Key Practices

What works in YCCS?

There are many strategies for getting youth involved in community and citizen science in ways that promote learning. Through in-depth case studies of diverse YCCS projects, we have documented youth-centered practices that are effective in promoting learning and environmental science agency—the ability to use experiences in citizen science and environmental science to make positive change in one’s life and community.

On this page you’ll find a video overview (see right-hand column), and further details about each key practice, and other resources to help you apply these ideas in your work. Check out our case studies to see examples of how these key practices have been implemented by educators.

Youth Key Practices

Youth Share Findings with Outside Audiences

Sharing what you’ve learned is fundamental to YCCS, yet the audiences and uses of data and findings are often invisible to participants. Involving youth directly in sharing findings with outside audiences is one way to (1) further motivate, (2) help youth review and reflect on what youth are learning, and (3) diversify the products, processes and people involved in YCCS. With the case studies and resources, read more about this key practice, why we think it is important to learning in YCCS, and the different forms it can take—from scientific posters, to blogs, to conversations with community members. Learn more.

Youth Take Ownership of Data Quality

Youth ownership of data quality is the practice of giving young people responsibility for high quality CCS data collection and analysis. As young people gain expertise through practice, they can then be positioned to regulate data collection and analyses for themselves and their peers. We found that creating opportunities for students to be responsible for data collection and analysis helped them understand data and the role of data in scientific endeavors, and develop a sense of ownership around their work in YCCS. Learn more.

Youth Engage with Complex Social Ecological Systems

Instead of studying nature alone on a pedestal, treating humans, plants, and animals as one social ecological system (SES) can be valuable for meaningful learning about environmental stewardship and science. Our research shows that using YCCS as a way to engage young people in thinking about complex interactions between human and nature can promote sophisticated reasoning, access to student’s funds of knowledge, and connection to place. In the case studies below, read more about how educators encourage young people to grapple with the world around them. Learn more.

Educator Key Practices

Our research has also identified key practices for educators to use in fostering environmental science agency, and supporting the youth key practices described above. The three educator key practices are: position students as scientists, frame the work in local and global contexts, and prepare for unexpected results. Learn more

Position Youth as People Who Do Science

Positioning youth as people who do science requires helping youth take on meaningful roles during the CSS investigation by engaging them in the discussions, deliberations, and reasoning processes of science. Youth develop a connection to science when they view their work as purposeful, and educators can encourage this attitude. For example, educators can ask students to evaluate their work in a way that starts a conversation and encourages youth to view themselves as working alongside scientists.

Frame the Work Globally and Locally

Frame the work simultaneously as part of the broader global scientific endeavors as well as locally relevant issues around the community. Doing so will allow students to connect to the work in a variety of ways. While students who already enjoy science often appreciate learning about global connections, other students may benefit from seeing that their work has a local application.  Framing work globally and locally allows students to draw on their lived experiences and existing connections to places.

Attend to the Unexpected

Pay attention to interesting surprises that come from the natural world or youth and incorporate them into instruction. Adopting a “co-learner” strategy allows educators to capitalize on rich teachable moments. Educators can use these experiences to work alongside students as they find new understanding together


YCCS Products

An important dimension of YCCS is that the work young people do has a purpose—a “product” that has an audience and impact beyond the classroom walls. Scientific data, findings, restoration work, management recommendations, scientific posters, and more; the products YCCS vary greatly. Learn more here about some of the products, audiences and impacts of projects we’ve studied.


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