach life science concepts in a more authentic context. Whether you are a science teacher, a math teacher, or both, you may want to consider a citizen-science project from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Focusing on bird observation, the projects provide important information about species distribution and behavior to ornithologists. However, much of the data is also accessible online – providing opportunities for students to analyze and conduct inquiry-based projects.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology sponsors many different citizen-science projects. We’ve highlighted four that might be most appropriate for middle school participation. You can learn more about all the projects at the CLO web site.

Participants record information about bird observations. The database is used by scientists, conservationists, and birdwatchers who want to know more about the distributions and movement patterns of birds across the continent.

Celebrate UrbanBirds
Participants learn about 16 species of urban birds, select a birdwatching area, and observe for 10 minutes, recording which species they see. Scientists use the data to study bird populations, behavior, and their interaction with the urban habitat. Celebrate Urban Birds also includes ideas and resources for urban greening activities.

Project PigeonWatch
Participants observe pigeons and record data about flock numbers, color, and mating behavior. The data is used by scientists to better understand why pigeons continue to exist in so many colors and which colors are preferred for mates. This project does not currently have online data entry available. Printable data forms can be completed and returned to the Lab.

Project NestWatch
Participants monitor nests and breeding habits of any bird species.

A series of BirdSleuth curriculum modules are available for purchase and can help teachers integrate the projects into their classrooms. However, these modules are not necessary for participation in any of the citizen-science projects.

Science and mathematics are seamlessly integrated in these projects. Participating in bird observation allows middle school students to learn these concepts in an authentic setting:

Life Science

·         Diversity and Adaptations of organisms
·         Populations and Ecosystems
·         Bird behavior


·         Data collection
·         Data analysis – graphing, statistics (range, mean, median, mode)

The citizen-science projects from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can target the Life Science Content Standard of the National Science Education Standards. Bird observations may also lead to student-directed inquiry, which align with the Science as Inquiry Content Standard. Students also work on the NCTM Data Analysis and Probability Standard as well as the NCTM Connections Standard as they apply mathematics outside of a school context.

Best of all, these projects can be completed anytime, anywhere. Get your students outdoors and observing birds today!

We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at Post updated 11/28/2011.