Third, fourth and fifth graders returning to the International School of Louisiana will soon be taking science instruction into their own hands. Thanks to a grant of $56,000 from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), some of their teachers spent time at the University of New Orleans Shea Penland Coastal Education and Research Facility on August 3 with Dinah Maygarden, science education program director at the University’s Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Science (PIES). At the workshop’s completion, teachers were equipped to escort incoming students into the world of citizen science.
The “citizen” part of citizen science means that teachers lead their students’ hands-on participation in the scientific process through data collection and analysis. Through its Bay Watershed Education and Training program, NOAA promotes locally relevant, authentic experiential STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning for K-12 students and teachers focused on environmental literacy. For teachers from the International School, the locally relevant lessons developed through this grant involved experiential learning with two of Louisiana’s most authentic specimens: mosquitos and crabs.
The grant employs lessons designed by the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) Program, an international science and education program launched in 1995. The program provides teachers with learning modules that engage students directly in data collection, or protocols, and learning activities that spur individual discovery. The modules incorporate enough background information for students to understand the concepts and then connect those concepts to learning about science in the real world.
In the mosquito lesson, for example, learning how to properly collect a larvae sample from a water source and identify the species contained in the sample is only the first step. From there, students are introduced to the idea of representative sampling and why it is important. They learn to identify the species of mosquitos prevalent in the area. But rather than simply focusing on the physical characteristics that set them apart, students learn that the reason identification is important is because of the mosquito’s status as a carrier of threats to human health like Zika and West Nile. Ultimately, students learn, studying the life cycle and habits of the mosquito helps people understand how to better control the spread of disease.
So what does a fourth grade citizen scientist do with data about the local mosquito population and the knowledge that there is a connection between her data and public health? There’s an app for that. In addition to the NOAA grant for training science teachers through the GLOBE program, Maygarden is working on a project to enhance GLOBE’s teaching materials. Among the program’s materials is a mobile app that allows students around the world to collect and share data gathered from their own local GLOBE protocols. Maygarden’s work on the GLOBE materials comes from a separate but related NOAA program, Louisiana Sea Grant. The Louisiana Sea Grant college program promotes stewardship of the state’s coastal resources through a combination of research, education and outreach. Based at LSU, Louisiana Sea Grant is part of a network of 33 Sea Grant programs located in each of the coastal and Great Lakes states and Puerto Rico.