Engaging Educators in the City Nature Challenge

The Center collaborated with the California Naturalist Program, educators in the Woodland Joint Unified School District, and a variety of local nature centers and reserves to encourage participation in the Sacramento City Nature Challenge. Despite being its first year participating in this global competition (as one of more than 160 cities worldwide), over 500 people in the Sacramento region logged 9,798 observations of over 1,200 unique species using iNaturalist.

Interested in how CNC and iNaturalist more broadly can be a tool for education through citizen science, Peggy Harte and Juliana Yee together developed a 3-day biodiversity lesson plan using bioblitzes, events for participants to observe and record all of the species in a given area during a short time period. The goal of the 3-day lesson plan and participation in bioblitzes was to share with students and teachers why biodiversity is important, and to teach them how to use iNaturalist as a tool to document biodiversity in their environments.

On the first day of the program, students did a mini bioblitz, explored iNaturalist, and looked at a map of iNat observations. On the second day, the students did a “drawing bioblitz,” where they learned how to quick sketch nature and details helpful for identification. Since kids can’t make iNaturalist accounts, this was an important way for them to keep track of their observations. Additionally, students used cameras to take photos of the species they observed during a bioblitz, then uploaded them using their instructors’ accounts later. On day 3, the group performed a larger bioblitz and graphed their observations to see the distribution of species in the area.

The program sought to encourage students to observe the natural world around them. By working with research questions and using iNaturalist to make their observations, students were able to connect with the science around them and the science that “real world” researchers are working on.

Science educator and CCS Innovator Fellow Peggy Harte thinks one of the strengths of iNaturalist is how quickly students get feedback on their observations. “They see that disagreement happens within the scientific community, and allows real-world engagement with the scientific practices (seen in real time),” Harte said. “This connection to real world researchers and the scientific community at large shows them not only how data can be collected and evaluated, but also why researchers may need their help to answer project questions.”

“The only weakness I see is a possible educator pitfall of stopping at the data collection level and not diving deeper into facilitating students’ development of their own research questions or analyzing data from their region or on a particular topic,” she said.

Lesson plans, like the one Harte and Yee developed, can be tools to make sure citizen science efforts like these go beyond data collection and ensure that science learning is happening for students, too. Moving forward, the Center hopes to share these resources more broadly with City Nature Challenge collaborators, and get more educators in the Sacramento region involved in next year’s CNC.


Read more:

Youth-focused community and citizen science.

Blog post: “A tale of two bioblitzes”

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